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A Study in Scarlett

Chapter Text

"Son, please sit," Locksley said, motioning for Robin to have the seat next to him. He had wanted to speak to the boy alone, knowing as he did that his son still grieved his mother's loss deeply. He would need to help Robin understand the decision he'd made.

"What is it, Father?"

"I have wanted to tell you for some time of my current happiness," Locksley went on, not sure how else to describe Anne. She was a beautiful young woman, that was for sure, though he had never noticed her before his wife's passing. He had been devoted to her, and he thought he would die when she did, as profoundly as he felt her loss.


"It is a thing I thought I should never feel again," Locksley admitted. "Your mother was the love of my life, and I had always thought I should not deserve her. She was everything of grace and good, as you well know. I admired her from the beginning, and that only grew as I knew her and loved her."

"Then how can you be happy now?" Robin demanded. "We're not happy. She's dead. We can never be happy again."

"That is not true, son," Locksley told him. "One day you will find someone you love far more than your mother, one you love more than me, and I hope to see that day. My father did not live to meet mine, nor my own mother, but that I should someday see you so, that is one of my dearest hopes."

Robin shook his head. "No. You're lying. You don't care what I think. You don't care how I feel. You say you're happy. You can't be happy. It's wrong. You're wrong."

Locksley reached out to touch his son's hand. "There is a part of me that would have died with your mother. I did not, and I cannot. I have other obligations to consider, and those include you, my son. I thought I would not be able to live up to them, but then I met someone, and she has helped me find a way to continue. At first I thought it was only a physical thing, but her comfort comes in many ways, and I owe what I have done in these past months to her."

"You found another woman?" Robin asked, looking horrified. "How could you?"

Locksley thought of the innocent conversation that had started it all. He had meant to ask the local woman for nothing more than the location of an errant servant, but he'd found himself in conversation with her for hours afterward, laughing for the first time since his wife's death.

"It was not something I intended, but I do not regret it. I have found many hours in her company where the pain is lessened and my grief abates enough to allow me to continue doing as I must for the good of all. I have a responsibility toward these people, this land, and to you as well—"

"You don't care what I think," Robin said. "If you did, you wouldn't be with some harlot when my mother is dead."

"I care very much what you think," Locksley said. "That is why I want to tell you I intend to marry her within the month. She is a fine woman, and you will like her. She would be an excellent mother—I've seen her care for her younger siblings and her brother's children with great care and affection."

"You're marrying this harlot?" Robin pulled away from him. "How could you? First you lie with one and now you would wed her? You have forgotten my mother already, disgraced her memory."

"That is not so," Locksley said, though he did think he should have introduced his son to Anne sooner, that he might meet her and like her. He also should not have been so weak to the flesh, but he had only wanted to forget, and what Anne had offered in her innocence had been too much for the heartbroken man he had become after his wife's death.

"It is so."

"Robin, you are only twelve years old. You do not understand."

"No, I do. It's you that doesn't. You think you can tell me you'll marry this woman and it will all be well, but you know what you've done, what you've betrayed, and I hate you for it. She was my mother. You... you didn't even wait for her to be dead, did you?"

"That is not true."

"I hate you," Robin said, running from the room.

Locksley sat back and sighed. He had to believe that Robin would come to understand, in time. He needed Anne, and it was past time to make his liaisons with her completely honest.

"Anne, I must speak with you," Locksley began, and she looked up at him with her wondrous smile, happy to see him. He hated seeing her so, since he knew the news that he was to deliver would crush her spirits. She would not understand.

"I am glad you've come," Anne told him. "I have something to tell you as well."

She went to embrace him, but he stopped her. She frowned at him. He hated the idea of hurting her, but he could see no other way of regaining his son's favor. He could not allow Robin to go on hating him.

"My dear, we cannot go forward with the wedding."

She stared at him. "What?"

"It is Robin," Locksley said. He sighed. "I have tried to explain, to reason with him, but he is not ready to accept anyone coming into what he sees as his mother's place. I hope, with time, he will be less angry, but he's young and hurting, and he does not see this love of ours as anything but a betrayal of all he has ever known."

Anne shook her head. "You said he would, were he given time, and I have tried to be patient, but I am almost certain we have no more to give him."

Locksley reached for her, putting a hand on her cheek. "I will always care for you, but I must do what is right for my son. Our time together has ended, in that you are correct. I am sorry, but I cannot see you again."

"No, that is not what I meant," Anne said, pulling away from him. "I... I think I am pregnant. I will have your child. You cannot leave me now."

Locksley shook his head. Aside from Robin, he'd had no children. He had managed it only the once, and his physician said he thought it was a result of an illness he'd had when he was younger. "You are mistaken, and I will not marry you because of some pretext."

"You would have married me before," Anne said, looking confused. "I don't understand why you would think it right to not do so when I have your child within me."

"I have been told such a thing cannot happen for me again," Locksley told her bluntly. "If you do carry a child, it cannot be mine. It is also why I must see to the one I have. Robin needs me, and he won't accept this. We are done."

Anne looked at him with tears in her eyes. "How can you say that to me? You know what I was before you came to me and my bed. You know I did not do this with another man. And why should I lie about your child? You are the one who is acting dishonorably, and I never thought you would. Not you. You were different from your fellow noblemen. Kind. Generous. Now I see you have been none of those things. I thought you loved me."

"I do," Locksley whispered, pained. He had to believe she was wrong about the child. "Yet I cannot see you again. Please understand that."

"Oh, I'll help you with that," Anne said in anger, reaching for something to throw at him. One metal cup flew at his head, and then another one. "Go. Get out. Shame me no further, you bastard."

Then she collapsed into bitter weeping, and Locksley forced himself to leave, knowing he could not stay or his weakness would have him taking her back, bringing her home to marry her, even if she was lying about his child.

And if he were to break his promise to Robin, he would lose his son forever.

Anne gathered her things with reluctance. Though she had tried more than once to see Locksley since her condition grew more apparent, he'd refused, always insisting that his son was of more importance to him. She had done all she could to persuade him not only to see her but to acknowledge his other child, and he kept telling her she was mistaken.

She put her hand on her stomach. She was not mistaken, and he would see that if he would even put eyes on her, but since he would not, she had little choice now. If she stayed in this village, she would be forever branded as a harlot and her son would be a bastard.

She would not let that happen. She would go from this place, settle far enough away to where no one knew her. She would call herself a widow, and while it was a lie, it was the best for her son. She knew what it would mean if everyone knew he was born out of wedlock, and while it would still have been known if Locksley married her, it would still be better than no father at all.

She would give her child the best life she could, and that meant leaving now.

When William was born, Anne sought out someone who could write, and she had a message composed to inform Locksley that she had borne him a second son. He could continue to deny her if he liked, but should he ever wish to see his son—one she could recognize his own features in already, as much as they all told her her boy looked much like her—he would know where to find him.

She sent it with some vague hope that Locksley would change his mind, and in the months that followed, when no response came, her heart became embittered toward him. He said he did this all for the love of his son, but that had to be a lie. He did not want her, must intend to wed some other noblewoman, one he would not be ashamed of, and have other children he would love as much as he claimed to love Robin.

Still, she kept the truth from her own boy and her new neighbors, most of whom believed she was a young widow. No one need ever know the truth of Will's father or how he'd abandoned them.

The rumors started when Will was barely two years old. Anne didn't know who started them, only that the ugly words she'd tried so hard to spare her son from had come to his innocent ears anyway. He had only just started walking when others started to say he was a bastard.

Anne did not understand. No one should know the truth, as she'd gone far enough from Locksley land and her own family and had seen no one pass through this village that she'd known in the past. Still, the rumors lingered, growing worse and worse.

They named her as a prostitute though she'd never taken money for what she'd done, not then and not now. She earned an honest if meager wage by doing everything she could—sewing, laundry, cooking. Sometimes she went without so that she could give Will more.

She never took money for sex, but she was treated as if she had, and her customers became fewer than before, to where she got almost no money at all.

Anne made the difficult journey to a new village with Will just before the winter came, knowing as she did that if she could not make a living, she could not feed her son. She gave them the same lie, that her son's father had died when he was still a babe inside her, and she tried to make a life for them once again.

They barely made it through the winter, the cold months harsh with inadequate shelter, and Will grew deeply ill. She grew desperate, and she had someone write to Locksley, telling him of their boy's poor state and asking for a bit of assistance.

It seemed his lordship wished for the boy to die, though, as once again, she did not hear from him. Will was all she had, and she could not lose him, so she resorted to the thing she swore she'd never do just to afford the medicine he so desperately needed.

She saved her son, and in turn sold her soul.

She sometimes looked at him and wondered if she'd done the right thing, if it would have been kinder if she had let him die in peace before he learned the truth of it all.

Watching his headstrong son ride off to the crusades, Locksley's heart grew heavy. Robin was in many ways still a child, and he should not go at all, not to someone else's war to die for folly. He wished that he could have regained his son's love and trust, that he would have listened to him, but even letting Anne go had not mended the rift between them.

He sometimes wondered if it would have been better to have gone ahead with the marriage. Yes, Robin would have hated it, but perhaps Anne could have shown him all the qualities that Locksley had loved in her.

Perhaps she would have truly had the other child, as she claimed, and Robin's fondness for his sibling could have been enough to end the anger consuming the boy's heart. Maybe then he would not have thought the crusades the way to defy his father once again.

Locksley turned from the window. He should have learned where Anne had gone. He should have made sure there was no child to care for, for in all these years, she'd never contacted him. He knew she knew little of writing, having been given no education in that manner, but that had never bothered him until he did not know her fate.

Was she alive? Was there a child?

Locksley feared he would never know the truth of that. Robin's anger and his own foolishness, his stubborn belief that Anne must be lying, had cost him one child. The crusades would cost him the other. He was sure of it now.

Chapter Text

Will was six, and the other children were mean spirited, never letting a day pass without reminding him what he was and hurting him for it. He was learning to fight, slowly, making some progress with each beating he took at their hands.

Anne wanted to stop it, but she could not manage it. She'd moved them twice since she'd been forced to sell herself for the means to cure him, and yet somehow word of her deeds followed—words or rumors, she was never sure—and Will once again suffered for them.

Once again, she hated Locksley and his son for what they'd done, turning her away and denying Will. Had Locksley once shown any sign of care for the child, she might not hate him as she did, for she sometimes thought she still loved him.

Then Will would come home bruised from another fight, and she hated him again.

Still, despite the rumors, she made enough doing laundry and sewing here to keep food in their bellies and a roof, however leaky, above their heads. She was afraid to leave and force them into a worse position, where she would once again be forced to sell her body to keep herself and her son alive. As long as she did not do it here, there was a chance the rumors would end.

They remained, though this place was far from pleasant.

Winter was always worse, and Anne soon found her work could not sustain them through it. The steward of the local lord was a foul man, and he had often made cruel remarks to her and to Will, but he'd offered to pay her, and she agreed, finally, when Will had not eaten in a week and she in more, having spared everything for her boy.

She could not last much longer, and he was already hurting, so she accepted the man's terms for the food they needed.

They survived the harsh months, and she tried to end the arrangement.

He claimed to be fine with that, no loss to him as there were other willing women about, and she'd come crawling back to him when she wanted to have food again.

He treated her worse in public, same with Will, but she could tolerate that.

It was Will that didn't. Even at a young age, he was aware of more than he should have been, and he fought more and more with the other children, occasionally winning some of the matches as he grew in skill—at least at dodging. He wore down the other children, using his smaller size to evade their attacks and force them to chase him through narrow gaps and winding passes.

Anne was proud of him, in some ways, though she tried to tell him not to fight.

He would glare back at her, becoming an angry child instead of the sweet one she'd birthed.

He even seemed willing, at his young age, to speak back to the steward and cause more trouble. Any time the man mistreated him in public, the boy would say something bitter and older than his years. Or he'd spit on him and earn a smack.

Worse even than that... Will was starting to steal to help them, and twice so far, he'd been caught. He wouldn't stop even when she reminded him of the danger and how the town's pity would not last forever. They would not tolerate a thief as well as a whore.

Anne knew Will could not remain in this place, though she had hoped they would not have to move again. It was always difficult to start again, and they would need more food and money if they left, and that meant using her body again.

A trader came through town, and he heard the rumors, coming to Anne for a night of pleasure before he left town. She was willing to do it, as the man would leave town right after, heading on to his next location.

This became her pattern, using the men who did not stay in the village to support them, saving her resources for another move.

It was also one of the worst mistakes she'd ever made, her greatest regret, save perhaps her involvement with Locksley in the first place.

Will came home limping, but with a bit of triumph in each step. He'd managed a good steal this time, the sort of thing that would feed them for days without anyone knowing. He'd twisted his foot doing it, but it was worth it for the bread he'd gotten.

His mother would be mad, at first, but she'd forgive him, like she always did.

He walked into their hut to find another one of the traders there. He frowned, not sure why they always seemed to come in the night when no one else would be buying or selling.

"Will," his mother said, distressed. She came toward him, bending down to his ear. "Sweetheart, you must go now. I can't do my work while you're here. Go on and find a place to play for a while."

He didn't want to play. "You don't have to work. I got this."

He showed her the bread, and his mother tried to smile. "Will—"

"You didn't say anything about a boy," the trader said, and his mother looked back at him. "I think we need to discuss prices."

"You already agreed to one, and if you are worried about him, you needn't be. He'll go out again in a minute. We'll do our business without interruption."

The trader came close to them. He looked over Will's mother, and then his eyes fell on Will. He felt sick as the man watched him, his mouth open like Will was some kind of food.

"He's rather a pretty little thing, isn't he?" The trader asked, eyes still on Will. "I'll give you twice what we agreed for the use of the boy."

"What?" Will's mother demanded, horrified. "No. Absolutely not. You'll not touch him, you hear me? And you won't touch me. Go on. Get out."

The trader laughed, reaching for Will. He ducked, quick enough to escape after all the time he spent dodging bullies. His mother stepped between them.

"I told you. Go."

The man hit Will's mother, knocking her down. Will stared, and he rushed toward her, trying to get her up. He could help her run from this man. He would do it. He didn't care how small he was. The man grabbed him, dragging him back. He fought the hold, and his mother came toward the man, trying to yank his arm off Will, but he threw her off, back into the corner. This time she didn't move.

Will yelled for her, still twisting in the man's grip and trying to get free, but he couldn't. The trader put a hand over Will's mouth and nose, and he couldn't breathe as his clothes tore and the worst pain he ever known tore through him.

He bit the man's hand and called for help, but no one came. The man shoved part of Will's torn shirt in his mouth and kept on hurting him. Will closed his eyes and begged for it to end, even as it seemed to go on forever.

Will woke in the morning to a body full of pain, worse than any time the bullies had beaten him, and the stink of the trader all over. He trembled, trying to make himself move. He saw the man across the room, still naked and eating the bread he'd taken.

Anger filled him, and he wanted to go hit the man, beat him for all the pain and the sickness he'd done, but he knew it would do no good. He couldn't fight last night, and he hurt worse now.

The trader finished the last of the bread and rose, going over to his mother, who was still where she'd been the night before.

"You should have taken me up on my offer."

Will wanted to throw something at him. He started to get up and cried out when an unexpected pain hit, like he was being tormented all over again.

The trader looked back at him. "Well, now. Look at you. I suppose you're worth a second go."

Will tried to run, but he wasn't fast enough, and the man set upon him again.

Anne moved them back closer to Locksley after that horrific attack, hoping that if things got desperate again, she could reach him at last and not have to put herself in a position that would harm her son. She would never do that again, not even for food. Will hadn't been the same since that man hurt him. He barely spoke, wouldn't leave their hut, and screamed in his sleep every night.

She wanted to spare him any further pain and restore him to what he was before, even if that meant having him angry.

A theatre troupe passed through the area, and she brought Will out to see their various acts. One of them, the knife thrower, seemed to interest him, and not long after that, she found two stolen knives in their hut, ones that always disappeared when Will went out.

She followed him once, watching him throw the knives at trees outside the village. He missed often, but he seemed determined to throw them as good as the man in that troupe had, and she didn't doubt that he was would someday do it, as angry as he had been before, as afraid as he was now.

She would have asked the man from the troupe to train him, maybe take him on as an apprentice, but they'd already left before she knew what he was doing.

Still, she took in extra washing and made sure to buy him as fine a set of knives as she could, even if it meant a few days without food, knowing he'd be heartbroken if someone caught on to his thievery and took the ones he had.

He took them with a great wide smile, and she hoped she'd done right by him for once, even as she feared it was a dangerous mistake to give them to a child so young.

His innocence was gone, though, and it would not return, so she tried instead to prepare him for whatever might come.

When the winters turned bad again and there was little work to be had, not just as a washerwoman or a thief, Anne grew ill herself, sparing perhaps too much for Will even as she refused to allow anyone into their home again. She did not trust any man who wanted her in that way, not even the locals who suggested that they wed.

She would not let them near her or Will.

She knew the children still tormented him, calling him names and other things, though for all she knew he was developing more skills to fight them, he mostly did so with words.

Still, that would not last, nor would her health. She was too ill.

She sat her son down and told him the truth of his father, knowing he needed to know to go to him should something happen to her. She didn't know if Locksley would accept him as a son, but he had once been generous, and he would take pity on the boy, she hoped, giving him enough to see him through this winter.

"Will, I have to tell you of your father."

He frowned, looking at his mother. He'd been about to go out and practice with the knives again. Carrying them made him feel safer, better than before, though he still dreamt that the trader would come to town and try to use him again. He hated that fear, but he could not escape it.

He just knew he was training himself so he would never be that weak again.

"He's dead, Mother. I know that. There's nothing else to say."

"That's not true," she said, coughing. He frowned, not sure how sick she was, but he knew she wasn't eating. He was going to steal her some food later. "Will, your father lives."


"Your father is Lord Locksley."

Will stared at her in disbelief. "No. I'm not—he's not—that can't be right. My father was a peasant. He's dead."

"Your father is a lord. Lord Locksley. I know you think this is not possible, but when I was younger and more foolish, I loved him. I thought I could ease the pain of his grief over his lost wife. I did, for a time, but when he told his son we were to marry, the boy... could not accept it, and your father chose to end things with me for his sake," she said. "By then, you were coming, but I could not change his mind. I told others your father had died because I knew what it would be for you if they knew you were born out of wedlock."

"No," Will said, refusing to believe that. He'd had the other children calling him a bastard all his life, but he'd known they were lying. That wasn't true.

"I am telling you now so you know to go to him should anything happen to me."

"I'm never going to him. He's not my father. He's not anyone to us."

She put her hand on his cheek. "Will, there's not enough food, and I won't let another man in the house like I did before. That one—"

"Don't talk of him. Don't ever talk of him."

"Your father may not believe you're his son, but he was always generous to those in need, and he will help you. If something happens to me, go to him."

Will shook his head, refusing to do it. He didn't care what she said. Locksley was not his father. He never would be.

Chapter Text

Anne recovered, and time continued to pass. Her days stayed full of the work she did to keep them fed and clothed. Will had turned ten, by some mercy, and was a thin, scraggly thing. He'd known for some time the truth of his parentage, but he steadily refused to use it, even when the last two winters grew bad and looked to starve them. She had not made any attempts herself, still angry with Locksley, wanting to hate him for what she herself had done in selling her body and opening her home to men who had not only used her but also harmed her son.

She kept herself busy, trying to give Will no excuse to resort to thievery. She knew he was better now than in the past, his skill at both theft and blades increasing by his own stubbornness. No one aided him, and she doubted he would have let them, angry as he was. Knowing who his father was had made him more bitter, and when the other children taunted him, his words often made things worse.

"You keep your tongue as sharp as your knives."

Will gave her a sort of smile, one that pained her, for it reminded her of his father in their more gentle moments, when he had seemed loving and teased her.

"It is not a good thing, my son," Anne told him. "If you cannot hold your temper, you will only create more trouble for yourself."

"And what good has keeping yours led to?" Will demanded. "That rich man abandoned you. You keep moving us around and we starve every winter. When we're not starving, we're freezing. And if we're not, it's because you've sold yourself. What's good about that?"

"Will, don't you speak like that," Anne said. "You know I haven't done anything of the sort, not in years. I don't care what they say. They don't know us, and they don't know you. You are so much better than they think, than the names they call you."

He looked up at her. "I'm a liar and a thief. I'll never be anything but that."

"Your heart is good," she insisted, knowing that his stealing was done to help her, and he didn't lie that much—he wasn't at all good at it. His face showed too much of his emotions, and while she knew most of it was anger and it covered many things—shame, hurt, and fear—it was not the same. "Someday you will see that."

"The blacksmith, the one what fancies you, he said he'd take me on as an apprentice."

"It's good work," she said. "Honest work."

Will shook his head. "The boys said I'd never be a striker. I was too small. That I couldn't lift a hammer. That he only wants me there so he can bed you."

"Please tell me you didn't fight them."

Will looked at her. He said nothing, but that only meant he had.

"Will, please, you can't keep doing this. If you chase all good from your life because someone insults you, you'll have nothing."

"I already have nothing," he snapped. "And I don't want his charity, knowing he is using me to buy you. The only thing worse would be if he was doing it to get at me."

She winced. Will should not even know of such things, but he'd endured horrors at the hands of that trader. They'd never seen him since, though if they did, she knew Will would try to hurt him, to pay back all that damage he'd done.

"You don't have to stay on with him once you know a trade. People everywhere need smithys, and we could go any place if you had training. Think on that."

He grunted, but she knew he was when he sulked off to his side of the hut.

Anne watched from her hut as her son darted through the village, easily eluding those that chased him. She did not know what had started this fight, but she did believe he would win this fight, or at least the race.

She sighed and turned to go back inside when a man's hand caught her arm. She looked up to face him, taking in his armor with a bit of fear.

"You're the one with the boy."

"If they told you he did something wrong, they're lying," she said. "He's a good lad, and too small to do half the things they claim of him."

She was lying, but she was better at it than Will. She had to hide her pride where he was concerned, as he was more skilled at criminal acts than he should be.

"Don't care about him," the man said, reaching into a purse and holding up a coin. "I've got this, and it's plenty enough for the likes of you."

Anne spat at him. "I don't do that. Go on with you. You'll get nothing here."

"You're a lying little whore," the man said, taking hold of her arm and pushing her back into the hut. She struggled to free herself, knowing that if she called out, no one would come to her aid, not even the blacksmith that claimed to fancy her. They all said she was a harlot, probably sent this stranger to her. "I've offered you a fair price. Take it. Last chance."

"It's the bloody middle of the day," Anne said. "Even if I were such a woman, I'd not take you in now, not for all the village to see. Go. I told you already. You'll get nothing here."

His grip tightened on her arm. "I will have what I want. You can either get paid for it or not."

She hit him, twisting in his hold. She kept at it, beating with her fist against his arm. "You will get nothing. I won't give you anything. That's not for sale."

He backhanded her, knocking her to the floor. She should have learned herself to fight, but she had thought she would not need it, not after leaving behind that village and straying far from that trader's route. She'd kept her word, had never once taken money for her body since that horrible day. She would not do so now, even if it might spare her pain.

She forced herself to her feet, running for the door. He would not dare do this thing in sight of everyone.

He caught her foot and dragged her back. She cried out, but he pulled her over, covering her mouth with his hand as he held her down against the floor. She could not move her legs, and her hands proved useless against him. He ripped her dress, trying to get at her.

She knew what was to come, and she tried to make herself accept it, even as she panicked and fought harder to no purpose. She did not want this. Once she thought she did, with Locksley, but never since.

She heard a grunt, and her attacker groaned, loosening his hold on her. She looked up at him, watching in confusion as he fell back.

A small figure leapt upon him, yanking his knife from the man's back. Will put the blade to the man's throat. "I should kill you for what you tried to do."

"Will, no," Anne said, pulling her rags about her and trying to cover up her shame. "Don't do it. They'd blame you, not him."

Will glared at the man with pure hatred, but he backed off. He kept the dagger pointed at the man. "Out. Now. Don't come back."

"You think I'm afraid of you?" The man snorted. "That was only a scratch, and you know nothing of how to use those things. Oh, but I will show you, you little bastard. I'll make you feel great pain—after I finish with your mother."

He lunged for Will, and her son struck out in defense, driving the blade deep into the man's stomach as he approached. He roared in pain, but he did not stop, his hands moving not to defend himself but for Will's small neck. He caught hold of him and began to choke, knocking him down. Will pulled the blade out and stabbed it again, again and again, with less force each time as the man refused to let him go.

Anne ran over and yanked him off. Will leaned over, panting for air, and the man fell back, blood spreading from his many wounds.

Will shuddered. "I told him to go. Why didn't he go?"

The hate in that one was strong, Anne thought, and he had known nothing else, had not done the sensible thing and stopped, fled when he was first bested. He'd thought only of making them hurt.

"Will, love, give me your dagger."


"Do as I say," Anne said, holding out her hand for the bloodied blade. He gave it to her, and she took it, holding it close. "Go out the back of the hut. You know where. That spot where the thatch is weak and you come and go when you steal."


"Do as I say," she insisted. Will was only a child, but she did not think it would save him. This was the only way.

She waited for Will to leave before going to the door. She shrieked for help, knowing that what she called to her was damnation.

"They didn't want to let me in to see you," Will said, looking over at his mother behind the bars. "I don't know if it's because they know what I did—"

"Hush. Now," she ordered, coming over to him. She put her hand on his face. "Will, I am doing this for you. I could not let this be your fate. You must never tell anyone the truth."


"I tried," she said. "I tried to tell them what he'd done and why he had to die, but they would not listen. It would make no difference if I told them he tried to kill a boy, too. They would condemn you as well. I will not let you hang."

Will shook his head. "I can't—"

"You are strong and brave. You taught yourself to fight, and you taught yourself to steal. You will still have a chance to grow into a fine man. You must do this for me, Will. You must survive."

He didn't want to. What would be the point?


"I love you more than everything, and what I have done, I did for you," she told him. "I want your promise, Will. Promise me you will go on. You will be the man I know you can be."

He looked like he would deny her, but he whispered his promise to her all the same. She kissed his head and held on for as long as the guards let them, knowing she would be gone in the morning.

She hadn't made him promise not to go to the square.

Maybe she should have.

They had given her no leniency even though she told them of what that man had done. They saw her not as a woman who'd fought against a horrible act but as a whore who had killed a customer because he didn't pay. That, in turn, somehow made her a witch.

He didn't understand it.

No one would listen to him, though. He'd tried to tell them it wasn't like that, had even admitted to his part in it against his mother's wishes, but no one believed him. No one listened. He was just a thief and a liar.

So he stood in the square, and he watched them kill his mother for a crime he'd committed.

He hated them, all of them.

He hated the father he'd never met, the one who'd abandoned them to this.

He hated himself more.

Chapter Text

Will shivered again, unable to get warm. The winters before had been difficult, but there had still been some kind of roof over their heads, thin walls but still walls. Now there was nothing but hard ground and sometimes a tree to cut the flow of the wind. He had no shelter, and he barely had the strength to make it into town for a few scraps of food to sustain him. He no longer managed any practice with his one remaining knife.

He had lost his mother, and while he'd promised her he'd go on, he could not believe it worth it. He had mostly outgrown his clothes, and his boots made his feet ache, but it was too cold without them.

He curled up closer to his tree, trying to get warm. He knew he wouldn't sleep. He saw his mother's death every time he closed his eyes.

He dreamed of it. He could not sleep without seeing her as she died.

He should never have gone to the square, but he had, and now he could not stop seeing what he had seen.

He was almost willing to let the winter chill take him and spare him the memories.

Instead, he decided to do something stupid.

Robin had been arguing with his father again. It seemed all he ever did these days. He had never forgiven him for that woman he wanted to marry, and he wouldn't. His father didn't mourn his mother. He mourned that woman even if he'd sent her away.

It didn't change anything. He'd still betrayed her, and he would do it again if Robin had let him.

He wanted something more than this, and he knew the king had pledged to lead a crusade. To Robin, it seemed a great thing, the sort of battle he should be a part of, not like the ones he had here to no point or purpose.

He did not think he would stay here much longer. He could not abide his father, and it was not enough to ride about with Peter or to torment Marion when he saw her. The ladies of the land held no special promise, for all he found mistletoe useful in persuading some favors from them.

He heard a commotion at the front gate and turned, frowning. He didn't usually see to such matters himself, but he was bored, restless with the colder weather giving him little to do while shut in with his father. Any sort of distraction was welcome.

He hurried over to the gatekeeper. "What is this?"

"Nothing to concern you, young master. Just an urchin begging for bread."

"You know how Father feels about that," Robin said. "Give him food and send him on his way."

"I never said I was here for bread," the boy said, and Robin looked at him. He was young, small and thin, barely anything at clothes did not fit him, and some even seemed stained with what Robin would have thought was blood.

"Is that so?" Robin asked. "What did you come here for, then?"

The boy lifted his head, looking at Robin with pure defiance. He'd never seen anyone so confident before, and it irritated him. "I've a message. For Lord Locksley."

"Tell me."

"You're not Lord Locksley," the boy said, and Robin frowned at him. "I'll only give it to him."

"Well, that's too bad for you, isn't it?" Robin asked, still angry from his last encounter with his father. "He's not seeing anyone. So you can tell me, if you like, or you can be on your way."

"Maybe he would see me if he knew why I came."

Robin had to admire this boy's boldness, since he wouldn't have come here like that, wouldn't have asked to see anyone. He would have expected to be turned away, and he wouldn't have bothered fighting after the first time he was denied. "Why have you come?"

"I have word of someone he knew," the boy said. Then he seemed to falter. "Anne Scarlocke."

Robin tensed. He knew that name. He knew what who she was. The harlot his father had dishonored his mother with, that was her. "That is no one to us."

"She was to your father."

Robin reached for the boy, catching him when he backed into the wall. He doubted the lad was expecting it to be there. "No, she was nothing to him or to this house, and you will not speak her name here again, do you understand me?"

The boy glared at him with the same defiance as before. "I'll speak her name wherever I please, rich boy."

"You're trespassing here," Robin said. "You will leave, now, or I'll have you arrested."

"You claim she means nothing, but you will not hear hear name spoken," the boy said. "You lie. She means something. You'd probably be glad she's dead. You tell him that. Tell him what he caused."

Robin frowned, but before he could ask about that, the boy had kicked him in the privates. He groaned, collapsing in pain as the little urchin fled from the castle gate. "Go on. Get him."

Will leaned against a tree, weak and tired. He had not known if he would be able to see his father, but he had thought maybe telling him of his mother's death would be enough. He didn't know that it would make any difference to them, but he wanted to tell them, wanted his father to know what he'd done in turning them away.

He was to blame. If she had never been with him, never had a child, then she could have gone anywhere, married anyone. It could have been that blacksmith or half a dozen others. If not for Will, she'd never have had to sell herself.

And he knew he was as much to blame as his father was, more so, since she'd died for his crime, but he still wanted his father to pay. He hated that man, and he'd never even met him.

He looked back at the castle, almost certain he'd met the boy his mother had told him about. Locksley's son, the one who drove them apart. His brother.

Will hated him, too. He wouldn't even let him see his father.

He hadn't said he wanted to see his father, but judging from the way he'd reacted to his mother's name, he wouldn't have let Will in. He'd have hurt him again.

He had known coming here was stupid, a big mistake, but he'd come anyway, and he was never going back.

He wanted nothing from that man or his son. He would do this on his own.

"There you are," a guard from the Locksley house said, and Will looked up to see the one close enough to have a sword pointed at him, the other holding a bow. "We'll be taking you in now, lad."

"I didn't do anything."

"You trespassed, and you injured Master Robin. You will pay for that."

"He hurt me first."

The men just laughed. "Tell that to the sheriff."

"You'll rot in here, lad," the guard said, locking Will's hands in the chains. "Bit of a pity, isn't it? Well, for you, maybe. I don't mind having you around for a good, long time."

Will shuddered, knowing from the way the man looked at him alone what he meant by that. He touched Will's cheek, leering at him, and Will knew he had to find a way out of here.

He didn't have his knives or anything else, and he knew it would not do him any good to admit that he was a killer—wouldn't scare anyone in this place—or that he was Locksley's son. That was no protection. His mother had been wrong about that. It had only gotten him in more trouble.

He couldn't be locked up here with a man like that guard.

He might be able to trick him, though. If Will's body was what he wanted, then maybe he could fool the man into thinking he'd give it willingly and use that to get out.

It wasn't much of a plan, but it was the only one he had.

Sore and thoroughly disgusted by how close he'd had to let that guard get to him, how much he'd been unable to stop, Will made slow progress through the halls. He was small, and the dungeons wound, with people everywhere who would have tried to stop him or begged for help. He had no means of helping them, having lost his dagger when he was taken by the Locksley men and handed over here.

He'd lost his shirt, too, and it was one of the few things left that almost fit. He knew he'd have to find new things, though his mother had always warned against stealing from anyone in their same state.

He'd listened to her before, and he'd never taken anything from someone who couldn't spare it, even if none in the villages they'd lived in were as rich as Lord Locksley or this Nottingham who had him now.

He forced himself forward through the halls, careful to stay out of sight of anyone he heard moving. He got lost through the castle, but it had so many dark places he managed to hide from everyone along his way.

He even saw her. The witch. He thought for sure she'd see him, since she was supposed to know everything, but she passed by without looking back. He waited there, heart racing, and thought he'd be caught at any second when he moved, but it never came.

He was never more relieved than when he stumbled across the door to the outside, stepping out into the courtyard and running out into the night.

He found himself in the woods again, stopped by a tree, and as he leaned against it, he turned his eyes back toward Locksley hall with hatred in his heart.

They were to blame for this. He'd done nothing wrong when he went to see his father, and everything in that prison... that was Robin's fault.

If they ever met again, Will would do more than kick him.

Will set about by first stealing himself a proper set of clothes.

He actually stole something that was much to big for him, but he didn't care. These would serve him for some time, and the extra fabric helped with the cold. Plus he liked the red animals on them, and he thought he'd never give them up, even if they were a part of the Locksley crest.

He'd stolen the clothes from one of the guards. If he was armed, he could have killed the man, since he was better now with his daggers than he had been before, but he'd waited until the man had gone in to visit a true harlot and left them on the floor.

They were a simple theft, but they were worth it, even the boots that were too big.

Pity the man didn't carry daggers. Will wasn't big enough to use his sword, couldn't lift it for very long, though he knew one his next steps would be making it so he could. No one was ever going to trap him like that again.

He couldn't depend on family, not those rich nobles who didn't care about him, and his mother was gone. He was alone. He would do this alone.

One day, he'd go back, and he'd show them he didn't need them, but until then, he would prepare. He'd make himself better than any Locksley.

Chapter Text

He moved on from Locksley's lands, putting both the family that didn't want him and the man he'd stolen his clothing from far behind him. He continued moving about from village to village, never staying too close to them unless he was needing supplies. He'd found he'd had enough of people, from the other children who bullied him to the adults that spit on him and knocked him about, telling him to go beg somewhere else even though he never begged.

He stole. He didn't beg.

That didn't make anyone like him, but he didn't care about being liked. He knew his mother was the only one that had, the only one that would, and even she shouldn't have. His coming had ruined her life, and she'd died because of him.

He tried not to think about it, but the dreams never went away, not the ones of her death. He had them almost every night, and the only peace he got from them was when others came, the trader or his time in the dungeon.

Those were worse sometimes.

Will chose not to sleep more often than not. He worked on his skill with the daggers, having stolen a set of six when a noble made the mistake of sleeping out in the woods near where Will himself had his small camp. That one had a lot of things worth taking, but he'd liked the matched set best, and he'd known he couldn't stay where he'd been.

The money bag had helped, too, since it let him eat for the first time in days.

He'd gotten a sword later. He didn't know how to use it, but so far, he was only using it to get used to the weight. The thing was heavy, and more often than not, he wanted to give up carrying it, but he knew that he would need to be good with it when he got bigger.

He worked alone on things his mother had shown him, though sewing was women's work and not men's, but he'd learned anyway when she was sick and needed help to get it done, and that made it possible for him to mend his clothes and keep them fitting as he grew.

Will hadn't wanted to go on after his mother's death, but he found purpose in anger, in choosing to spite all the Locksleys and make something of himself without their help.

There was talk of the king going to war again—he found it confusing since it seemed like the king was always at war—and while most knights were nobles, if he could be a capable fighter, he might prove worthy of going with them, and he'd heard that was how other men did it. They trained as pages and squires and later had their chance at being knights.

It all seemed like a lot of work, and most of them had to buy their way just to being a page, but Will wasn't that stupid. He'd thought about going back to the blacksmith, but he knew that man had only wanted his mother, and besides, that village either saw him as a bastard or they knew him to be the real killer. They'd never accept him.

He had a life that worked for now, and as he got older, he'd make it even better. That was his promise to himself.

When Will was thirteen, he stole a cask of beer he thought was a water bottle in the dark, and since it was all he had to drink, he used it. He soon found if he drank enough of it before sleeping, he sometimes skipped the nightmares.

It was useful when he was in town. No amount of training or trying had been able to make it so he could stop himself screaming in the night, which was the other reason he avoided the villages most of the time. Even for a child, there was little pity to be had when you cried out and woke people, though some were kinder than others.

Some figured night torments were just what a boy like Will deserved. Without his mother to shelter him, staying in the forest had always seemed best.

Until he found that beer or other things like it could make him sleep without the dreams. From then on, he would always make sure he got his hands on some while he was in town. It had other uses, too, and he liked them, too.

Forgetting was good. He already had much to forget.

Will roamed about the country, sticking to his usual patterns. He would stay closer to a town or a village in the winter, needing supplies, though he did his best to steer clear of Locksley or Nottingham. He would not go near them, not for any price.

Still, he'd become known in some of the smaller villages, with a few of them calling him a thief and trying to run him out at first sight.

That forced him back towards the places he did not wish to go, but he had little choice. He was not so proud as to let himself starve, much as it sometimes tempted him to do so, to drink all he had and fall asleep forever.

Instead, he found himself near the outskirts of Nottingham as winter fell, low on supplies and rather in want of a drink.

He'd grown quite a bit in the last year, feeling almost twice as tall, and his longer limbs had given him some trouble to get used to, forcing him to relearn his steps, though now he found his sword much easier to carry—even if he still lacked skill with it.

He could find someone to teach him, he supposed, though he still hated the idea of relying on anyone but himself.

His mother had been the only one he trusted, and she was long since dead.

He would trust no one else.

John Little was a man who liked his time at the tavern, same as any. He didn't go often, well aware of his wife at home and the little ones to think on, as Wulf was now old enough to find himself in plenty of trouble. He should get back, but one drink after a hard day's labor seemed fair enough, and even Fanny didn't argue that.

He settled in the back with a few of his mates, a flagon in hand. He'd rather have a couple, but he'd settle for one and go home to Fanny for more pleasure and warmth from the cold.

He was still enjoying his brew when his eyes caught onto a young lad, maybe fifteen, making his way to the bar. That red of his doublet was rather noticeable, not so much to the patchwork but to the bright emblem on it, one that seemed to John familiar.

The boy accepted his drink from the barkeep, drinking from it like any man would. John turned back to his own cup when the doors banged open. Only the sheriff's men came in like that, announcing their bloody presence to everyone in the world, even if there was only two of them.

Worse, his bloody steward was with them. That one was a right bastard, and no one liked him, giving himself airs like he was the same as Nottingham or even Guy of Gisborne. Flavell was neither.

Why he didn't drink in the privacy of Nottingham's castle, John didn't know. They had plenty there, didn't they? They had to flaunt it here, though, show that they had more, make everyone here feel that much worse.

The steward's eyes fell on the boy, and John knew in an instant this would end badly for the lad. Flavell's interest was good for no man, but this was only a child, even if he was mostly grown.

"That's a fine doublet you've got there, boy," Flavell said, reaching out to caress the fabric. The boy's hand smacked the man's away, and he glared coldly at the steward, though John figured if he had any sense or knew who he was dealing with, he'd have let the man do as he would, even if it meant losing the coat. "What's this? Don't you know what a compliment is, child?"

The boy's lips curved into a bitter smile. "I know what one is. That wasn't one, for any fool can see it's been mended past any sensible use and doesn't fit well."

The lad was right about that, John thought, but he did not know what he was messing about with, challenging that one, as Flavell would see to it anyone who insulted him paid greater than ones who spoke against Nottingham or Gisborne.

"You have a name?"

John had a feeling the boy would refuse to give it, and that would not go well for him, but the boy seemed aware of that as well, and he finally answered with one word.


"Well, William, there's only one reason a lad with your looks lazes about in a tavern like this," Flavell said, leaning into him. "You know what that is, boy?"

"I came for a drink, same as every man here," the boy countered with more bravery than sense, though John was relieved to hear the lad's next words. "And as I've finished, I'll be going now."

He tried to move toward the door, but Flavell's men blocked the door.

"We haven't finished talking."

The boy shook his head. "You're not interested in talking, and I've no interest in what you're suggesting. I'm leaving."

John rose, not liking this situation at all. He'd heard some rumors about Flavell, they all had, but he hadn't figured the bastard would expose himself like this, for all to hear, unless he just wanted an excuse to make the boy swing when he'd done nothing at all. He moved toward the guards, figuring his size would make the soldiers think a bit, maybe let the boy slip past them.

"I could lock you up for what you are," Flavell said, circling around behind the boy. "You'd never see daylight again for your sins."

"Am I supposed to beg for freedom?" Will asked, shaking his head. "What would be the point? You'd not free me if I did. Why don't you say what you want and be done with the games?"

Flavell spoke in his ear, and John didn't hear what he said, but he did see what the boy did next. A blade came out of nowhere, lodging itself deep in the leg of the nearest soldier. Another one moved up against Flavell's neck, and third was pointed at the uninjured guard.

"No, I will tell you what you're going to do," Will corrected. "You're going to let me pass, or I will do much worse with this blade than nick your little helper over there."

"You'll pay for this, child."

The guard moved and the boy threw the other blade, catching him in the arm, causing him to cry out and stumble back.

"I only want to leave," the boy told him. "If you want a fight, you'll get one, because I'll be damned if I'll let you do that to me."

There wasn't much worse than a desperate man, John knew, and this wasn't even a man, just a boy, scared but with a bit of skill. That boy would fight until one or both of them was dead, and if it was Flavell who died, that boy was as good as dead.

"You're a fool," Flavell said, still thinking the boy was no threat, just lucky with that toss. John figured he was, too, but that didn't mean that boy wouldn't kill if he was pushed. Flavell gestured to the men behind him. "Get him."

The guard pulled the blade from his arm and dropped it on the ground. Angry, he advanced on the boy, who kicked Flavell, sending him sprawling before turning and diving in between the guard's legs to grab the discarded blade. He pulled the other from the second guard's leg, startling him. He gave the man a mocking salute and rushed out the door.

"After him, you fools," the steward ordered, running toward the door himself, out into the night, calling for more guards.

John shook his head as he looked back at his own table.

"Bloody idiot," his mate said of the boy. "He'll be dead by daybreak, soon as they find him."

John nodded grimly, reaching for his own stein and finishing his drink with a heavy heart. What was this place coming to when a boy was forced to fight like that for no reason at all? Oh, the lad was stupid, talking back as he'd done, but that didn't make Flavell right, and what happened when Wulf was that age? Would he be forced to do the same, fight for his life because some noble noticed a bloody coat?

He didn't like to think of it.

"There, now," Fanny said. "Just you sit there and stay still."

The boy frowned at her, but she held a finger to her lips. He was not to say a word. The soldiers had passed by here once already, and if he had any sense at all, he'd wait until they were gone for good. She didn't know what he was supposed to have done, but he was only a child, and no child should have to face Nottingham's dungeons.

"I mean it," she said, going over to make sure the fuss hadn't woken Wulf. If he stirred, he'd get upset by the stranger, and that would do none of them good.

"Why?" the boy asked, and she turned back to look at him. "You don't know what I've done."

She looked him over. "I'd bet you were a thief."

He smiled at that, looking around the hut like he was trying to find a way out of it besides the door. She pointed a warning finger at him.

"Don't. You'll just bring them down on all of us, and I won't forgive you for it."

He started to protest, and the door to the hut opened, causing him to scramble back toward the wall, though he could not find anywhere to go unless he went through the walls themselves. Fanny found herself looking at John with relief. She'd have had to give the boy over to the soldiers, much as she would have hated it.

"What's this now?"

"I'm going," the boy said, starting for the door, but John was still blocking it. "Look, I didn't do anything to them. She pulled me in here, and I stayed here to hide for a few minutes, that's all."

"Aye, but I saw you with the steward. What you think you were doing in that tavern, anyhow?"

"Not what he said," the boy answered, eyes dark. "I don't do that."

Fanny looked at John, who shook his head, trying to tell her she didn't want that answer when she knew very well she did. She wanted to know what he did.

"You were in a tavern."

"For a drink. I had no fight with anyone until they forced that one."

"You carry an awful lot of knives for someone without a fight."

"I defend myself. That's all." The boy folded his arms over his chest. "Look, the longer I stay, the more likely it is they find me in your home. None of us wants that. Let me go."

"You going to try and use those blades on me if I don't?"

Fanny snorted. Surely the boy wasn't that stupid. John was twice the kid's size, scraggly as he was, with barely a bit of meat on him. She didn't think he was going to grow any taller than he was now, either, if he lived past the year.

"If you make me," the boy answered. "You could just let me be. That's all I want."

"Is it now?" John asked. He studied the boy with a frown. "Somehow, I don't think it is."

"It's nothing to you. You don't know me."

"Aye, Will," John agreed, and the boy started at the use of his name. "I don't know you, but I do know at the rate you're going, you'll get yourself killed in no time. You've gone and made an enemy of the sheriff's steward, and he's not going to stop hunting you."

The boy's face lost some color, but he struggled to stay calm. "I just wanted a drink. I paid for it. I didn't do anything."

"You don't have to with that bastard," Fanny said. "You didn't know who he was?"

He shook his head. "I move around a lot. Doesn't pay to stay in the same place. We never did, not since I was little."


The boy set his jaw and didn't answer. Fanny shook her head, not sure what to think of the child, though he was in trouble bad if he had upset Flavell.

"You planning on answering me?"

"No," the boy said, backing up to the wall again. Fanny knew what he was going to do a second before he did it, but even with John lunging for him, he managed to escape, making a hole in the thatch of the wall as he did.

"Bloody bastard," John called after him, shaking his head in frustration. Fanny put a hand on his arm. The hole could be mended, and whether they liked it or not, that boy would likely not last the week, not with the sheriff's men hunting him.

Will leaned against a tree, exhausted. He was tired of this game he seemed stuck playing with the sheriff's men. His steward seemed to be sending them everywhere despite the weather, and Will knew he'd never make it to any of the distant villages where he was still almost welcome in this blizzard.

Shivering, he pulled his stolen cloak tighter around him. He had to do something. He'd heard Lord Locksley's son had left for the crusades, so maybe he could get in to see his father now, though Will still didn't know that he wanted to, since that man had never done a thing to find him or help his mother, not even when they were close.

He forced himself back to the village. The soldiers should be in bed by now, for the most part, and while Will had never liked sleeping with horses, the stables of nobles were usually warmer than the huts of the peasants. Nice to know where a person stood, wasn't it?

He found an empty stall and huddled down into it, curling up to get some rest and hoping the dreams wouldn't come to betray him.

The dawn brought Will back to awareness, light hitting his face and making him know it was time to leave. He forced himself up, reluctantly moving back into the cold. The early morning was more than a little chilly, and he didn't want to be out in it, but he knew he had little choice.

"Did you enjoy your stay?"

Will turned, taking in the guard just before one stepped up behind him. He felt the sword against his back and saw the men on the other side of the door. He knew it wasn't likely he'd get away, but he had to try anyway.

He ran, darting through the village, weaving through the huts and homes, past livestock and wares, using each narrow passage to aid his escape and avoid more of the men. He saw the big man from the tavern, the one whose home he'd been in, watching him, but he didn't stop, knowing he had to make it back to the gate or somewhere he could scale the wall.

He found one, using a cart helpfully placed by the wall, and he hopped up, rushing to the top and using it to reach the ledge. He jumped down without looking back, not wanting to give them a chance to hit him with an arrow.

Only then did he realize his mistake. He looked up at the sheriff's men, knowing this time he had nowhere to go.

"There you are," the steward said, coming into the room with a smile that made Will sick. He knew he showed it because the other man just smiled wider, grinning like a madman. "I was so tired of this game. There is some thrill to the hunt, but while the challenge was enjoyable for a time, it became tiresome."

Will jerked on the chains holding him in place. They belonged in the dungeon, but he swore he was in this man's private room.

"I'd just finished with my last one that night. He didn't last half as long as this chase you've given me, which means I shall enjoy my time with you very much."

Will shuddered, thinking of the things that man had said in the tavern.

"I knew, seeing you there, that you were just what I needed. Nottingham prefers women, hurting them to hear their cries during his pleasure, but me... I find the cries of young men are so much more fulfilling. You fight harder, longer, endure more. And the pretty ones... they are so much more enjoyable to mark," the steward said, coming close enough to grab Will's face. He spat at him, and the man gripped his jaw hard enough he thought it would break. "I will mark you, as I promised, inside and out. You are nothing, though I will make you something as I make you mine."

Will tried to pull himself free. He'd been afraid of this one being like the trader, but this was worse, much worse.

"One of the first things we should do is make sure that you will not lead me on such a chase ever again," the man went on, picking up one of Will's daggers and dragging it through the fabric of his legging. "I know there are simpler ways of doing this. I could break your ankle or every bone in your foot, but that does not allow me to properly mark you as I've promised."

Will tried to pull away, but there was nowhere to go as the blade plunged into his thigh.

Chapter Text

"You're awake again. Good."

Will barely lifted his head to look at his tormentor. He'd passed out as the bastard had made a mess of his leg, and it burned with every bit of air that passed by it. He didn't even remember him working on the other one, but it bled, trickling down into his boot. He knew even if he got free, he couldn't run. He wouldn't escape. His mother should have let him be hung for that man's death. It was his doing, and all he'd known since was suffering.

"I was thinking I'd like to do a bit of work on your hand, the man told him, lifting up Will's fingers. "You were a little too proficient with these blades of yours, and you should never be that again."

Will stared at him. He heard the metal clink as the cuff around his hand was opened. The man took hold of him, turning his hand over in his grasp.

"You have remarkably fine skin. For someone of your class, you are so... pure. Unmarked. I am delighted to have found someone so worthy of my attention."

Will spat at him, getting backhanded for it. He fell back, held up only by the chain on his other hand. He could only watch as the blade went down his arm, cutting a long red gash that went nearly the length of it.

"Hmm. I almost regret spoiling that sight. You were so unblemished."

"You could stop," Will said. He did not think that the man would, but he said it anyway. He didn't know why his mouth always went before he could stop it. He'd thought of half a dozen ways he could have spared himself this trouble if he'd spoken differently in the tavern. He could have pretended to agree and slipped away before the deed was done, telling the man he'd meet him in private and never going to the arranged spot. That would have angered him, yes, but not like this.

Hurting those guards, escaping for days, those things had infuriated the steward, even if he claimed doing this to Will had been his intention all along.

He still could have escaped if he'd been smarter.

"This is a wonderful canvas," the steward said, taking the dagger and using it to gouge a mark into Will's palm. He bit his lip, refusing to let himself cry out even as tears welled up in his eyes. He'd been hurt before, but this bastard seemed to find new ways of causing pain along with every word threatening that which Will had feared most. His voice was sick with it, like he found that pleasure in hurting him. "We should make them match, shouldn't we?"

Will looked up, watching in confusion as the man unshackled his other hand. His mind could barely understand what he was seeing even as the blood spilled out over his hand.

The steward pulled his hand over to the table, setting them both there so he could compare the marks he'd made. Will's eyes went to the wood beside them, where the man had set the dagger, lost in the dredges of his insanity.

He continued to coo about the cut, talking about making a better design. Will swallowed. He would have to be fast. He knew he was hurting, the fresh cuts would be ten time worse if he moved, but he would not get another chance at this.

He grabbed the dagger and with everything he had, he brought it to bear on the steward, slicing through the man's neck.

Blood splattered all over him, and Will thought he'd be sick. He stared for a moment before some part of him reached for the purse on the dead man's belt. He forced himself to gather up the other knives, limping toward the door.

He remembered the way he'd found out of Nottingham in the past, and he used it again, even as he could barely stand and every step was agony. His legs pained him, but he knew if he stayed, he'd die. A part of him wanted that. He was tired of the pain and fighting to go on when he had nothing and no one. He had his anger toward the Locksleys, but that wasn't enough.

He stumbled out into the night, not sure where he was going or if he would make it more than a few steps more. He'd rather die out here, free, than go back in to whatever torture they'd put him through.

He heard screams, and it was a moment before he realized they were because of him.

He was stained red all over, covered in the steward's blood and his own, and he was frightening the children.

He almost found it funny. He might even have laughed. He wasn't sure of anything anymore.

"I'm not that bloody heartless," Fanny muttered, knowing that John might disagree with her, but she couldn't stand by and watch that boy die, not even if she knew the soldiers would follow the screams here soon enough. She took hold of his arm, the one not covered in blood, and pulled him into the hut.

He stumbled, falling down to spread blood upon the dirt floor.

"Are ye daft, woman?"

"I told you—I'm not heartless," Fanny said. "If he lived, I'd make him fix the hut for the trouble he's caused. As it is..."

"Aye," John said, both of them aware they were probably going to watch this child die within the next few minutes. If he lasted much longer than that, he'd be taken back to the castle dungeons where they'd finish him off for sure.

Fanny knelt down near him, wanting to get a look at his wounds.


"I just want to see—"

"Don't help me," the boy whispered. "I... I killed him. Don't... don't help me..."

"You killed who, laddie?" John asked, joining Fanny at his side. The boy didn't look like he could have harmed anyone, but then it was possible some of that blood wasn't his. "A guard, is that it?"


"Bloody hell, lad. You have any idea what you've done?"

The boy looked up at him. "He wanted my hands... to match... they... don't... do... they?"

Fanny winced. Though both of them were bloodied, they weren't cut in exactly the same way. Someone had tried, and they were close, but the left was longer than the right from what she could see. The right arm was bleeding as well. "You rest now."

He started to say something, but he must have been too weak because he closed his eyes and didn't get a word out. Fanny looked at the door, frowning. She knew this could cost them plenty, and this boy had given them plenty of trouble before, but she still didn't feel right letting him die like this.

She took a bit of cloth and took hold of the boy's hand to cover the wound. He yanked it from her, pulling it up against his chest.

"Trail the blood..." the boy whispered. "Used to do it... bullies... made false trail... in the dirt... easier... with blood."

John frowned. "You didn't."

"Legs... not... bleeding... just... look like... they are. He finished them... long time ago."

Fanny crossed herself. She wasn't sorry that steward was gone. He deserved to die.

"Hate nobles," the boy muttered, trying to push himself back up. "Rich... all of them..."

"I told you," Fanny said. "Rest now. You need to rest."

"She said that once... like it would... make it possible... to forget... what that man did... It isn't. Except when I'm drunk... then I forget. Then I sleep... without screaming... Why am I talking? Shouldn't talk..."

"Not another word," John told him. He looked at Fanny as she started to protest. "They're already looking for him. He can't be talking. He shouldn't stay here. You heard him. He's killed the bloody steward. Won't matter if that bastard deserved it or if the lad was defending himself. They'll want to hang him for this."

That was if the boy lasted the night, though neither of them said that. She knew if he was taken by the guards again, he wouldn't. The soldiers could be here in the next minute. They'd find the lad in no time, and if she and John were seen to be helping him, then both of them could end up dying with him. She couldn't do that.

And she couldn't turn the boy in, either.

"Give him something for the pain."

"Aye," John said, taking out his bottle of mead. He didn't have much left, and she knew it, but she also knew he was a good man, and no one should be suffering like this boy was now. "Poor bastard."

John woke with a start. He'd fallen asleep waiting for the soldiers to burst in, sure they'd find the boy lying there and drag him out. He'd told Fanny to go in the back with the little ones, wanting to keep her out of this mess. She'd been the one to take the boy in, but he'd let her do it. He could have stopped her or thrown the bastard out.

He'd let the boy stay in the hut, gave him a drink and a place to die that wasn't freezing.

Soldiers came in, he'd deny everything, tell them the boy must have come in while they were sleeping. He'd never heard them, and he would have expected them to search every hut in the village by now. He frowned as he went into the other part of the hut.

There was no one there. The boy was gone. The dirt had been spread about, trying to cover over the stains the boy had left behind.

John shook his head. Unbelievable. That little bastard had gotten up and left in the night. Had to have been him. The soldiers would have dragged him out, made a hell of a lot of noise, and gotten John and Fanny, too.

He shook his head, picking up his mead to find it was empty. He swore, but then he saw a few coins on the ground. He picked one up and then another, counting them until he found enough to replace his drink and the damage to their hut. Cheeky little bastard.

He stepped outside, seeing what looked like a trail of blood leading away from their hut. He shook his head. He hoped the lad managed to lead them on one hell of a chase before he died, the daft bugger.

Will didn't like to think the things he did to survive after killing the steward. That time was one of the worst after his mother died. The only good part was that couple taking him in for a bit right afterward. If he hadn't had that, he might not have made it past that night.

He'd rather have stayed there than move on, but they seemed decent people who didn't deserve the trouble he always brought with him. He'd led the soldiers away from them and to the wood before doubling back, knowing he was in no shape to survive in the woods alone.

What he'd done to stay hidden after that first night was far less pleasant, but he'd done it, and he had lived through it. Another hadn't, Will had killed him to ensure his silence, but it was no less than that man deserved, and he felt sure the man would have sold him out soon enough anyway, since the money he'd had would never have been enough to counter that kind of greed.

He'd taken enough off the steward to buy him food and medicine, though he'd had to sacrifice plenty to get out of the village, and he'd foolishly repaid the couple before he paid the cost of his convalescence.

Still, he'd bought himself enough time to heal up enough to return to the woods, which he did as soon as he felt strong enough. He'd considered going back to his father, but after what he'd done in Nottingham, he knew they'd never accept him, and he would be known for what he'd done.

The steward had marked him for life.

Some parts of him weren't the same. He thought he might limp for life after what that bastard had done to his legs, but that seemed to be getting less and less by the day. They were a weakness, though, and soon as Will was able, he got hold of some leather and made himself a pair of reinforced leggings, sewing the leather with studs to protect himself, knowing any opponent would go for them if he showed any sign of the old injuries there, which he did for long months afterward, same with the rest of him. His hands had healed up, too, though he'd fashioned himself a pair of gloves to cover the damage and avoid the questions. People saw scars and always had questions, even of strangers who were just passing through.

Will had a price on his head. He'd seen it. The sum wasn't high, though it would have tempted him when he was younger, and they'd given him a new name, all those who saw him stumble through the village covered in blood.

Will Scarlett.

He almost liked it.

Chapter Text

It was the bloody taxes.

Weren't no one John knew that could afford them, not a one among them, but that didn't stop the sheriff from demanding them. He'd tried getting extra work, he was strong and tough, and he'd long since given up luxuries like a draft in the tavern now and again, but it wasn't enough. They couldn't afford to live, and that was the plain truth of it.

He'd been unable to ignore the cries of his children, and he'd done what any father would do. He'd found them food.

That food was one of Nottingham's deer, but he didn't care when he'd given all his wages to taxes and couldn't feed his own.

Was his bloody bad luck that Guy of Grisborne and his men were out riding the same morning as when he'd just finished with a new deer that would have fed Fanny and the young ones for a month if she was careful with it.

He'd fought off the first arrivals, knocking them down and making his way with his prize.

He hadn't figured on the riders, and that forced him to change his plans.

A few crossbow bolts to his legs made running hard, but he did anyway, refusing to die over a bloody deer. He'd find his way back to Fanny and the children. He swore it.

He fled into Sherwood, knowing that he could manage a place to hide in the trees until the riders gave up looking. They'd come back with dogs, maybe, but he'd deal with that later, after he'd seen to his wounds.

He heard wind through the trees making an eerie sound, and he snorted. They'd been telling tales of people losing their way and dying in Sherwood since he was a lad, and more recently, the stories of ghosts had increased, with many a traveler hearing a wail of anguish in the woods, but he wasn't the sort to be afraid of that.

Gisborne yelled orders to his men, forcing them into the forest, and John tried moving further into the trees, wincing with each step. Big man like him, stopped by a small bloody arrow. Well, more like five, but it still angered him. He couldn't change what had happened. Ranged weapons could fell many a man before he had a chance to fight, and this was no different.

He kept on in the forest until he was forced to stop by a river. Bloody hell. It figured. He didn't know how to swim, never learned, and there was no way of knowing if the thing was deep or not until it was too late.

He heard someone behind him, and he tried to talk himself into the water. Better drowning than the hangman's noose over a bloody deer, and maybe he'd make it. He stepped into the water, and then he heard it just before another bolt hit his side. He went down, falling into the water. It wasn't deep here, but he was struggling anyway, the pain making it almost impossible to rise.

"Bet you feel a bit like a deer now," the soldier sneered at him, raising the crossbow and loading another bolt into it.

John would strangle this one with his bare hands. He swore it.

And then the soldier gave a grunt and fell forward, dropping his crossbow. The weapon fell into the water, carried down into the rocks and breaking apart. John looked at the blade in the man's back, recognizing it just before a young man pulled it out.

He kicked the body down the river.

"Bloody hell," John whispered, recognizing that lad as well. "I'd heard this place was haunted, but you really are a ghost."

The thief smiled at him, giving him a small bow. "At your service, sir."

"Oh, piss off. You know you still owe me for the damage to my home."

"No, I don't. I paid that back already, and even if I hadn't, I just saved your life," the boy said, holding out a hand to him. "We're even."

John snorted. "I'd have dealt with him myself."

"If that's how you want it," the boy muttered, pulling back his hand and walking away. John heard the water splashing and realized the boy was crossing the river.

"Wait one blooming minute."

"Why aren't you dead?"

The lad across from John shrugged. "I'm too stubborn, I suppose. Should have given up years ago, but I'm still here."

John narrowed his gaze at him. "That's no answer. I saw what that bastard did to you. You shouldn't have made it out of the hut that night."

"The apothecary and I came to an agreement. The steward's purse was very helpful in arranging that," the lad answered, giving John an irritating grin. "It didn't last, but then they never do, do they? Never any good when the money's run out."

"You the one that killed him, then, too?"

The thief reached into a bag, pulling out a jar full of herbs. He tossed it to John. "That should help with the bolts."

In some ways, the fact that the boy had this was answer enough. No one would have walked out of there without paying a high sum for this, and the place had been empty of most of the valuable herbs and supplies when the man was found dead. "You didn't answer my question."

The boy stilled. "Does it change anything if I did?"

"It's one thing in defense. It's something else if you're doing it because you've come to like it."

That got a snort. "A few deaths and somehow I'm as bad as that steward, then, is that it? I never said I liked it."

"How many deaths?"

The lad met his eyes and held the gaze. "Are you going to use that or not? Because if you're not, I want it back. That's supposed to last me a good long while, seeing as I'm probably going to live in this cursed forest for the rest of my life."

"You the one responsible for the tales of men going missing in the woods?"

"Those go back centuries."

"Not all of them."

The lad reached for the jar again, and John grabbed hold of him, making sure the grip was tight enough to make the boy wince. "I'm injured, not dead, lad, and you'd best be answering my question."

"I've killed other soldiers who came in here looking for me or people like you, yes," the boy said, trying to yank his arm free. John kept hold of him, wanting his answers. "Some of them are braver than others, but the more that disappear, the less come wandering in. Yours made it a hell of a lot further than most."

John nodded. He hadn't thought the man would pursue him that far. Two others had turned back when the winds picked up that sound. "You the only one out here?"

"I think there are others. We don't exactly go saying hello to each other. Least I don't. I've a price on my head which you well know."

"Aye." It was still one of the highest bounties around, seeing as he'd killed the sheriff's steward. The others were wanted for taxes and poaching, and since just about everyone was guilty of that, only this boy here was likely to end up being turned in—assuming anyone could find him in the forest.

"You try to take me in, and I will kill you," the boy promised. "You've only got one of my arms, and I have other daggers."

John let him go, and he fell back, grumbling to himself.

"You got a name besides Scarlet?"

"Will Scarlett suits me fine," the lad answered. "Never did get yours, though."

"John Little."

Will wasn't sure that Little felt he'd done him any favors, killing that soldier, so it didn't make much sense to him that the man seemed to want Will's company. He knew it wasn't the herbs, either, since all those bolts seemed to be to the big man was a nuisance. He didn't move like they hurt him at all whereas Will would have been in agony and shown it, like he apparently showed everything.

"You're limping."

"It still hurts when the weather turns," Will admitted, not looking forward to another winter in the woods. He'd built up his shelters here best as he could, since he couldn't risk any of the nearby villages with the price on his head. He was more than two month's food and shelter to anyone around here, and it was dangerous to show his face.

"You've a decent camp," John observed. "You know where the others make theirs?"

"Here and there. Most of them move. I like to stay by the river. Sometimes the rich boys drop stuff. It's worth the extra bit of cold coming off the water."

"You ever get bolder than that?"

"I've stolen a few things while the nobles slept if they pause for the night. Even got a few purses while they watered the trees, but I'm not stupid enough to war with everyone that passes through."

John smiled at that. He stopped to look up, frowning. "What's that, then?"

"Ah, that," Will smiled. "You'll think yourself a fool once you know."

"Don't tempt me, lad," John warned. Will nodded. Even though he hadn't been hurt so far, there was a bit of an understanding to this that if he didn't answer questions to the big man's satisfaction or didn't do as he was told that they'd come to blows. Will knew John was injured, but he wasn't stupid enough to think that was enough. He did best when he could sneak upon his opponent or strike from a distance, never directly, and if he fought John, he'd lose.

He could run, but if he was driven out of Sherwood, he'd have nowhere to go.

Will pointed above their heads. "There."

John laughed. "You're bloody joking."

Will shook his head. "Should have been my most useless theft of all. I'd taken this large sack from a man, and it was heavy enough. I thought for sure I'd gotten something good, but it turned out to be a toy."

"A wind chime."

"A part of me was so mad I just about tossed the thing in the river, but I'd never had one before, either. I tied it to the tree above my camp as a joke, but I found later, when I'd gotten myself lost, that I could use it to find my way back to my place. I've used one ever since to mark my place or things I want to get back to."

"Lord love you, Will Scarlett," John muttered, sounding almost proud. "You know what you've done? You've given them ghosts to fear. It's no bloody wonder they won't come into the forest hearing those things scattered about."

That hadn't been Will's intention, but it worked, he supposed.

The big man took hold of him, and Will started to panic.

"You know what this means?"


John shook his head, still smiling and looking a little crazed. "Think, boy. You used to come and go from the forest. You'd go steal a bit and go back to the woods, wouldn't you?"

Will didn't want to answer that, but he was still being held by the stronger man, so he nodded.

"The forest is safe. We'll put dozens of those chimes up, hundreds, and make everyone, not just a few suspicious men, think it's haunted. We'll keep them all away, and then all of us what have been forced from our homes can live here and still see the ones we love. I'll be able to get back to Fanny and the children."

Will just stared at him.

"Come on, lad. Show me where the others are."

John had gathered all the men into the same area of the forest to camp. It was deep enough in no casual walker would find them. Most wouldn't even after weeks or months of searching, and it was also in the thick of things enough to provide more shelter from the winter storms. He encouraged each man to build his own shelter there, though one stubborn idiot refused.

He had no idea where Will Scarlett made his bed, but he didn't think most of the men wanted to know anyway. They were aware that the lad had a price on his head for killing the steward, and the legend of him walking way from that covered in blood had only grown over the years. He was considered a demon by some, though being a killer was enough to make most men wary of him.

It didn't seem to bother the lad none, since he seemed to prefer being at a distance from the other men.

John thought back to the lad's remarks about only sleeping without screaming when he was drunk, and he figured he had his reason for that. He didn't push. It wasn't necessary.

They used the wind chimes throughout the forest, and next time he saw Fanny, she told him how the ghost stories were everywhere now. Used to be a few fool idiots, but everyone was believing in ghosts now, from the simplest of peasants to the richest of lords.

John was pleased, but he knew they'd need a lot more than that to keep Sherwood the safe haven they needed it to be. He couldn't lose it, since if he did, he'd never be able to make it back to his wife or his children. Wulf was so big now, he seemed practically grown, and he was taking on too much at home, wanting to join his father in the woods and insisting on being taught to hunt.

He was just fortunate the boy didn't want to learn thieving from Will.

Life in Sherwood wasn't easy, but they made do.

A few of the better hunters among them would go out for food, poach a deer or two for the men. They'd also taken to getting taxes for the river and tolls on the road, though that worked better half the time when the men in front were distractions for Scarlett, who'd go behind the horses, cut purses, and then spook the creatures into running like hell.

He showed no remorse if they threw their riders, which made the men of the camp even warier of him. John knew the lad wasn't half, since most of what he did was talk, and when it came to hunting, Will was more squeamish than some of the others, not liking much to do with the killing or butchering that was necessary.

The boy might have killed in the past, but it was clear to John he had no real taste for it, even if the others assumed he did.


He jerked, hearing John's voice a second before the big man loomed above him. He forced himself to still, trying to calm his breathing. He was not going to panic this time. He had, the night before, when some idiot had wandered into his private camp only to die.

It wasn't one of the others, not one he knew, though there would be hell to pay if John knew about it. Will had thought he'd gotten rid of the body, but they could have found it.


"Fanny sent word. The littlest one is sick."

Will grimaced. "You know they'll be watching. Any time one of them is hurt or sick, they double the guard looking for you, even if the price on your head still isn't that high."

Anyone who survived the thefts on the road or the river tax had probably told tale of the big man who led the group, and there weren't that many about John's size. Almost all of Nottingham probably knew he was the one leading the Sherwood outcasts, which would explain the guards.

"We haven't got much. Travelers have been few these past months."

Will nodded. People were avoiding Sherwood, and they did more at the river even if it was less profitable. The road was too dangerous in most respects. "I don't have much left myself. After that fool Tom got himself bit by Gisborne's dogs, we used just about all of it."

"I need you to take these coins to Fanny."

He dropped two coins into Will's hand, and Will almost snorted. That wasn't nearly enough.

"Promise me, Will Scarlett. If anything happens to my children—"

"Nothing will."

John nodded. "I'm counting on you for that."

Will didn't know why he would, since no one else in the camp besides John trusted him. Most of them would just as soon Will never came back from anywhere. He also knew no one else had the skills they needed to get past the guards, make sure the report on John's children was true, and get the medicine to the girl if she needed it. He could steal it or the cost of it if necessary, and that was something no one else could, seeing as they were almost all "honest" folk.

Will wasn't honest. And he wasn't good.

Still, John didn't actually need someone who was good or honest, not right now.

He needed Will.


"Blooming Christ," Fanny said, putting a hand on her chest. "You scared me. Don't you know how to come and go like a normal person?"

Will snorted. "There are at least ten of the sheriff's guards positioned around this hut waiting for John to show his face anywhere near this village. I'm not going to walk through the front door. I happen to have this thing about surviving. It's what I do."

"Aye, and some of us are glad you do in spite of everything you do," she said, rocking her little girl in her arms. "She's been fussing all night through. My mother took in the middle two, and Wulf keeps threatening to go live with his father."

"He's an idiot."

"That he is. It's no life for anyone, but he thinks it is," Fanny muttered. She was proud of her son and how he'd grown, but she hated the idea of him being forced into the same life as his father, hiding all the time, almost never seeing his family, risking arrest any time he did.

"Stephen's wife said it was bad," Will said, nodding to the child in Fanny's arms. "She's panicking, says it's the plague."

Fanny snorted. "I told her it wasn't. It's the measles. She's got a rash now. I just haven't been able to get the fever down, and I'm out of everything. Wulf got us food, God knows where. I didn't ask. It's not enough, though."

"Well, this should help," Will said, holding up his offering again. "Best for fevers, right?"

"Ah, bless you, Will," Fanny said, taking it from him. She kissed his cheek and he started. "I'm not even going to ask where you got it."

"Best not," Will said, since no one would believe it anyway. "John'll want word. If there's any change."

"Oh, you daft thing," Fanny said, irritated and exhausted. "You're not leaving again before it gets dark anyhow. Let me take care of this one, and then I'll deal with the stew."

"I can stir the stew."

Fanny looked like she might argue, but she didn't. She nodded, sitting down with the girl. He left her with the baby and went to the fire. He stood over it, enjoying the warmth of a fire. His own were never so nice, and he didn't go to the one in the center of the camp often.

John was a lucky man.

Sometimes Will thought he'd like to steal enough to get that man back home, and sometimes he thought he'd like to do it from the Locksleys. That would be almost fitting, wouldn't it? He might try it. He wondered what would happen if he did, if he got caught and laughed and said it should have been his but Locksley was a selfish bastard and his son was worse.

"She's finally sleeping," Fanny said. "First time in days."

Startled, Will turned back to see her standing there.

"You're a mite skittish, love. That just because of the soldiers out there?"

Will nodded. He knew if he were to stay overnight, he'd dream about that steward again. Being in the village always made him remember it. His hands itched, and his legs burned. He even thought that he limped more when he was here, even after he'd gotten rid of it everywhere else.

"You have less reason than anyone else to risk this."

He knew that. He had no family here, no one who cared a damned thing about him, and he had the highest price on his head, even though John's had risen a bit since the last time Will was in Nottingham.

"I'll get you some stew."

"You're a dear."

Will snorted, almost falling into the fire when he laughed. He forced himself to fill up the bowl. "Don't say that, Fanny. I've a reputation."

She laughed. "Aye, you do, and most of it false."

"Just eat your stew. You might still have some time to sleep."

Fanny sat down with the bowl, making quick work of her meal like any mother with a brood of young ones knew how to do. "How's John?"

Will took a seat near the fire, feeling uncomfortable. It wasn't his place to talk about John, even if they both wanted news of each other and expected anyone who went into the village to pass it along. "Well as can be expected. Missing all of you. He'd be here if he thought he could be."

"I know," Fanny said, finishing her meal. "Wake me before you go, Will. I'll have something for you to take back."

He nodded, settling in to wait for the darkness of the night.

Will had fallen asleep in front of the fire, and Fanny would have let him stay there, doubting that lad got much of any rest in the forest, but she knew John was worried. She also knew Will wouldn't want to stay. He never did.

He must have heard her. He jerked awake and looked up at her, worried.

"All's well," she told him. "Her fever's down. She's much cooler. She ate, and she's sleeping again. Tell John that for me."

"I will."

"I've packed up a few things for him, food and the like," Fanny said, taking out the bag. "That's for him."

Will nodded. "I'll see he gets it, don't you worry."

"I don't," she said, which had the boy frowning. She'd doubted him only the once when her husband sent him to her, and never again. Will saw to their needs, and while some of the others about still didn't trust him and asked her why she'd let a murderer so close to her babies, she just snorted. Will had killed, she knew that and wasn't denying it. She also knew there was much more to the lad than that, and who among them was blameless, with all of them poaching to survive and lying about knowing where men with prices on their heads were hiding?

"This is for you," she said, passing him a shirt she'd finished making not long before her little one took sick.

He frowned at her. "Fanny, I don't—"

"Don't be a fool, Will Scarlett. You know you need it. You've been running about in patchwork rags for long enough."

"They go with the name."

She snorted. "No one's telling you to give up your scarlet. I got that just for you."

"Me? Why would you—"

"You've been here to take care of me and mine more than John has in this past year, and don't you be denying it now. He always sends you when he can't be here, and he can't be here more often than he can. So you just shut your mouth, accept I'm giving that to you, and not say another word unless it's thank you."

Will nodded, still looking a bit stunned.

"Go on with you, then. It's late, and you need to be off."

Chapter Text

Wulf hated Will.

He didn't know exactly what he'd done to the boy besides existing, though he thought it might have something to do with him coming and going more than his father did, but the plain fact of things was that the little bugger hated him.

He didn't think much of the boy, either, but then Will didn't much like anyone. John and Fanny, maybe, but that whole mess was too strange to think about most times. He followed John's lead, and Fanny took it on herself to fuss over him, but Will never understood it.

He didn't know what to do with people even when his mother was alive.

And John's son Wulf was no different.

Part of the trouble was that Wulf could actually shoot, unlike half the men in the camp and Will himself. When it came to ranged weapons, Will used his daggers, as he did for everything. Those knives were his first and only means of defense.

He'd never managed to learn how to use the sword. Maybe if he and John had spent more time alone when he first had to live in Sherwood, it would have been different, but John had taken to organizing people and making things better for all of them, and that had meant that Will wasn't about to ask for help. He didn't admit to any kind of weakness in front of them.

He knew they hated him, and he wasn't surprised. Everyone did.

John made some effort to draw him in with the others, but it never worked, and Will didn't bother with it if he could help it.

So when John told Will to watch the lad since he himself couldn't leave to get close the village, Will had known it was a bad idea, but he agreed. John was doing the asking, and he still didn't know what to think of the gift Fanny'd given him.

Of course he had to go and find the boy poaching. That was just Will's luck.

"They put up this today."

Will took the paper from Fanny, and as he frowned over it, she wondered if he could read. Had the boy ever been taught? She knew so little of him or his people—no one did—and he might never have had any schooling in except in what he'd taught himself.

"Wulf?" Will asked, still seeming to struggle with the page. "There's a price now on him, too?"

Fanny nodded. It was far from what she wanted, as she didn't want her boy forced into the same life as his father, whether or not he'd chosen it. "It's not much, not like John's, and I don't know if anyone in the village would turn him in being as he's only a lad—"

"That won't save him from Nottingham's men," Will said, and Fanny ached to hear it, fearing for Wulf as she knew Will was speaking from experience. He'd lived that. He still lived it now, even if he was growing into a man and probably no longer thought of himself as a child.

"I know it won't." She sighed. "And he hasn't been home in two days. I'm almost certain he's off doing it again."

"That doesn't mean they'll find him, Fanny," Will told her, trying to be reassuring. "Men get away with poaching daily."

"He's just a boy. He shouldn't have to do this. If John could be home, this wouldn't be happening."

Will didn't respond to that. "I told John I'd look in on you while I was in the village. I'll see if I see Wulf before I go back."

"He's not your responsibility."

"Damn right he's not. I don't need that kind of trouble, and that's all children are."

"Oh, you watch yourself," Fanny warned. "You're not that old yet. There's plenty who'd still consider you a boy."

Will snorted. "Stopped being that a long time ago."

She shook her head. He was still a child in many ways, even if he was grown and taking lives. "You'd best go. If you're planning on looking for Wulf before you head into the forest, you can't be waiting for nightfall."

Will nodded. "I'll find him, Fanny."

"I know."

Will didn't like being out in the fields. He didn't like being so exposed. There weren't enough places to hide, and he was more noticeable than most, with the bright colors he still wore at times. He didn't always leave the scarlet out for all to see, but his cloak didn't cover everything, and even its dark color stood out against the green.

He ran anyway, not wanting to be out where he'd be seen. He knew he'd grow tired soon enough, but Wulf could be anywhere, and he didn't want to linger in any of the open areas the lad might be. If he had any sense, he'd be far from where he'd be easily seen, but just because he was John's son didn't mean he was going to be sensible.

It was almost dark by the time Will decided he was done for the day.

He turned toward the nearest trees, intent on finding a small bit of shelter for the night before heading into the forest, back to the camp.

He wasn't the only one with the idea of heading for shelter. He'd just started to turn when horses came galloping at him. He backed out of their path, trying not to be noticed or trampled.

"Faster. I want that urchin found."

Will frowned. Urchin? He didn't know why that had to mean Wulf, but he was sure it did.

He followed the horses, knowing Gisborne's men would flush Wulf out, one way or another.

It could have been worse.

Grisborne wasn't willing to waste his entire night searching, so he sent a few of his men instead, taking the majority of them back to his home. That was something of a relief, since Will's cover was sparse, and if any one of them looked back over their shoulder, they'd have seen him.

Still, Wulf did get caught.

He'd mistaken the larger part of Gisborne's men leaving for him being free to leave his hiding place. He almost got past them, but something tipped them off, maybe the meat if the boy was carrying it. Maybe a stick Wulf stepped on. Will didn't know. He hadn't been that close.

He just knew that they went for him, and while Wulf was fast, he had the same problem they all did. You couldn't outrun every arrow. Wulf almost dodged it, but the tip grazed him, making him stumble to the ground.

That was all the horses needed to close the distance. Will had started moving before they did, but he had more ground to cover. The soldiers dismounted, dropping down next to Wulf. One of them caught hold of him, dragging the boy up by the collar. The other soldier came around with a smile.

"Well, now, look at what you've caught."

"Shame we have to bring him back. We could string him up right here."

"We can do whatever we want," the one holding Wulf said. "Gisborne won't care if there's one less poacher."

Will didn't like how that sounded. He pulled out a dagger, knowing he had to act but lacking a good target. The armor was blocking most of his targets, leaving only a bit of one man's neck open, and he didn't like that one. He always went back to the steward's torture when men died that way, even when animals did.

He would have to do this up close, get past the armor.

He went for the man holding Wulf. His dagger was in under the armor before the man was aware Will was behind him. The soldier grunted, letting Wulf go. He immediately ran toward the other man, trying to knock him down and fight him. Idiot.

Will shoved the other man away. "Run."

"I'm not a coward," Wulf said. "I can fight."

The soldier laughed at him, yanking his arm and twisting it behind him. Wulf cried out, struggling in the man's grip.

"Fighting isn't as glorious as you think it is," Will muttered, annoyed. Just because he didn't run into the sheriff's men every time he saw them didn't make him a coward. He got a hell of a lot more done when he didn't. He could steal from them and harass them without even knowing what he did. He preferred that over this.

He looked at the soldier now holding Wulf. "Let him go."

"You think you scare me with that?" the soldier asked, snorting as he indicated the dagger.

"It worked on him," Will said, nodding to the one that still hadn't moved. He had another body to add to his count, though he tried not to think about those numbers. "You want to take your chances?"

"You don't scare me, boy." He put his hand around Wulf's neck and squeezed it. "All I need to do is give this one little twist. Then I'll deal with you."

Will shook his head. He couldn't throw a blade with Wulf in the way. He needed a way to end this. Wulf turned in the soldier's hold, managing to kick him in the leg and off-balance him. Will moved on him, knocking him back. He forced the man to the ground, hitting him in the face.

When the soldier stopped fighting, he got up. That one would be able to go back to Gisborne alive. "Come on, Wulf."

"I'm not going with you."

"Don't be stupid, boy. That one is dead, there's already a price on your head. You wanted your father's life? You've got it. Now let's go before this one wakes up."

"Why didn't you just kill him?"

Will didn't bother explaining. The boy wouldn't accept his answer anyway, and Will would be damned if he admitted it was actually for him. Without a living witness, the soldier's death would be blamed on the boy, and Will wouldn't let that happen.

Maybe Wulf might be able to go home again.

Will didn't have one, so it didn't matter how high the price got on his head.

"Thank you, Will."

The younger man didn't look up. John thought he was working on wood again. Will had made half of the wood chimes hanging about, and he wouldn't be surprised if the lad was at it again. "I didn't do you any favors, John."

"What are you on about?" John demanded. Will had only left the camp because John asked him to, since they seemed to have increased the amount of soldiers in their village and showed no sign of leaving his home be. "Wulf would be dead if not for you, and you didn't do me any favors?"

"Your son is more trouble than he's worth," Will muttered. "Brave, but stupid."

"Bit like you, then," John teased, thinking that might be half the reason the two of them didn't get on. Fanny'd said it once, that Wulf thought that Will was replacing him in some ways. John had told her the idea was daft, but she'd said they relied on Will in ways Wulf wanted them to count on him, that he was struggling to prove himself, and that was half the reason that he did what he did, running off to poach and provide for the rest of them.

Will snorted. "You know that everyone here thinks I'm a coward. Even your son."

John shook his head. He knew better. Will avoided a lot of direct confrontation, but he was a better thief than a fighter anyway. Nothing wrong with a man knowing his limits. "You saved him. You didn't have to."

"John, you are still twice my size. I had to."

He laughed, slapping the man on the back. "You're a good lad. And I shouldn't be glad that he's here, but I am. I have him with me. I wish I had Fanny and the others, but I've got Wulf. One less person to worry about, one more I can have my own eyes on. That is thanks to you."

"Still shouldn't be thanking me."

"Don't you be arguing that with me," John told him. "You won't win."

Will just grunted.

"You could come in with the others. That deer Wulf killed is a fine meal."

"Not hungry."

"Liar." John rose. "There's a place for you there, lad, whether you believe that or not. You join us when you're ready."

Chapter Text

"Winter's almost on us again," John said, looking around the camp. "It's looking like a bad one, too, lads. We're going to need a lot more than what we've got here."

He'd looked over the shelters again. They would barely keep out the winds. If they had any sense, they'd be home for it, but some of them were in enough trouble they couldn't do it. He was one of them, and he hated it. He'd been back to see Fanny yesterday, and he'd had one hell of a hard time convincing himself to leave.

Only the soldiers coming back had forced him from her side.

He studied the trees and then the men. "We need supplies."

Will snorted from his spot at the far tree. "Shame no one's traveling by the river these days. We could be making a fortune."

"You got a better idea of how to make money?" Harold asked. "Why haven't you gone and stolen everything we need if you're so good at it?"

Will gave him a dark look. "I don't see what you've done to help anyone here. You're only here because you're too lazy to work and pay your damned taxes."

"Why, you little—"

"Enough of that, Harry," John said. They didn't need to be starting things, and he knew Will had the right of it. Harold could have paid his taxes, but he stopped working and drank everything he did have away. He'd been forced into the forest, but he wouldn't have lasted one night if he hadn't been found by some of the others. "We need to find a way to keep us all alive and safe if we have to stay the entire winter here."

"Better shelters," Marcus said. "We need better shelters."

John couldn't deny that. "What else?"

"More mead," Much said, lifting the bottle. John had to laugh at that one. They could all use a bit more of that, that was for sure. He wouldn't mind making it himself.

"We'll get to that," John promised. "We're low on food. We need to see to that first."

"I don't know," Bull said. "Hunting's no good. We lost Edric and Cedd."

John knew that. The patrols had gotten both of them, and they were some of the better hunters and runners among the group. They'd been almost as good as Will about slipping in and out of the woods. That loss hurt. They'd been friends, too, not just hunters.

"You're not going far enough," Will said. "Staying in Nottingham's your mistake. Go further out. Hell, go to Locksley. He's supposed to be generous. He might just spare your lives when you get caught."

"It's not a bad idea," John said. The DuBois estate was closer, but they were cousins to the king, and he didn't know that he could steal from them. Nottingham claimed stealing from him was the same thing, that was why poaching was as good as a death sentence, but it wasn't to John or any of the others. "All right, then, lads. Who's going?"

"I'm in," Bull said.

"And me," Much said.

John almost swore. Then his eyes went to the man at the back of the group. "You'll be with us, then, Will."

Will frowned. "What?"

"Your idea. You see it through."

"You all right, laddie?"

Will watched the fires of Locksley hall burning, not sure what to think. He wasn't even supposed to be on this hunting trip. He didn't go on them, useless as he was without skill at the bow, though they liked to claim his knives were good for after the deed was done. He shouldn't be here, but they'd ventured forth to Locksley for supplies, with the closer lands too heavily patrolled for their safety. They needed more before winter set in, but that didn't still didn't explain why John had wanted him along or why Will had agreed to it.

He hadn't expected to see Locksley hall like this.

He didn't know how to feel about it.

He hated his father.

He shouldn't care that the castle was burning. He shouldn't care that the man might be dead in there. It didn't matter, did it? Will hated him.

He couldn't look away. He couldn't move. He felt almost like he couldn't breathe.


He couldn't answer. His chest was tight. He thought he might puke.

He didn't know Locksley. He never met the man. He'd never tried after his brother had forced him away and into the sheriff's dungeon. He still had nightmares about that time. He knew he was lucky. Most men didn't get out of that hell. He'd done it, but he hated himself for it.

He was alive. His father was dead.

That made him an orphan now, not just a bastard.

That thought made him laugh, and John was looking at him like he was insane, and he was. He was a lunatic. He shouldn't care, but he cared. Locksley was dead. He hated him, but he was dead. Locksley hall was burning. It had never been his home, and he never would have gotten any part of it. He was just a bastard, not like Robin.

"Come on, Will. We need to get out of here."

John grabbed him and pulled him away, dragging him away from the fire.

"They said the lord was a devil worshiper. That he confessed to it before he died."

John shook his head. He didn't know that he believed it, but he'd never actually known the man, just stories of him. Locksley was kinder than most landholders about, and he'd always been fair from all reports. That didn't sound like the sort of man who went about worshiping the devil, but then John had never known one who did. He didn't want to.

He looked over at Will. That lad hadn't been right since he saw Locksley hall burn, and it was starting to worry him. He hadn't done anything, just sat there staring out at nothing, not looking at anyone or anything. He hadn't spoken for days, not even to make the kind of remark they all expected of him.

"All Locksley lands are..." Bull paused, trying to remember the word. "Forts."

"Forfeit," John corrected, knowing what the other men meant.

"What's forfeit?" Much asked, frowning.

"Means they're bloody Nottingham's now," John grumbled. "He's got nearly everything in the shire now. Whole bloody lot."

"Would it have mattered if his son were here?"

John saw Will lift his head at the question, looking at them for the first time that evening. He shook his head. "Wasn't his yet. His father held the land and the title. He lost it when he confessed."

Will shook his head at that, and John frowned, wondering what it mattered to the lad.

"What do we care?" Will asked. "Some rich noble is dead. Nothing new."

He stalked off into the night. John didn't know what was with that one, and he missed Fanny, thinking she'd know better how to get the truth of it. John had no idea.

Will had to get away from the others.

For days, he'd been in a fog, not able to think or react, not sure what was wrong with him, but as they said that even Robin couldn't have saved the land from Nottingham, something came clear, and it was all he could do to get away.

He'd said something, angry as ever, and he was.

His father was dead. He'd never met him, and part of that was Robin's doing, keeping him from getting near. The rest of it was that bastard himself, never wanting anything to do with Will or his mother after he'd gotten what he wanted. He'd ruined her, and he left her.

And yet in all that anger was still grief.

He found himself alone, anger and something else, something he swore was sadness even though it shouldn't be, it shouldn't bother him at all that Locksley was dead, but it did. It hurt.

He curled up against himself and tried not to give into it, not wanting to be weak.

Will didn't know why he did it.

Locksley was gone, and the castle was a ruin.

Still, when he was supposed to be sleeping, the hunting party returning to the forest at first light, he'd gone out. He didn't know where he went at first, but soon enough it was clear he was headed toward Locksley castle.

He didn't know why he didn't turn back, but something urged him on, and he did not stop. His feet carried him all the way to the stone. The walls were scarred black, and the smell of the fire held strong over the whole area.

He should have turned back, but he continued on, further into the wreckage. He didn't know if he thought he'd find something worth keeping—though it looked like anything of value was long since gone or burned away—or if he just wanted to see the place he'd been denied in the past.

Would he be dead now if his father had married his mother? Or lost to the Crusades?

He doubted that. He wasn't noble enough or stupid enough to go off to war.

He'd fought for his life more often than he wanted to think about, and it was always a closer thing than he wanted it to be. He should have died. He shouldn't have won half the fights he'd been in.

He walked into the next section and stopped, gagging. Nottingham had left Locksley's body to hang in a metal cage, high above everything.

Will had finally seen his father, and he was horrified.

His mother had looked better when she died, and that still gave him nightmares.

Of course the bastard had confessed to devil worship. Will could tell from here he'd been tortured. He found himself touching his fingers to the scar on the back of his hand, feeling its bumps through the cloth.


Will wanted to scream and cry he'd get vengeance, but he snorted at the idea. That was stupid. He didn't care. Let Locksley rot up there. The man had never wanted him. He didn't need to avenge a bastard who didn't even care. No, he wouldn't.

"Did you come to loot the dead?"

Will turned to look at Gisborne, trying to control his reaction. "Did you think him being a devil worshiper would scare everyone away from the chance of whatever Nottingham left behind?"

"My cousin might have. I figured I'd find at least one fool."

"I haven't done anything."

"You're trespassing."

That made Will laugh. Again, trespassing on Locksley lands. On lands that should have been home. It was funny, and stupid all the same.

"If you like," Will said. "I can leave."

Gisborne smiled. "You have no fear."

Will didn't know what he felt at the moment. Everything since his father died and Locksley burned was a confusing mess. He didn't know. He should fear Gisborne, but at the moment, he wasn't sure he did.

"There's something familiar about you," Gisborne said. "Something... here. Were you one of Locksley's men?"


"Yet you came to plunder the ruin?"

"A man has to pay his taxes."

Gisborne laughed. "Indeed he does. Go on, then, boy. I've other prey in mind, and you will scare them out of my trap."

"You think someone will cut him down?"

"I'm counting on it."

Will nodded, not sure who'd bother, but there was nothing he could do to help them if they did. A loyal servant, maybe, or perhaps Gisborne hunted Robin, foolish as it was since everyone knew he was off in the Crusades.

Still, he supposed he was glad he'd never tried to cut his father down.

No, he wasn't.

As he walked away from Gisborne, aware he was damned lucky to have been granted that freedom, he felt guilty as hell.

Chapter Text


He looked up at John, though the big man had to wonder where the lad's head was at again. Seemed like Will was more distracted than ever. Fanny had claimed there must be some girl, but John doubted it. While Will did go back to town more often than some of the rest of them, he wasn't there that often, and never more than a day. If the lad had a girl, he kept it a good secret, though it wouldn't be that hard for the man, seeing as he never said much more than a smart remark to anyone.

"John. What—you need something?"

He didn't, but he'd decided he did. Will wasn't even fighting with Wulf when the boy provoked him, and that didn't feel right. "Aye. We've need of new rope laid at the river. The one that was there cracked in the winter."

Will stared at him. "No."

"Excuse me?"

"I mean... no. That's got to be some kind of... excuse. What is it they've got planned for me? A dunking in the river as revenge for telling everyone Bull got his name because—"

"None of that now," John said, still not wanting to think about what Bull had done when his size had been called into question. None of them needed to see that, but Will had seemed amused by the chaos he'd caused. He'd almost seemed like his old self.

It hadn't lasted.

"Thaw came, and when the lads pulled the rope, it came apart. Must have happened after freezing over in the winter. Needs redone, and you're the best at it. You know how it went when Bill tried his hand at it."

Will laughed. "That was a good one. That's not even the deep part of the river, but the fool was sure he was drowning."

"Well, it's few of us around here what don't fear that. Most of us don't know how to swim."

Will tensed up, no longer laughing. "Fine. I'll set the rope."


"What you really need is someone who can actually make good ropes and not someone who can cross a stupid river without tripping over his own feet."

John watched him go, not sure why he bothered. Will Scarlett always seemed to make more trouble than anyone else, even when people were trying to help.

Will hummed to himself as he settled the rope in place. He thought he had it laid across even better than the last time, since it blended in well against the riverbed but still sat ready against the places most men would venture to cross. One rope, an entire river, and it should be fun to watch, too.

He almost wanted Bill to try it.

"Think it's ready?"

Will nodded to John's question. "We could have someone test it if you like, or we can wait about for someone to come by."

"Weather's turned, should be nicer, and we've got a decent chance of seeing someone come by. We can wait and see if we catch anyone today."

Will knew part of that was a test for him, but he didn't care. The rope would work, and he didn't need any of them to like him or approve of what he'd done. He knew no one ever would, and he was fine with that. He didn't need anyone, and half the time, he didn't know why he bothered with John's bit of rabble. Especially Wulf. That boy was nothing but a nuisance, though he thought himself special since he could poach a deer or two.

They'd all poached deer, all but Harold, and it wasn't anything special.

"Someone's coming," Wulf said, making his way to where Will and his father were crouched, waiting. Will had to admit, the boy was a decent enough scout. "Should be at the river soon."

"Well, then, best get everyone ready," John said. "Will, the rope's yours."

In case he did it wrong, John didn't say, but Will knew what he meant. He waited, watching the other side of the river as two horses came in through the trees, stopping at the edge. Interesting. That had to be a Moor, didn't it?

That made this one very rich. Two servants, one a Moor. Will was going to enjoy this.

He waited for the man to wade into the river. He was more careful than most, testing the path with his sword as he went along. It wouldn't do him any good.

"There's hope," he called back to the others with a smile.

Will took no small satisfaction in yanking the rope and dunking the man under. That was always good, though for some reason this time, he had to do more. He smiled as he gave the man a bit of a song. "There was a rich man from Nottingham who tried to cross the river. What a dope, he tripped over a rope. Now look at him shiver."

He could hear the others snickering at the rhyme. "Beg for mercy, rich boy!"

The nobleman searched the water for his sword. "I beg of no man."

John had the other men on the move, and half the group caught the servants on the other shore. They had both of them surrounded and gained control of the horses as Will and the others on their side of the river walked out of the trees.

"This here is our river," Will told him, "and each man that wishes to cross must pay a tax."

"I'll pay no tax," the haughty rich man said. He tried to give them a smile. "As you can see I have nothing. Not even my sword."

Will wasn't the only one angry with him for that one. John marched out of the woods, ready to give the rich man a good thrashing.

"Bollacks," John cried. "Any man who travels with two servants and claims that he's got no bloody money, is either a fool or a liar."

"He's a liar," Will called, sure of that if nothing else about this man.

The rich man studied John. "Who are you?"

"John Little," John introduced himself, pointing his staff at the rich man. "Best man of the woods."

The others cheered for him. The rich man didn't seem impressed. "Well, best man. You lead this rabble?"

"Aye, I do, mate," John said, both proud and warning at the same time. "And if you tosspots want to travel through Sherwood Forrest, it's gonna cost you…that gold medallion."

The rich man looked down at his trinket. "This is sacred to me."

Like it being a cross would make any difference to a bunch of men who were starving. Religion had little value to any of them, being nothing more than a false hope and more taxes. Will knew a few that had true faith, but mostly he thought that was for the rich, who could believe in a god that gave them everything. The poor had nothing. Some saw that as a reason to believe, to hope and beg for better times, but not Will.

"It's sacred to us, too, mate," John told him. "That there will feed us for a bloody month."

"You'll have to fight me for it."

This rich man sure did think he was something. Will would enjoy watching John teach him that he wasn't.

"Love to, mate," John told him, tossing the rich man a staff. Wulf came running, giving his father a second staff. John took it, shedding his cloak. Wulf grabbed it, rolling it up in his hands.

"Be careful, Father," Wulf warned him. "He walloped twelve of the sheriff's men."

"Is that so?" John asked, amused, since that tale seemed to be growing. It was only five when the boy first came back to Sherwood telling of his rescue, adding numbers to it each time, as though it would make Will feel less for only killing one of the two that had him. Now this rich man was supposedly the one that did it. Will didn't believe that. "I reckon I'm gonna enjoy this."

"Hey," the rich man called to Wulf, looking a bit upset. "That's your father?"

Wulf grinned with pride, nodding at the man before running out of the way of the fight. They all lined the shore, knowing they had no need to intervene in John's fight. He wasn't just intimidating because of his size. John was the best fighter they had, and Will knew it.

He didn't even come close to what John could do, and he'd never tried, no matter what Wulf said. That boy made things worse with his stories and assumptions. Will had never tried to replace his father in this place, and he never would.

Strangely, the rich man was doing fine against John at first, matching him strike for strike, but John came through for them in the end, sending the rich man down into the deeper water.

"He's drowning," Will cried, enjoying this more than he should. Especially when he saw that John had the medallion.

"Lost something?" John asked the rich man, holding the medallion out on his staff. "Thanks for the taxes."

"Looks like the little rich boy is lost for words, eh?" Will asked. That one probably thought he could never lose, making John's victory that much better.

He heard the man calling to his servant, who urged him to get up and move faster. That wouldn't be enough, though he apparently wasn't ready to quit. He went toward John who was about to reach the shore.

"Watch it, John!" Will called out in warning, a bit too late because the rich man knocked him down anyway.

"We're not through yet."

"All right, my old cocker," John agreed, amused by the man's determination to keep fighting. "You want another good whacking? You should have one."

They went at it again, fighting about as same as before, so Will wasn't sure why the man thought he was going to win this time. It looked about the same until the rich man managed to get behind John, thinking that was some sort of victory.

"It seems like I've made it passed the gate, John Little. Or should I call you Little John?"

John glared at him, not the only one angry with the rich man.

"Hit him, Father!" Wulf cried, urging him on. "Wallop him!"

Maybe it was the anger. Maybe it was more than that. John fought the rich man back, getting and keeping the advantage. He struck, knocking the rich man down over the waterfall, into a deeper part of the river.

"Swimming time again, old chum."

"Where is he?" Wulf asked as his father searched the water. "Do you see him?"

Will hoped they didn't find him. One less nobleman could only be a good thing.

"It's a bloody shame. He was a brave lad." John said, shrugging helplessly even as he smiled. Not one of them would really miss him, and they needed the food the medallion would buy.

Out of nowhere, the rich man came up from the water, knocking John back. Will almost swore. He knew the big man couldn't swim. Barely any of the men knew how.


The rich man caught John as he flailed, and Will frowned. He didn't think that part of the river was that deep. It couldn't be, though Will wasn't much of a swimmer himself so he'd never tested it too much. He knew the safe way to cross the river, and that was enough.

"Do you yield?"

"I can't bloody swim," John said, and Will could tell the big man was panicking. "Help!"

"Do you yield?"

"Yes," John answered, and Will swore under his breath. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. The rich man was meant to lose.

"Good," the rich man said. "Now put your feet down."

John stopped flailing, putting his feet down. The water only came up to his thighs. Will shook his head. Unbelievable.

"I'll be buttered." John laughed, but this wasn't at all funny. Will would like to beat the man himself, but John had yielded. So much for food for a month.

"The medallion," the rich man insisted.

"Give me your name first," John said, and Will knew he didn't like this. John was impressed. That wasn't good. It couldn't be.

"Robin of Locksley."

It was worse than Will had thought. That rich bastard was his brother. He felt sick.

John was clapping man on the back, laughing with him. Laughing with the same bastard that had thrown Will to the sheriff when he was only a boy. The things he'd seen and done in that dungeon still haunted him.

And now John was inviting the bastard to eat with them.

No. This couldn't happen.

Will would make sure that Locksley did not stay. He was not welcome here, no matter what John thought now.

Will found himself a place in the tree, watching the others at the fire. He wouldn't have gone over to it even if Locksley wasn't there, but he sure as hell wasn't joining them now. He didn't know why one fight meant everyone in this group respected Locksley. It didn't make any sense. Will had fought beside several of them. He'd saved Wulf's life once.

None of that seemed to matter. They still hated him, but Locksley... they were nicer to him than they'd ever been to Will, with the exception of John. He was the same, more or less.

"That's Much, the miller's son, Harold Brownwell," John said, introducing Locksley to the men. They didn't need it. They were already worshiping at Locksley's altar. "And that stumpy one there is David of Doncaster, but the lads all call him Bull."

Locksley smiled. "Because you're short?"

"No, because I'm so long," Bull said, gesturing and getting ready to undo his pants.

Will grimaced. He was surrounded by idiots.

"No, Bull, save it, save it," Locksley told him. "Save it for the ladies."

Lucky him. Bull actually listened to him. Will had not needed to see that.

"Give the man some mead," John ordered, and the bottle was passed to Locksley. Will didn't know why he was still sitting here. He didn't need to watch this. Locksley took a drink and passed the bottle on. "Now I made that myself."

Harold passed the mead over to Elmer, skipping the Moor.

"Has English hospitality changed so much in six years that a friend of mine is not welcome at this table?"

Will didn't believe that. Locksley was calling the Moor, his servant, a friend? This from a rich nobleman who wouldn't let his brother—well, he hadn't known that Will was his brother—so much as cross the front gate? Who had him arrested for the crime of mentioning his mother's name?

"But he's a savage, sire."

"That he is," Locksley agreed, and that sounded more like he had when Will met him before. "But no more then you or I. And don't call me 'sire.'"

Will snorted, but no one heard him.

"With regret, I must decline," the Moor said. "Allah forbids it."

Religion. Again. Though Will figured he was more sincere in his faith than Locksley was.

John shook his head. "You bloody lost me."

"Why is it that so many of you are hiding?" Locksley asked, and Will wanted to throw something at him. What the hell did he think, they came here for fun? That they loved living in the woods? Or maybe they were all idiots. Will was sure Locksley believed it.

"We're all have prices on our heads. Even the young lad there," John said, nodding to Wulf. "The blasted sheriff, he says we owe him taxes."

Locksley considered that. "Your ghosts will only keep the sheriffs man at base so long."

That bastard. Coming in here like he knew better than the rest of them. "They've worked so far. You have a better idea?"

"You can always fight back."

Of course. There it was, what Will had been expecting. Oh, rich boy wanted something all right, and it was no small price. He probably didn't see it that way, since they were all just peasants and he was a lord, but he was asking far too much of them.

"I reckon I must have cracked that noble our of yours," John said, laughing. He shook his head. "These are all good lads here. They have hearts of oak, but they're farmers. It would be lambs to the slaughter."

Harold nodded. "They say the sheriff was raised by a witch."

The Moor seemed interested in that. "A witch?"

"She knows every man's thoughts," Wulf said, believing all the lies and stories they said about her. "You can see evil in her eyes, and she flies."

John shook his head. Fanny would have taken a few swats at his bottom if she was here. "That's a load of codswallop, Wulf."

Will focused on Locksley. He'd seen the witch, and she was hideous, but not that frightening. No, the real problem here was Locksley. "What does a rich son of a devil worshiper care about a bunch of outlaw peasants?"

"My lord was a kind and generous man," the blind man said, still loyal. Maybe that was the one Gisborne had wanted to find at the ruins. "Who among you dare to believe—"

"My father was no devil worshiper," Locksley said. "And I'll have words with any man who says otherwise."

Will could almost respect the man for that.

Only almost.

"But he's right," Locksley said, surprising Will again. "I was a rich man's son. When I killed the sheriff's men, I became an outlaw like you."

And there went any respect or anything else Will might have been willing to grant him. Locksley was just a rich noble who didn't give a damn about any of them.

"You are nothing like us," Will snapped, jumping down from his tree and walking away. He wasn't about to listen to this nonsense. Locksley was going to be the ruin of all of them, and Will wanted no part of him.

He heard John's words even as he walked away.

"That there's Will Scarlett. Take no notice of him, he's full of piss and wind."

Will told himself he didn't care. He didn't need John to like him.

He'd make sure Locksley was gone in the morning. He wouldn't let that noble use any of them.

Chapter Text

The Christian was gone when Azeem came back to the camp.

He had gone out at dawn to pray and spent more time in seclusion, thinking about his vow and what it would mean in this place. England was a strange land, and the man he owed his life to was stranger still.

He would not dishonor his vow by leaving, though their present circumstances did not lend themselves to much confidence. Azeem did not doubt that he would have opportunity to fulfill his vow, with the way the Christian found trouble, but he did not know that he approved of the course the man seemed to be setting himself on. Avenging his father was not the problem. Recruiting others into his quest could prove to be.

Azeem found the blind man still sitting in the middle of the camp. Most of the others had gone, scattered through the woods, leaving Duncan almost completely alone. One man from the campfire last night was still asleep in one of the makeshift shelters nearby. The man they considered leader, John Little, was near the edge of the clearing with some of the others, and Azeem saw no reason to interrupt their discussion.

He turned to Duncan. "Where is he?"

"Your lord and master?" the young man from the previous night asked, and Azeem looked up to see him in the tree above their head. "No one's seen him. If we're lucky, he won't come back. Though... he did saddle us with two more mouths to feed, so I suppose it's no luck at all."

"Master Robin would not abandon us," Duncan said. "He is a good man."

"He's a noble," the young man disagreed, "and nobles don't care about anyone, only themselves."

Azeem studied him. Will Scarlett, that was the name they'd been given for this one, and he was also said to be full of 'piss and wind.' An interesting statement, though it did not seem quite accurate.

Duncan looked around, seeking the source of the voice. "You're wrong. Master Robin cares a great deal. So did his father."

That got a snort from the young man in the tree. "His father died a devil worshiper."

"My lord was not a devil worshiper. He was a good man."

"Maybe he was," the other man said, jumping down from the tree. "Maybe he wasn't."

Azeem watched, uncertain why this young man was tormenting Duncan. The blind servant was no threat, and it showed a great want of character in this Will Scarlett.

"He was," Duncan insisted, clinging to that belief with all he had left, for it truly was all he possessed now.

The younger man leaned into the blind man's ear. Azeem could not hear the words he spoke then, but they might well have been poison, as the old man grew quite agitated. Azeem touched his sword, preparing to intervene.

"That one should never been allowed past the gate. A liar who took advantage of my lord's good nature and kindness, but I saw that he was never troubled again."

"You did, did you?" Scarlett shook his head. "You servants, thinking you're better than the rest of us. Like working for a lord makes you a better man. So when someone begs for help, pleads for it, you turn them away and feel superior. You judge just as much as any noble. You are no better than the rest of us."

"You don't know what that was like, how it upset Master Robin, how he had to send—"

"Forget it," Scarlett said. "You can't excuse that to me. Lie to yourself all you want."

The young man walked away, and Azeem turned to the blind man, trying to understand what had just passed between them.

"Do you know that young man?"

Duncan shook his head. "No."

"Yet he accuses you."

Duncan sighed. "There was a time when my lord was a foolish man, lost after the death of his wife. He made a mistake."

"We all do."

"He was generous to the wrong person."

Azeem thought of the older man's words about Moors and thought perhaps the young man was the one who was right in this conversation, an idea that was both curious and troubling.

"Are you planning on defending the old man's honor?"

The Moor looked at Will, and he shrugged. He hadn't missed the man's presence when he spoke to Locksley's servant earlier. He'd even spoken to him, though the man hadn't answered. Will wasn't surprised. Most people ignored him. He was used to that.

"I did upset him."

"Yes, and I believe you did it on purpose."

"Are you going to lecture me?" Will asked. He would have expected it from John or any of the others. Even the idiots liked to try it—at least until Will took out one of his knives. That would silence Bull, Much, or Harold, just about everyone but John.

"Would it not be pointless to do so?"

"Everyone still tries," Will told him, and he thought he saw the Moor almost smile. Will felt absurdly proud of getting that from him, but he didn't know why. What did he care if the Moor laughed? He didn't like anyone.

Maybe Fanny.


The Moor walked away from him, and Will let him, not thinking he could get him back anyway, and why would he want to? The man was Locksley's servant, wasn't he? Even if Will's father had accepted him, that wouldn't make the man obligated to Will. He was Robin's, and that made him... well, the enemy.

A horse rode into the camp, the first any of them had seen in years. They'd considered stealing horses before, but that wasn't a good way to make money and they couldn't afford to feed them, either. Whoever did this was an idiot.

Oh, wait, it was Locksley. That made so much sense.

"Water!" the Moor called to the others. Will didn't see anyone scrambling to get it, and he knew he wouldn't. The men took their orders from John, and even then, some of them—Will included—didn't take orders at all.

Locksley smiled. "Thank you."

Will wanted to laugh when the Moor responded, "For the animal."

It figured Locksley would be so selfish as to think it was for him. That rich boy thought everything was about him.

"How can I protect you if I know not where you go?"

"You hardly raise a finger when you do know."

"I prefer to have the choice."

The Moor shouldn't protect this idiot at all. Will hadn't realized it at first, but now he did. The white horse was one everyone around here knew. Will had done his best to avoid him, they all did, but that didn't mean that they didn't know that damned horse on sight.

"Wonderful, you stole the sheriff's horse," Will said, infuriated. Did that man have any idea what he'd just done to all of them, bringing that animal here?

John was just as angry. "You've stirred up a bloody hornet's nest now!"

Locksley almost sounded amused. "Are you afraid, John?"

"Yeah," John admitted, rightly so. "A little."

"Well, so is the sheriff," Locksley said. None of them believed that. "Today I gave him something he'll not forget."

Will didn't believe this. Yes, he knew Locksley was an idiot. He was an arrogant rich boy who didn't care about anyone else, but this? Did the man really not understand what the hell he was doing? "You fool. You started a war."

"We're already at war," Locksley said. He went over to the blind man and woke him, giving him some of his spoils. "Duncan, bread."

Will shook his head. Locksley was insane. This wasn't a war. Wars had battle lines and armies. This was one man with power taking what he wanted from peasants. Locksley had never been poor, so he didn't understand it, but oh, he wanted to play hero again like he had in the crusades.

"And I say we strike back at the very man who takes our homes and hunts our children."

Our children? So, what, now Locksley had fostered a bunch of bastards, too?

"We?" John asked, disbelief clear in his voice. "You're planning to join us then, mate?"

"No," Locksley corrected, still thinking too much of himself, "to lead you."

Will stared at Locksley's back as he walked away. A part of him wanted to pull out a dagger and throw it in his back right now. If he did, he might spare them the hell that the rich boy was about to bring down on them.

He couldn't let this happen.

He'd always killed in defense before, but this... it was almost the same thing. Locksley was going to get them all killed. Stopping him would save lives.

He saw the Moor watching him and turned away.

In Will's dreams, they dragged him back down into the dungeon.

The guard who'd tormented him before was there, though Will didn't remember seeing him when the steward had him. Others without faces but voices that sounded familiar in horrifying ways lurked in the shadows of the room, waiting their turn.

The pain started again, every old wound torn open and bleeding anew. He yanked on the chains, but this time they were tighter than they'd ever been before, cutting deep into his skin. He couldn't move, and he couldn't cry out.

Pride had told him not to before, but he wanted to now, needed to, and he couldn't.

He couldn't breathe.

Then he heard it.

Locksley's voice. In his ear.

"You all right, mate?"

Will jerked, looking up at John in confusion and maybe even a bit of fear. John figured that was one hell of a dream. For all Will claimed he listened to John because he was bigger than him, the lad had never once been afraid of him.

"What do you want, John?"

John had noticed that Will was keeping even more of a distance from the others since Locksley came, and he had concerns. He didn't talk about them, that wasn't his way, but if Locksley was serious about making this a war, they needed Will, as he was one of few men John had who could fight at all. He wasn't a brawler, as some were when they got a bit too much mead in them, but the lad had taught himself, trained to be deadly with his daggers, and he was.

If they fought, John wanted him with them.

And if it came to where John needed to force Locksley out of the forest, he'd need Will's help with it, seeing as Locksley was not only a skilled fighter but devious, and John didn't know anyone sneakier than Will Scarlett.

"You're needed."

"Oh, please. You can't have ruined the rope again. And why don't you just ask Locksley to do it? He's not scared of a bit of water."


The younger man frowned at him. "You doubt him? I thought you liked the bastard, wanted to hand all of us over to him without a fight."

"I never said that."

"You didn't say anything. That implies agreement."

John hadn't ever wanted to lead anyone. He had a good life with Fanny and his children before the taxes got too high and he'd been forced into the forest. It was what he wanted. He wasn't a fighter, though he could and did when pressed. If it was war, he didn't want to lead.

"You've been quiet."

"No one wants to hear what I have to say about this."

"I do," John said, and Will snorted. "No, if you've got good reason for distrusting Locksley, out with it. Now. Did you know him before?"

"We all know why going along with the man is insane," Will muttered. "I shouldn't have to deliver proof. We're not an army. You already told him that. And we never wanted a damned war. Yes, you all want to back to your homes. All you'll do going against Nottingham is die. What good is that?"

"Locksley thinks we can do better than that."

"Locksley is an arrogant rich ass. He thinks he deserves everything, that it will come to him just because he wants it. He's never worked for anything in his life, not like us."

"He has been to war."

"Good for him. None of us wanted to go, not like him, but he is forcing this war on us."

"He hasn't forced anything on us."

"He will."

Will didn't think much of John's so-called doubts about Locksley. He hadn't done anything to make Will think he meant it, that he had any thoughts at all of challenging the rich boy. As far as Will could tell, he'd given leadership over to Locksley, and that was it.

He didn't know if this was one of John's tests or not. The man had done things like that to Will in the past. The others would say John should throw him out or teach him a lesson, and instead, John let him do as he pleased, gave him tasks, and showed that Will could be of some use even when most people hated or feared him.

He was doing it with Locksley, and it made Will angry, since he knew that Locksley didn't deserve it. What he was doing was different, putting them all at risk.

"Over here!" Bull was the first to spot them, but as soon as he heard the voice, Will went forward, joining the villagers that had come into the forest.

They were a mess, some of them bruised and bleeding, others without boots or anything on their feet. This was no tax raise that had more men unable to pay. This was something else, something worse.

He found a man he knew, one with a boy Will had almost befriended in the village. The lad followed him a few times, liking Will's doublet, and he was always asking for stories. Will could have silenced the kid other ways, scared him or even hurt him, but he'd told him a tale or two, since he refused to get caught.

"What happened to you?" Will asked as soon as he got close.

"They burned the village," Stephen said. "All of it."

Will swore. He'd known this was coming, but he thought they still had time. He thought Locksley's war was still his and maybe the men in the woods' to fight, not the villagers. Damn it.

"Where is this Robin Hood?"

Will would gladly point him out. He wanted Locksley to see what he'd done, the pain he'd caused. He needed to know that this was the cost—and it wasn't him paying it. He had to stop his insanity, call off his damned war. "He's there."

Stephen picked up his son, making sure everyone saw the damage to the boy's face. "Look, look what they've done."

"If it's fame you seek, Christian, I think you have it," the Moor told Locksley before leaving the log they'd been sitting on.

Will wasn't leaving it at that. He was done keeping his distance and silence. He'd thought before about killing his brother, and he thought about it now, seeing what that man had caused them. These people, the villagers, they had no part in Locksley's war, but they were suffering for it anyway. Damn him. He deserved worse than a few harsh words.

"You brought this misery on us, Locksley."

Locksley refused to accept responsibility for what he'd done. "This is Nottingham, trying to divide us."

Will shook his head. Same rich bastard, no thought to anyone but himself, not a bit of remorse in him. "We are divided, rich boy. I'm not as blind as that old man over there. You're still trying to be lord of the manor."

Locksley didn't even try to deny that one. He almost seemed amused by the accusation.

"I heard today that the sheriff now values your neck at five hundred gold pieces," Will went on. He'd give them something to do with their anger, a way of paying Locksley back for all he'd done. "I say we take him in."

Locksley was amused. "Will, do you think that the sheriff will give everything back when I'm gone?"

He wasn't that stupid. "They'll give us the reward and our pardons."

"Wrong," Locksley disagreed, using his bow to make his point. "He'll stretch your necks one by one."

Will considered pointing out that most of the men here were only wanted for taxes. That reward could pay a lot of them, and they would be pardoned. Will would still hang, but he'd be damned if he'd admit that to Locksley. "Well, what will you have us do? Fight men on horseback with rocks and our bare hands?"

"If needs be," Locksley said with true lunacy in his words. "But with the one true weapon that escapes you, Will. Courage."

Will stared at him, rage welling inside him. He was not a coward. He'd fight when it made sense to fight, but this wasn't a sensible fight. It was a slaughter, and Locksley was dragging them all into it. He'd thought it before, and he thought it again now.

The only way to stop this was to kill the man.

Will took out his dagger and prepared to throw it, knowing he could do it. He could kill his brother, here and now, and he'd spare the lives of the others, spare them the war. He'd have revenge for what Locksley had done in turning him in to the sheriff, and it was the only way.

Yet he hesitated.

"Look out!" Wulf cried.

Will didn't know if he would have dropped the knife on his own. He would never be sure. The arrow struck his hand, and it fell. Pain overwhelmed him, and Will swore he'd pay the man back for this. He glared at Locksley, holding his hand, but he knew he'd cry out in a minute, that he'd give in to the agony and maybe even cry.

He refused to let Locksley have that. The man had already taken everything else from him.

Will turned and ran, knowing he had to tend to his hand.

There'd be no healing his pride.

Chapter Text

"I should go see to that fool," Fanny said, seeing that no one else had moved. Will hadn't come back after being shot, and no one had gone after him. Whatever his faults, the lad had just been shot through the hand. That wasn't something to ignore.

Unless perhaps they were afraid that helping Will might lead to them being shot as well. Did that man think about that when he did it? He was telling him he was different from Nottingham, but in some ways, she could see the same bully in him.

"You stay put," John told her. She shook her head. That wasn't happening. "Fanny, you just marched your way here. You're tired. The children are tired. They're scared. They need food and rest. So do you."

"I'll get you food, Mother."

"Thank you, Wulf, but that can wait until I've seen Will."

"What do you want to help that traitor for? He was going to throw his knives at Robin's back. He's no good. He never was."

John looked at their son. "Will has done his share to help us—and you—and don't you forget that just because he disagrees with Robin. What he's done, he's paid for. He could keep paying for it for a long time."


"You need to be helping your mother with your brothers and sisters," John insisted. "And beyond that, we need wood and supplies to make thatch. That's where you need to be keeping your mind. Don't you go getting any ideas of fighting and glory from Robin of Locksley. That's not what this is about. We're here to survive. If Locksley helps us, he stays. If he doesn't, he goes. Will had the same deal, and he lived up to his end."

"He hasn't—"

"He got us the medicine for Rosie," Fanny said, knowing full well they couldn't have afforded the apothecary or been able to gather enough in time. "And for Mary when she had the measles."

"He's a thief."

"That he is, but so are many here," John said. "We've all done things we shouldn't. Now go and get the wood we need."

Fanny looked after her son, shaking her head as she did. "He does admire that man."

"Possibly too much," John said, putting his arm around her. "Even I want to blame him for this, and yet here we are, letting him lead us."

"He has the right of things for us here and now," Fanny said, looking around. "We all need a place to sleep, and we have to make sure the children get it first. That's not wrong. The rest of it... it could be."

"We'll see."

"I'm going to go—oh," Fanny said, putting a hand on her side. She ached something fierce again. Nothing new, as this was her eighth baby, but it was by far the least comfortable she'd been during this time.

"I told you. Rest. You can see to Will later."

The Christian had won over the crowd with his speech, and some of them were already at work on building shelters for the new arrivals. Azeem would have seen to them if he did not think there were other matters someone must attend to, ones that had likely been forgotten by most but could not be allowed to fester.

He felt certain that Locksley believed he had done right in his actions, in silencing Will Scarlett and gathering the others to his cause. Perhaps he had, for these people needed purpose and new homes now that theirs had burned.

Azeem believed they needed help, though he was not as convinced that they needed the Christian's form of it. They would need safety and shelter, and right now, that was here, in the forest. That did not mean that they might not have needed a new home if not for the Christian's own actions.

The sheriff had sent his men in to harm the innocent, searching for Locksley and setting them against him. These people were suffering, not because they had been directly noticed by Nottingham, but because harming them might draw the man's notice or cause them to act against him.

Azeem found the young man by the water, trying rather stubbornly to deal with his wound with only one hand. "I believe you require some assistance."

Scarlett looked up at him. "I don't need you finishing what he started, thank you."

Azeem knelt next to him. "Has no one else offered you any help?"

"For this? For speaking against the sainted Locksley?" Scarlett snorted, pain and bitterness lacing every word he spoke. "You must be joking. No one thinks I got anything less than what I deserved for being a smart-mouthed coward."

"Was it cowardice?"

"You have another name... for striking a man in the back?"

"Falling for his bait."

"Oh, I did. He just made me... so damned angry. It's like... he can't see... what he's done to them. He blames Nottingham... won't even think... for a second... maybe he's had any part in it. I've done things... most of them not good... but even I know... what I've done hurts others." Scarlett leaned over his hand. "Not that stupid."

"No?" Azeem asked, reaching for the man's injured hand to examine it.

"This was. Don't know... maybe if I actually threw the damned thing..." Scarlett pulled away when Azeem got close to the arrow. "What are you doing?"

"I told you. You need assistance."

"Why did the rich boy send you after me? This his way... of gloating? He won. Fine. Just go."

"He did not send me," Azeem said, knowing that if the Christian were to boast of what he'd done to this man, he would not have stayed to hear it. His point was made, and he had his victory. That the cost was Will Scarlett's hand and a possible voice to counter some of Locksley's impulsive behavior. The dissent was gone, and while most would think that a good thing, there remained a need for multiple opinions and strategies.

"You're helping me... you... chose to help me? Why?"

"I see much in you that interests me," Azeem told him. The other man stared at him. Azeem gestured to his hand. "May I?"

Scarlett studied him. "Exactly what did Locksley... or that blind man... tell you about me?"


Scarlett shook his head. "They might claim... that about... my moth—someone—but they're lying. She... that wasn't her... Just go. Leave me... alone."

Azeem found that bit of information interesting. He did not say anything, aware that would only provoke the younger man, and he did not want that. "Your hand has an arrow through it. You need help, and I am willing to provide it."

Scarlett looked down at his hand. "I hate him."

"He shot that arrow through your hand. That is only natural."

Scarlett laughed. He reached into his boot and took out one of his other knives. "Here."

Azeem had his own, but he knew that what he was being given was not offered lightly. He accepted it. "This will hurt."

"I'm used to pain."

"I have heard men make such claims before."

"If you're going to call me a liar," Scarlett paused, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. "Go back to Locksley. Tell him you saw... his work... and it was good."

"It was not," Azeem told him. He did not see the need for such a harsh lesson when the young man had already turned back from his own course. It would not have been apparent to most, but if he had intended to harm the Christian, it would already have happened before his own injury. "Hold still. I will cut the arrow."

"Do it." Scarlett held his own wrist, trying to keep it still, though his other hand seemed to be shaking.

"Do you always wear gloves?" Azeem asked as he cut through the shaft, reducing the bit of arrow that would be forced through the man's hand. He had never observed Scarlett without the gloves, though they had not been here long.

"Does it matter?"

"It could."

"Let's just say... the hands won't match anymore. I suppose I can thank Locksley for that," Scarlett muttered. He drew in a breath and let it out. "I think I can deal with it now. It was just trying... to hold the knife... in this hand..."

"You are not much of a liar."

"You haven't seen me lie," Scarlett countered. He looked at his uninjured hand, which appeared to shake a little. "I should have grabbed John's mead. All I thought about was getting away... but the pain is worse now. Could use something."

"I can give you herbs."

"Trust me, they don't help," Scarlett said. "Drinking's the only way I've found of shutting out the pain. Or forgetting."

"You are young yet."

"In case you missed the little lesson... with John's boy Wulf... you grow up fast around here," Scarlett said, reaching for the tip of the arrow.

"Let me," Azeem advised, and Scarlett snorted, but he didn't stop Azeem from removing the arrow. The younger man hissed and let loose a set of foul curses and swears the likes of which Azeem had never heard before and hoped he would never hear again. "Sit still. It must be cleaned now and treated so that infection does not set in."

"I am sitting still," Scarlett said, and Azeem did not believe he would retain consciousness much longer. He should not have waited so long to find Scarlett and assist him. "I almost feel like I did have some of that mead."

"You are losing blood again," Azeem said as he wet a cloth to clean out the wound. "It will make you light-headed."

"Like a fool, right? Guess I was... I let you touch me."

Azeem frowned, holding the cloth in place over the wound. "Do you share the prejudice of your countrymen?"

"You're Locksley's slave, aren't you? Accepting your help is a stupid idea, and I never should have done it. Locksley hates me about as much as I hate him."

That was almost amusing. Though Locksley was not ignorant of this man's grudge against him, he did not share it. Azeem resumed cleaning the wound. "In truth, I do not believe the Christian hates you. He does see you as an obstacle to his goal of uniting the people against the sheriff."

"Damn right I am. You should be, too. Everyone should be. We're not—we may be peasants... we're not part of his war. Shouldn't be, I mean. We're the ones... that will end up dead and hurt because of his pride, but no. No, he's the savior... come to lead us from oppression." Scarlett shook his head. "People say I have... a mouth. That it's all I have... that I've no sense... but I at least learned... you say the wrong thing to a noble... you pay. You pay in blood. These people... they shouldn't be paying Locksley's cost. He needs to learn to pay his own. Until then... he's got no business leading anyone."

"You think he has not paid any costs?"

"You mean his war?" Scarlett turned his hand over, looking at the gaping wound that did not hide the long scar along the back of his hand. "The Crusades are not the same. He chose that. We did not. We never chose... the hell he brought down on us. He taunted the sheriff. He should have to pay for it. And does he care? No, he doesn't. He doesn't see what he did as wrong. He's the real bastard. He should have died in your country... never come back here."

"And if this Nottingham gains more power and oppresses you further?"

"We're peasants. No one gives a damn about us... Locksley is no different."

"You do not know that."

"No, I do. Believe me, I do." Scarlett was certain, even if his body seemed to waiver with his words. "Whatever you saw back in your country... that wasn't him. Here he was and is nothing... but a spoiled nobleman. This isn't about fighting for us. He's fighting for himself... For his own pride. Marking a man isn't a war. It's just him showing off."

Azeem did not disagree with that. The Christian's recent actions were those of a boy, not a soldier, as there was little strategy in stealing a man's horse and injuring his pride, even if it was somewhat amusing. "You seem to be strangers."

"That..." Scarlett said, "is because that noble never took any notice of me... and because I wouldn't admit to knowing that ass. We are nothing to each other."

"You say that in a way that makes it seem false."

Scarlett smiled. "That is no lie. Ask him yourself."

Azeem tied the cloth around the wound. Scarlett winced, swearing again. "You will need to watch this for signs it has turned. The damage is minor. A fever is your greatest worry now."

"Maybe it will spare me seeing Locksley lead them all to the slaughter," Scarlett muttered, putting his other hand in his hair. He gave bitter laugh, shaking his head. "I... Thank you. You didn't have to... unless you did... Suppose it sounds like that story... the one in the Bible... About the Samaritan."

"You are welcome, young Christian."

"Don't call me that. I'm not religious. That was one story. One my mother liked. That's all."

"Very well," Azeem said. He knew it was time for him to leave, no matter how necessary his assistance might have been. He rose and touched the younger man's shoulder. "You need to rest and keep that wound clean."

Scarlett nodded, saying nothing more.

"I've got Fanny and the young ones settled at last," John said, kneeling next to Will. He'd found him down by the water, not even in his usual spot. This was no place for resting, and the lad knew it. He should have come sooner, but the wee one was sick and Fanny was hurting from her long walk and the baby she carried. John had barely seen her during this one, and he didn't like himself for it, but it was harder and harder to get back to see her.

He was almost grateful to have his family driven into the woods. He'd missed them all. He wanted them close, and he'd sleep well with his wife beside him, even if she deserved much better than this. All of them did.

"What you did with Locksley is all over the camp," John went on. "Now Fanny, she was for finding you and taking a strap to you after she gave you a good lecture and fussed over you."

"I feel loved," Will muttered. He curled his hand up against his chest, and John could see the bandage on it.

"You do that yourself?"

"What does it matter, John? Say I deserved it and go. Get back to your wife and leave me be."

John grunted. "You may have started a fight you couldn't finish, and you're one hell of a stubborn bastard—"

"Go away," Will repeated. "You've thrown your lot in with Locksley. Fine. You do it. Just... don't expect me to do the same."


"I'll leave in the morning. Took too long to get the damned arrow out."

"You are a daft, stubborn bastard," John said. "Where the hell do you think you're going to go? The village is gone, mate. We've got nothing, nowhere to go. You leave the forest, where will you go? And don't say you'll turn Locksley in. You know that won't save you. You'll get no pardon. Not with your crimes."

Will looked away. He did not want to acknowledge that truth, and John doubted Locksley knew what he was doing, if he was actually trying to drive the lad out. He would send Will to his death, and that wasn't something John would allow, even if Will had caused trouble and could have done harm to Robin if he'd thrown that knife.

"I'll take my chances."

John shook his head. "Locksley's methods aren't ours, and we don't have to like all of them, but he got the men organized making shelters for everyone. For that, I'm grateful, and I'll allow him to have that lead. It took me weeks to get the lads to do more than sleep under trees and you know it."

Will grunted. "They're idiots. All of them."

"Even me?" John finished for him, shaking his head. "I'm building houses. And I'll do what it takes to feed my family. To give them a home and safety. If that's with Locksley, it's with Locksley."

"Not for me. I want no part in his war."

"Bloody shame, since you're one of few that can actually fight."

Will snorted. "I am not. What is this? You telling me lies to make you feel less guilty about not helping me with my hand? Just say you felt I deserved it and be done with it. I don't want the lies. I don't need them. I know I'm not welcome. Just leave me be."

John caught him before the idiot could stumble off into the night. He'd get himself hurt that way, and he didn't need more of that. There was already a risk he could lose his hand or worse now, and he'd managed to make more enemies when he drew that knife, even if he didn't throw it. He could be in danger from the others, ones who either no longer feared him or didn't know to. "Stay."

"What the hell for?"

"Because you shouldn't be on your own, even if you are an idiot. Because as dumb as you are, as much as you tell us you don't, you care about us," John said, hearing the younger man snort. "No, none of that now. You might hate nobles, and you've a mouth on you, but you're not fighting Locksley for yourself. You knew you couldn't turn in that reward, but it would feed the rest of us."

Will shook his head. "Why are you doing this? Everyone hates me. They should. You'd be better off if Locksley had killed me."

"He didn't want to any more than you wanted to kill him."

"I hate him. Don't think I don't."

"Will Scarlett, I've seen you throw those bloody knives of yours. You're as deadly with them as Locksley is with that bow. If you'd meant to hurt him, you would have."

"No one believes that."

"I do, Fanny does, and if Locksley has any sense, he does," John disagreed. "And whoever did patch that for you must know, too."

Will looked at his hand. "The Moor."

"The Moor tended to your hand?"

"Go away, John. I don't—I told you. I'll leave in the morning."

"Don't be daft," John said. "You'll get yourself killed if you do."

"What do you care?"

"I told you—you're one of the few of us that can fight. I want you here if I need you," John told him, and Will stared at him. "If Locksley's plan goes wrong, if we end up in a true war, I'll need you. I knew that before, and it hasn't changed. If we have to force Locksley to go, then you are the one I'd need for that. Too many believe him beyond reason already."

Will frowned. "You're keeping me... because I disagreed with him?"

"Aye. Someone should. It'll make him think. Besides, that's not all I use you for and you know it. How'd you even know he's got that price on his head? You were in town, and no one knew it. That is a skill, too, and I won't lose it. You take care of that hand. Come to Fanny in the morning. She wants to make a fuss over you."

"And Wulf?"

"I'd keep an eye on him if you know what's good for you."

"You've been gone a long time."

"You see fit not to inform me of where you go and when you leave," Azeem said. "Why should it be any different for me?"

Robin could have pointed out that he was acting as his slave, but he did not see the man that way, and he would not treat him so. Azeem was a valued companion, even if his advice sometimes rankled. "We could have used your help while we were building shelters."

"You had many for the work," Azeem said. "You spared none for the injured."

Robin frowned. Of course he had. He'd made them divide groups up, sending the hurt and weak to rest, giving orders for them to be tended to and what food they had spread about them. Hunting parties were due to go out in the morning, and he'd done his best to get everyone some kind of shelter for the night, however meager it might be. John's large family barely had space at all, and Wulf would likely sleep apart from them, but he'd tried.

"The young man you injured with your arrow."

"You went to see him? That one could have killed me, and you, the man who took a vow to protect me, is sitting there patching him up to do it again?"

Azeem gave him a disapproving look. "You as well as I know that if that man had meant to harm you, you would have had the knife in your back before you could draw your arrow. Even with your provocation, you were not that prepared. If your arrow was in hand, perhaps, but as it was not... You opened yourself to injury to make your point. You gambled, and it worked."

"He was a coward."

Azeem studied him in a way that made Robin uncomfortable. "Was he? Or did he reconsider his impulsive action and rein in his temper only to have you act on your own? You had your victory. Punishing him further by failing to treat him only undermines what you claim to be doing here."

"Excuse me?"

"You called him a coward in front of a crowd when he advised caution. His path was not yours, and he objected to you dictating it. He did not want your leadership or the war he still feels you caused. You provoked him so that you could prove yourself right. He's young and bitter, and he accepted your bait. However, if your concern was truly these people and seeing to their needs, you would have made sure someone saw to him. Even now, it has not occurred to you that he deserved care."

Robin wanted to shake the Moor. He didn't know what it was with Azeem, but the man had a particular way of disagreeing with him that not only reminded Robin of his father but shamed him, thinking he might well be seeing his own conscience made into a man.

"I forgot him in the chaos of the building."

"I hope for your sake, Christian, that is true," Azeem said, sitting down next to him. "This war you fight may be what they need, even if they do not know that or want it, but you cannot use tyranny to achieve it, or you are not any better than the man you claim to fight. Yet here you have called out your only dissenter and humiliated him."

"I needed Will to understand what we are truly fighting."

"That was not the way to teach him, though you impressed a crowd."

Robin glared at him. "You're taking his side?"

"Remember I cautioned you before—these people were not to be used for your revenge. You did not want my advice or counsel then, but I will still give it. My vow to save your life does not mean I will follow you into something that is not right. Allah willing, you have chosen the right course, but if you have not, you have condemned all here."

"I am not the one taking their homes or their livestock. That's Nottingham. He's hurting them, and the more he does, the less able they'll be to fight back. If we make a stand here and now, when we're still strong, we have a chance. If not, we will give Nottingham everything he wants. This is not just about my father."

"And I wish to believe that."

"You think I did wrong?"

"It is possible. Many things are at too early a state to be certain. You did not inflict a fatal blow, but Scarlett has previous injuries to his hands and could lose the use of this one. You may be wrong about what the forest can provide or the ability of these people to fight back against the soldiers, even if they battle for their homes."

"Previous injuries?"

"I do not believe that man wears gloves only for the fashion."

Robin almost swore. "I didn't know."

"There is a great deal you don't know about these people. You must learn it if you desire to lead them."

Robin nodded. He would, though with Scarlett, it wouldn't be easily done. "You have done your part, my friend, and shamed me into a better course."

Azeem looked at him. "That was not my intention."

"Yes, it was," Robin said, though for some reason, he was grateful for it. "Thank you."

Chapter Text

"Keep an eye on your sister for me," Fanny said, passing her youngest to Wulf. "She's still poorly. That walk... It took too much from her, and she's sick again. Keep her resting. I won't be gone very long."

"I still don't see why you're leaving her for Will."

Heaven knew there was no one so good at keeping a grudge as a Little man, but she'd hoped her son wasn't going to be as bad as his father or uncles had been. "You know why. I owe Will for your life and your sister's, and I will see to his hand."

Wulf shook his head. Fanny gave her daughter another kiss, thinking she might be a bit cooler than before, and set off deeper into the woods. She knew that Will made his camp far from the others, and John had warned her that he was further away than usual. If he thought that would stop her, he was wrong, but then he was more worried with this baby than he had been with any of the others, even though it was early days yet, mostly because he couldn't be there.

Fanny shook her head as she went deeper into the trees. She was going to make sure Will knew just how stupid he was being. It wasn't just his fight with Locksley or his usual idiocy. He was injured. He should be staying closer.

She heard the cries as she drew near, a heartbreaking sound that made her run the rest of the way to Will's side as he thrashed in his sleep.

"No. No. Get off me. Get off..." Will tossed again, and she knelt down next to him, reaching out to calm him like she would any of her own.

"Shh, love. It's all right. You're safe."

Her words seemed to make him worse. He started twisting again. She put a hand to his head, wincing at the heat coming off him. She would need someone to help her get him back to the camp so he could be properly treated.

"It is as I feared," a voice said, and she looked up at the Moor. "He is feverish."

She nodded. "He is. It took him fast."

"With such a wound, I am not surprised," the Moor said. "I thought he was already showing signs of it yesterday, but I could not be certain if that was fever or merely the injury itself."

Fanny shook her head. "I should have come to see him yesterday."

"This is not your doing," the Moor told her, though she still felt like she should have been able to find some time to check on Will instead of falling asleep with the baby. "It was very likely with this wound, and I did see to it that it was properly cleaned and bandaged."

Fanny nodded. She could see the bandage, and she was grateful that someone had helped Will. "Thank you. I doubt most would have done anything for him."

The Moor inclined his head. "The young man does seem to keep more than just this physical distance between him and others."

"That he does."

Will cried out again, starting to writhe. He was going to hurt himself, and if he'd done this all night, it was no wonder his wound was infected, bandaged or not.

"Calm yourself, young one," the Moor said as he knelt next to Will. "You need not fear now. You are not alone, and you will come to no harm."

Unlike his reaction to Fanny, Will seemed to relax as the Moor spoke to him. Fanny frowned, not understanding until Will moaned out a pathetic word.

"Mother... please..."

The Moor looked over at Fanny. "Do you know anything about his people?"

She shook her head. "Very little. He's only mentioned his mother a few times, never spoke of his father."

"Then he is not from this area?" the Moor asked, frowning. Fanny wondered if the man had assumed that or if Will had lied to him about his past.

"Will comes and goes as he pleases. I don't think anyone knows much about him," Fanny said. "He wasn't raised in our village, that's for sure. John and I met him 'bout five years back, just before he killed the sheriff's steward."

"This man killed the sheriff's steward?"

"No one told you that?" Fanny asked, surprised. That tale got bloodier each telling, with Will something closer to Nottingham's witch every time they told it, especially if the they was Bull or Much. She wasn't sure if they were trying to make things worse or if they just couldn't keep the story straight. "They'll exaggerate, but yes. He did."

"And yet he is not hunted like Locksley."

"Will didn't steal Nottingham's horse or cut his face, either," Fanny said, brushing the lad's hair back from his face. He whimpered. "We need to move him. Being out here all night... Bloody idiot."

The Moor nodded. "Indeed. I will get assistance from the others."

"He seems... restless."

"It is the fever," Azeem said, though he did not believe the fever alone caused the man's distress. Those were not delusions. They sounded more like memories, the ones he had heard, and they did not seem to end, shifting from one to another.

The Christian nodded, looking down at Scarlett. "You blame me for this?"

"If you feel guilty, Christian, that is your right," Azeem told him. He did not know that the fault was all with one person. Both men held some fault for the incident. The Christian had baited and fired the arrow, but the other man had given into the bait and had been far too stubborn about where he spent the night after his injury.

"I don't want him dead. That wasn't what I was doing."

"I know, and I believe everyone here knows that as well. Even the one you injured."

Locksley sighed. "I don't know what it is about him. He always challenges me, from the start. The river is a prank they pull on everyone, but he wasn't just a part of that. He'll needle me about my father given half the chance, you told me he had words for Duncan, though Duncan denies it, and every step I take against Nottingham, Scarlett opposes it when you would think a man like that would embrace it."

"You know nothing of him."

"I've been learning. It's not just his mouth. He's supposed to be a killer, unlike most of the others here. He should be eager for another chance."

Azeem shook his head. "Once again you listen without truly hearing, Christian."

"I'm not saying I believe the legend of him killing a man and spreading blood throughout the village. What do you take me for?"

Sometimes, Azeem thought, a great fool. Yet in spite of that, he believed the man had a good heart and wanted to help people as he claimed. He was not always right about his methods, and they were still struggling now, but they could yet find their way.

"Do you know the identity of the man Will Scarlett killed?"


"According to Fanny, it was the sheriff's steward."

"Flavell?" the Christian demanded. "This impudent little whelp is the one that killed Flavell? Before I left for the Crusades, the tales of him were legendary in of themselves. He was the witch's partner in darkness, a devil worshiper and worse, the kind of man you would not want to meet for any reason."

"I suspect much of that is quite true, and this one learned that in person."

Locksley shook his head. "That man was depraved. We all knew that, but if it's true... why would Scarlett resist going against Nottingham? He knows that man is capable of a great evil. No good man would tolerate someone like Flavell in his house."

Azeem thought of the man's words. "He knows well the cost of the defiance you make a game of with Nottingham."

"If you seek to lecture me again—"

"I am not lecturing. I am watching over a sick man as I have some training in the way of medicine. I do not know what you are doing here."

"I came to see how he was. You know that."

"You have seen that," Azeem said. "And yet you have not looked away from him."

"I told you. I don't understand him. Or his relationship with these men. Some seem genuinely afraid of him, believing him the monster in those tales told of him, the one that roves about in scarlet robes spreading blood, yet with the same breath, they say that no one is as close to John or leading them as he is. Well, other than Harold. He seems to think he's the leader."

"That one does nothing of use."


"Though it seems common of leaders in this country," Azeem observed, and the Christian shook his head again, laughing.

"I take your point. I'll get back to work," Locksley said. "You make sure he doesn't die."

"Building in the trees?" John asked. "You are bloody daft."

Robin laughed. He wasn't surprised to hear that, as the decision to make some of them live above the others would seem insane. He liked the idea of it, as it copied a castle tower, with rooms above and below, allowing them to have sentries and keep watch as well as use less space in the forest. The more they spread out, the greater the risk came to all of them, and he was determined to keep that low. They'd found a place that was difficult to reach, one that few could find, and they needed that if they were to strike back at Nottingham.

Nottingham had attacked these people because he knew they knew men in Sherwood. It likely had much to do with John Little's own family, as they'd been there, and he had mentioned before that it was difficult for him to go back and forth as they watched for him.

That would not happen again.

"We're not boys any longer. Maybe when we were young we thought living there would be a good idea, but now? Come on. You've more sense than that."

"Does not a castle have a tower? A way to see at great distance that enemies or friends approach? Why should we not?"

Azeem, for his part, seemed pleased with Robin's choice, though amused as well. His plan had the Moor in better spirits than the last few days, where Robin had known wariness and quick censure from him every time he took too many steps toward building an army and not enough toward building a town. The difficulty was that they needed both, and someone would have to stand in to protect them, even if they were not prepared for that, either.

"Aye, and that might be so, but there's few of us able climbers to get up and build what you're asking of us," John said. Robin tensed, having a sense of what the other man was about to say. "In fact, my man of choice for that kind of work won't be ready for it for weeks, if then."

"Will Scarlett?" Robin asked, though he needn't have bothered. It had become clear that the man he'd taken for a mere troublemaker was much more a part of John's group than he had first seemed. Moving some of the wind chimes had led to a conversation about the lad being the first to use them, and every time they insisted on going off to the river to wait for someone to cross, they spoke of Will setting the rope.

"I can do it," Wulf said. "I'm small like Will is, and I've gotten good at climbing up after him. I'm the best at that, always find him when he's up in them."

"That you do, son," John said, putting an affectionate hand on Wulf's shoulder. "We'd need more than you, though, and I'm not sure who else I'd trust to do it besides Will."

Robin looked to Azeem. "How is he doing?"

"Still feverish."

Robin almost swore. If he was the one they needed, Azeem would say he had no one to blame but himself for the man being unavailable, and in some sense, he was right. Robin had provoked him, though if Scarlett hadn't gone for his knife, Robin wouldn't have shot him. "Should we be worried?"

"Will's a tough lad," John said. "I've seen him come through worse."

Robin nodded. "All right. We'll see if we've got others who can do it while we wait for him to recover. We've still got plenty of work to do on the ground level, and we need more food. You had hunting parties before, but we need more. We've more mouths to feed, and not enough supplies."

"Aye, we do," John agreed. "We've a few good hunters among us, but we're pretty thin on men to send anywhere. We're doing too much."

"It would perhaps be wise to direct your efforts in only one direction at a time until you have finished one project," Azeem suggested. "You have sent men hunting, men building, and others to the river. You cannot split so few so many ways."

Robin grimaced. Azeem had left out those with skills he'd asked to work on fashioning them weapons. They needed bows, swords, and arrows. They had some with training in metal working, and he wanted them making the arms they needed now, today, in case there was another attack coming.

"The homes first," Fanny said as she passed by them. "I don't know a woman here who wants to cook that meat you think you're bringing back without a proper place to do it."

"Thank you for your wise advice, Fanny."

She smiled back at him. "You're welcome."

"So if we—"

"John," Fanny said, her face going grave when she spoke of her true reason for interrupting them. "Rosie's coughing again, bad as before, and we're out of the medicine Will gave us for her. We only had a bit left when I left, and it's run out."

John swore. "She was better. Will told me she was better last time he was in town."

"The walk here," Fanny admitted. "You know she's been sick ever since, and don't you say one word, Wulf. I was with Will for a few minutes and your sister was ailing before then."

"What medicine do you need?" Robin asked. "Is it something that grows locally? Can we find the plant and have it brought to you? Or do we need to send someone to the apothecary?"

Robin suspected they did, since John and Fanny both grimaced at the last question, with John answering reluctantly. "I doubt that we could afford it."

"You had the medicine before," Robin said. They'd run out, or so Fanny had said.

"Aye, because Will Scarlett's the best bloody thief in the shire," John muttered. "None of us has any money, Robin."

"Let me examine the child," Azeem said. "I may be able to help."

John and Fanny looked at each other and both nodded. "You've done plenty for Will. If you have any ideas that might help my daughter... I'd be grateful."

"I promise we will get your daughter what she needs," Robin assured him, knowing he needed John's continued support. "Whatever it takes."

Will jerked awake, shuddering and wrapping his arms around himself, trying to cast off the memories with the morning. He could see the sun. Last he remembered it was dark, and he'd been by the river, too tired to move. Now he was inside some kind of hut.

He tried not to panic. He was not a boy any longer, and that trader was not here. That was over and gone, and it should not torment him like this. Why not the steward? Why not his mother as she burned?

He forced himself up and out of the hut, needing to get away from this place, to find somewhere safe, though he didn't know where that was.

He stumbled a few steps into the middle of the camp, both relieved and horrified to realize where he was. He would have fallen, but something took hold of him, and he almost panicked before he recognized it as John.

"There you are. We were starting to think you wouldn't come back to us."

Will looked down at his throbbing hand, shaking his head. He had meant to leave, but he didn't go anywhere.

"How are you feeling?"

"Like I did the first time you tried to make mead... think I was sick for a week."

John laughed, clapping him on the back, and Will heard other voices, seeing many more around them. "Aye, you were, laddie, and far from the only one. That was a powerful brew. Took down Bull and Much, too. Both of them puking like dogs."

"I think I count myself fortunate you've perfected your method by now," Locksley said, and Will grimaced to hear his voice. "Come, sit, Will. I'm glad to see you're awake."

Will stared at him even as John helped him sit.

"It seems that not only are we in need of a man with your skills for climbing, we also have need of you as a thief, and as soon as you're feeling better, I would call upon you for both."

"I want no part in your war," Will said, trying to rise again.

"It's Rosie's medicine, Will. We can't find any of it growing around the forest," John said, and Will thought he would be sick. "The Moor's given her something else that's been helping, but she's not better. We might need the same as you had before, from the apothecary."

"It's not cheap," Will said, feeling again like he might be sick—if he didn't faint on the spot.

"We know," Locksley said. "That's why we need a thief. We've liberated a few purses along the road, and we're looking to do more, but I hear tell you were best at that."

Will had always thought so, but he didn't understand why Locksley believed it. Even if he was, though, he knew they needed to get the medicine from the apothecary himself. The bastard hadn't been willing to part with even a pinch of it for less than a gold piece, and no one here had that kind of money. They'd have to rob Nottingham's treasury to have enough for the same jar he'd taken before.

And damn Locksley anyhow. He had Will trapped, using flattering words but all the while knowing that Will didn't dare refuse John.

"You should not be out of bed, young Christian."

Will looked over at the Moor. "Thought we agreed... you weren't calling me that."

"Scarlett seems ill-fitting for one so pale as you are at present," the Moor told him, crossing over to kneel beside him. "You had a fever and have been insensible for days."

"See, John? It was like your mead."

John gave a hearty laugh. "Lord love you, Will Scarlett. You've still got that mouth of yours and the bitter wits to go with it."

Will managed a small smile.

"You are not recovered yet," the Moor said. "You should lie down again and continue to rest. And do not let them talk you into climbing anything. That hand has not healed."

"Yeah... looks like I'm just about as useless as Harold."

"Impossible," Locksley muttered, and Will frowned, not sure he'd heard that right. "Oh, you've missed it. You should have seen him 'help' with the building and when he knocked down the same post for the fourth time, we sent him to get water. Somehow that ended up with him almost drowning and me having to go get him because no one else here swims—"

"Will does," Wulf said. "I've seen him."

"As do I, Christian. Your statement is in error."

"The point is, whatever task you give that man, he finds some way of making a horrible mess of it, and I don't even believe he means to, that's what's so wrong about the whole thing," Locksley said, shaking his head in frustration. Then he smiled. "Azeem is right. You should rest. We have need of a man like you."

"You have need of a coward, Locksley?" Will asked, shaking his head as he rose. He felt dizzy but didn't stop. "I'll not be bought by pretty words any more than I am cowed by an arrow in my hand. Go to hell."

Will knew his speech was ruined by his collapse, but he didn't care. He didn't trust Locksley, and this false friendship was no better. He just wished he'd been able to do something for little Rosie before he gave into the darkness.

Chapter Text

"That... did not go well."

Robin did not know what happened. Scarlett was still ill, that was clear even before he tried to join them, and his relapse was not unexpected. He'd sat up and joked with John, and things seemed well. Robin had tried to be friendly, enjoying the half-tales he was getting from them and even tried to talk to the man about the jobs John thought him suited for, but then Scarlett had gotten angry and tried to leave, making himself worse.

"Indeed, Christian," Azeem said. "You might have started with an apology."

"What? I don't have to—"

"You shot the man in the hand," John said, kneeling down to pick Scarlett up into his arms. "He might have deserved it, but that doesn't change anything. He's suffering now because you shot him. Doesn't matter what he did or what he was about to do. You want to get anywhere with Will, you're gonna have to apologize."

Robin felt Azeem's eyes on him. John was right. He should have tried apologizing before he tried to include Will in the plans for the village. He had thought that would be enough, but he was wrong. He would talk to the man again next time he woke.

"Back inside?" John asked Azeem, who nodded. That hut had been built for a different family, one with children, but they'd been forced to give it to the sick man instead. John and Fanny both said that Will would never stay in it, but it hadn't helped their housing problem. They were still behind in making the shelters.

They'd all say Robin had only himself to blame for that, and it was true. He could have done things very differently, and if he hadn't shot Will, they could have had his help already. Instead, they'd be waiting while he overcame this fever, all the while worried about John and Fanny's little girl.

This was not the way that confrontation was supposed to end.

Oh, he'd known that one of them would end up hurt, but he hadn't thought it through to this. Robin could have acted as a supervisor alone, not helping as much with the actual building as he had been when he wasn't working with the others on their next steps. Will was different. He might have worked on the housing and Robin was sure he would have already gone for that girl's medicine if he could have.

"It's a good thing I only made one promise," Robin said, turning to Azeem. "Well, two now. I need to find a way to get that girl the medicine."

"If you show your face in Nottingham, you risk losing your head. You will also bring the war upon these people when they are not ready for it."

Robin nodded. "I don't intend to start that fight yet. We will need a lot more weapons and training before we strike. We need resources, and we're not done building our home. This isn't a war that will be won in a day. It will take a lot more than what we have."

"It is early yet."

"Yes." Robin knew he had to fight against his own impatience. He wanted the shelters built, the men armed and trained, and Nottingham to pay all at once. He wanted it now. He had to fight against his need for vengeance and knowing that these people needed more than anger to survive. "We need to finish the shelters. We're going to have to find others who can climb. It's not as hard as John makes it sound, even if I'm asking them to go rather high."

"You have not yet attempted it."

Robin looked at him. "Are you calling me a coward?"

"I think that someone else would, were he awake and aware of your lack of action."

Robin watched John come back out of the hut. "Well, I certainly can't have that. To the trees, Azeem."

Will dragged himself up, wrapping his arm around his stomach and trying to keep himself from puking. He did not want to do that inside this place. He was back in the hut he'd woken up in before, and he couldn't do that to someone else's home. This wasn't his. He didn't have one—didn't want one—not without his mother, and she was never coming back.

He refused to think about her.

He had to get out of here. He needed to get back to town. Rosie needed medicine, and he was going to get that for her. He liked Rosie. She was too small to be scared of him because of stupid stories or to feel threatened by him like Wulf. She was great.

He crawled toward the hut's door, opening it. The camp was mostly dark, with a few fires here and there—some even in the trees. Will frowned. The idiot had them lighting the tree tops? Why? What good did that do?

Will told himself he didn't care. He wasn't lying. He didn't want anything to do with Locksley or this war he was preparing them for, and he wasn't going to ask about it.

He crawled out of the hut and stood, testing his balance. He could stand. That was a start, but he would need more than that for what he had to do. Stealing from the apothecary was not easy. If it was, everyone would do it instead of paying his ridiculous prices. The man got away with what he did because he had skills others didn't.

Will had nothing against a man with skills. He just didn't think it was right someone could deny things people needed to live just because they couldn't pay.

He stumbled toward the edge of the camp, stopping to rest against a tree. He was tired. Anyone who saw him would tell him to go right back to sleep. He didn't want to sleep. He hated sleeping. The memories always came back in his dreams, and there was no rest possible.

And no one would let him have mead, if there was even any left in the camp with all the new people around.

Will shook it off, forcing himself onward. He needed to make it to the town, which would be easier if he took one of the horses, but he didn't think he'd stay on one and he wasn't that good a rider. He'd tried it before, with some rather disappointing results. He hadn't realized that it took skill to do that, and he'd never admit that he didn't have it.

He weaved through the trees, stopping more than he moved, finding the wind chimes more annoying than usual right now. The sound was making him sick again.

He chose another tree, closing his eyes again. He just needed a minute. He'd keep going then. Just a minute's rest.

Robin had seen Scarlett come out of his hut across the camp, and it didn't take much to convince himself that he should follow after him. While the other man deserved an apology given in front of everyone just as the humiliation had been given in front of the crowd, Scarlett would probably not accept anything Robin said in front of them.

He would start with a private apology and give the public one later.

Besides, Scarlett was still sick. Robin couldn't let him go off on his own. The man might not find his way back or he could hurt himself, and no one would forgive Robin for that, even if Will wasn't the most popular man in the camp.

Having heard a few more of those stories about Will Scarlett, Robin could understand why. People did seem to believe the worst of the man. Robin was one of them.

He followed Will to the edge of the forest, worried by each time the man stopped to rest, but John was right about him—he was one stubborn bastard. He wouldn't quit. He just kept pushing himself toward the town, not giving up even as tired and ill as he was.

Robin didn't understand. The man he'd seen before was as John had said—piss and wind. He was a lot of talk and anger, and he didn't seem like much more. The legends about him killing Flavell didn't help. Will Scarlett was something of a riddle, one of those annoying rhymes that people teased with and irritated you until you understood it. Robin would probably still find him annoying after he had him figured out, but until then, he needed to learn more.

He trailed after Will, shaking his head at the both of them as Will dragged himself across the countryside. They were out in the open, where they could be seen by others, though Will seemed not to notice that he was being followed. Robin wondered if that was the fever, or if Will wasn't the type to watch for trails.

That seemed unlikely. Robin figured it was the illness and the fatigue. He did not know why how Will was still on his feet, though his periods of rest got more frequent the longer he marched. Robin thought that he was done just outside town, with the sun rising and him looking asleep against the outer wall of the city.

A stray chicken woke Will again, and he groaned, forcing himself up again. Robin stood, watching him dart his way into the city.

He went around the wall himself and almost swore. He didn't see Will anywhere. The man had disappeared.

Will should have been caught, and he knew it. He should be passed out on the floor, a waiting offering to the sheriff's men. He'd thought he would be, getting dizzy again as he stood in the apothecary's shop, but that had passed.

He wasn't sure he wouldn't puke, and he was sure there was something around here that would have helped with that, but he didn't know what it was. He picked up a jar and opened it, making sure it was what he needed. He thought it was, but he wasn't sure.

He couldn't trust his senses, and he wouldn't risk Rosie. The apothecary could get more, he had if this was the same stuff, so Will took it and the three others that looked about the same. He could have emptied the shop, he supposed, but he didn't feel like that was necessary. He just wanted to be sure he had what Rosie needed.

He put all the jars in the apothecary's satchel and put it around his neck, catching the wall again. He took a few breaths, knowing he didn't have much time before he was found. He had to leave.

He forced himself away from the wall and out the way he'd come in, back into the alley. A woman beating a rug looked over at him, and he turned away only to stumble into a cart. He swore, not able to get himself back up. Getting here had taken everything he had, and he was done.

As soon as the apothecary woke and raised the alarm, he'd be found. He'd be robbed for the nothing he had first, so there went Rosie's medicine. He tried again, knowing he needed to at least get to the wall again.

"Come," a voice said, taking hold of him, and Will thought he was about to be arrested, though this one didn't stink of armor the way the sheriff's men usually did. Something about that voice, too. Will should know it. Or maybe he was imagining that. "Up now."

Will tried to push the man off, and his hand hit metal. He felt the medallion, frowning. He knew its shape, but it couldn't be. That was the piece that should have fed them for a month.

"You've done good, Will," Locksley told him. "Now let me get you home."

That couldn't be right. Will was not hearing that. He was feverish and ill and maybe he hadn't made it to town at all. This dream was better than the others he remembered, even if Locksley was in it. "What?"

"You're not going to like this," Locksley said, "but I'm planning on stealing another horse."

Chapter Text

"Where's Locksley?"

Azeem looked up with a frown. He knew that it was a common mistake, but he was not the Christian's keeper. He had tried to remind the man that he could not fulfill his vow if he was not told where he went, but that seemed to matter little to Locksley, who would ignore it and leave without word to anyone.

"I do not know," Azeem admitted. "He said nothing to me of leaving. I thought he was tired after the day's exertions, doing as much as he did in the trees, and would not go anywhere."

"Will's missing, too," John said. "Where the hell is Locksley?"

"You believe he would harm him again?" Azeem demanded. He did not believe that to be true. Locksley was not the one harboring ill will, that was Scarlett. He had much anger in him, and he had not let go of whatever Locksley had done in the past to injure him, however small or in pride it might have been. "I do not believe so. He has come to see more of the value you give the young man, and he seeks to include him in the ways you have used him before."

John snorted. "Aye, and that'll be a sight to see. There's none half so stubborn as Will Scarlett, and don't expect him to be forgiving Locksley any time soon. I won't bother asking him to."

"Yet you ask him for aid for you and the others."

John grunted. "He's full of anger, and his tongue can be as sharp as those knives he carries, but underneath it, the lad's heart is good."

"I agree."

The big man stared at him. Azeem smiled.

"While it is clear the young man dislikes Locksley and all nobles, a fact he does not attempt to hide, he has not used that as his argument against the Christian's plans. He argues that you did not choose the war Locksley did, and that he is using you for his own ends. Scarlett is very much concerned with the safety of these people, something he thinks that Locksley is not."

"That's not true."

"No, and that is where the bias exists, but I still believe it is not for himself he defies Locksley. Had he only wished to ignore or avoid the trouble Locksley has caused, he could have left—yes, this is his home, but he seems resourceful enough and to hear talk of him, he could find a way to hide in the sheriff's own home without the man noticing. No, he does not stay for his own sake."

John nodded. "He said he'd go after Locksley shot his hand. Just don't know if the damned fool did it on his own or not."

"It would have been most foolish. He has not recovered from that fever or the wound and would be in no state to fight."

"That sounds a bit like Will," John muttered. He turned as a man called out a warning.

"Horse approaching."

"Looks like Locksley wasn't wrong about putting men up there," John said as he walked toward the middle of the camp to face anyone who might enter. Azeem followed him, knowing that he needed to be there. "Locksley? The devil have you been?"

"Ah, John," the Christian said, smiling. "Do you not appreciate the spoils of our victory?"

"Our victory?" Azeem asked with concern. He did not think the Christian was entirely well, nor was it necessary to steal a horse every time he went into town.

"Here, John, help him down," the Christian said, and the dark lump of fabric became a person as John eased him down from the horse. The Christian jumped down on his own. "You'll want the rest of our spoils as well, but he's got them."

"Will?" John asked, and the other man groaned as he was set back down. "What's the meaning of this, Locksley?"

"The meaning is your stubborn friend here dragged himself all the way to the apothecary for you," Locksley said, kneeling next to both of them. "I didn't think he would make it, but he did, and I lost him for a bit in town, but I got him out after he got you those."

John picked up the satchel. "No, this isn't—"

"Rosie's medicine," Fanny said. "Oh, Will, you idiot. She would have been fine, love. She's doing better with the Moor's help."

"Do not belittle his choice," Azeem advised. "The medicine may still be necessary, and if not for her, then for him, as his state is still quite poor."

"She's just fussing," John said. He looked up at Locksley. "You followed him?"

"I didn't want him getting himself hurt, and he's not in a state to be on his own. If he chooses to leave, he'll have to do that after he's better. Until then, he should be here to be fussed over," the Christian answered. "I'll not have him dying because of what I did, no matter how stubborn he might be."

"The little girl mends faster than you do."

Will gave the Moor a weak glare. He didn't have it in him to do much else. His whole body ached, and he'd been told he slept for a damned week after getting Rosie the medicine. A week. That was ridiculous.

So was getting rescued by Locksley, which still irritated Will.

"She was mending before she came here," Will reminded him. "She was almost better before Nottingham's men burned her house and forced them here."

"Yes, though I believe her recovery is also helped by her lack of your stubbornness," the Moor said, and Will gave him another glare. The Moor ignored it, handing him a steaming mug. "Drink this. It should help."

"That smells worse than Locksley."

The Moor fought a smile. "Indeed, but it will still aid your recovery. Your health is poor, and you have not been eating as you should."

Will grimaced. Nothing stayed down, and his throat hurt too much to let much in. He'd tried, but he barely managed Fanny's broth these days. Food had no appeal, though he would have given almost anything for John's mead to make sleeping easier.

From the looks and whispers he'd been getting, he'd done plenty of crying out in his sleep, and he wanted to go back to the outside of the camp. He kept trying to get there, and someone always prevented it or brought him back to the middle of the camp.

"You are restless."

"What, no comment on it being my nature?"

"Perhaps it is, my friend," the Moor said, and Will stared at him. "Let me see your hand again."

Will held it out, glad to see it wasn't shaking this time. He had been shivering for one reason or another, and he hated that. It seemed weak, and everyone had already seen too much of him like that. He almost thought he'd have to do something where he came back covered in blood to get them to stop laughing and start avoiding him again.

"Better. The wound heals faster than the rest of you," the Moor told him, covering it with a clean bandage.

"Are we about—"

"Azeem," Locksley called, coming over to them. "There you are. You were supposed to start training the men. They're waiting for you."

"Patience is an essential skill for any swordsman," the Moor said. "The one who attacks in haste will likely be defeated."

Locksley held up his hands. "I yield. I was just reminding you that you said you would and you're late. Any wounds from overeager farmers—"

Azeem frowned. "You let them practice with real swords?"

"Why not?" Will demanded. "If you're going to learn something, it doesn't do you any good to learn it without the real thing. The weight's different, the edge is sharper.. You know how long it took me to throw a knife without cutting my hand?"

"This is different," the Moor said. "It's against another, and they could injure someone without knowing."

"You are right that it is different with a real blade," Locksley said. "Peter and I used to practice with wooden swords as boys. Played, more like, and the first time I held a real one—my father's—I dropped it on my foot and nearly lost a toe. It was too heavy, and I couldn't use it, though I kept trying to for years."

Will didn't know why that story made him want to smile, aside from the idiot almost taking off his own toe.

"Still, I think Azeem is right and we can't risk them sparring with real swords just yet. For one, we don't have enough, and for another, we don't want anyone dying or being hurt."

Will snorted. "You're saying that to me?"

"Suffice to say, Will Scarlett, you were not the only one who has learned from your injury," Locksley told him. "I'd rather not have any other man in your position, and I do not want to be the one to put him there. When you recover, though, if you would like to train others in your skills with the daggers, I would gladly have your assistance."

Will shook his head. "I don't see why you bother flattering me. I'm not some maid to look at that smile and give you favors. I hate you, and I have no skills save what I taught myself. Go see to your swordsmen, Moor. My hand is fine."

"It was not—your skill is all the more impressive for the fact that it's self-taught," Locksley began, but Will didn't stay to hear him go on. He didn't want lies, especially not Locksley lies.

Will left the camp, knowing that he'd hear about it later, but he refused to stay.

"What is it with that man?" Robin demanded, frustrated. "I try to include him, and he refuses to have anything to do with me. I don't understand. I've tried being nice, I made sure he didn't die when he went after that medicine—and it was good he did, the girl's much better now—I've even apologized—"


"We had much time to talk when I brought him back from Nottingham," Robin said. "I told him in private. I thought that best. I know everyone should hear it, but I didn't think he'd accept it if I did it in the middle of the camp first."

"Perhaps not," Azeem said. "Yet I must wonder... was he conscious when you did?"

"Yes. I spoke to him about other things first, stupid ones. He said... He insulted me, so I knew he was awake and knew who I was. So I told him. I said I was sorry. I didn't mean for him to get sick, and I wasn't trying to cripple him. He could have hurt me, but he didn't. I know that."

"Christian, I still question whether or not he truly heard you. Remember, he was feverish. He may have been awake, but he might not have understood the words or been able to recall them now. He is still angry, perhaps more so, as he sees your 'rescue' of him as him being weak and humiliated again."

Robin swore. "That is not what I'm doing. I am trying to build these people a decent home. I want them to be safe. I am trying to teach them how to defend themselves and provide for themselves. We need more than a few hunting parties. We don't have many people who have the skills to fight. Will is one of them. That's what I hear from everyone."

"I do not disagree about his skills. I do not know that he will ever agree to use them in a way connected to you."

Robin frowned. "You think his hatred of me is that strong?"

"I think it will take a great deal to overcome his distrust of you and your methods. You have drawn others to your cause, but not this one. You will have to work hard to convince him that your cause is just and that you are not just using everyone here for your own revenge. It will take more than a few words and seemingly meaningless gestures. What you do, every little thing you do, must show this, and you are starting at a disadvantage. You injured and humiliated him."

Robin nodded. Azeem was right. It wouldn't be easy.

"I have eager students I must attend to," Azeem said. "And you have many other duties to see to. You should go."

Robin had his first batch of archers to train. He would be busy for the rest of the day.

"You thinking about getting a lesson?"

Will shook his head. Just because he managed to find himself a place to rest where he could not only see the men failing badly to hit anything with their arrows under Locksley's tutelage but also the men dancing about like fools playing with fake swords, did not mean that he wanted to learn. He wouldn't go near Locksley's group—he had knives to throw if he wanted to attack at a distance. He didn't need a bow.

"I seem to remember you telling me you planned on learning to use a sword."

"I never needed to," Will muttered. "Don't even know where mine is anymore."

John gave him a look. "Seems to me you might just have sold it when food was a mite scarce and we didn't have enough for the winter. Wee Rosie had just come then, and someone seemed a bit smitten."

Will snorted. "I've no interest in your brood, John."

"You've a kind heart for children. I'm not the only one who knows it, either."

"I do not, and you know that I would just have stolen the food or the money for it, not sold something of mine," Will said. He wouldn't have done that, even if Rosie needed something. He liked the girl, but she wasn't his. She was also not worth parting with anything of Will's. He had never had much, and he guarded what he did have.

"True, laddie, but I also know you wouldn't lose something of yours, either. That was the point of your wind chimes, and don't go telling me there's too many of them now. Each of them have their own sound. No one knows them like you do, either."

Will grimaced. "I'm not the only one that uses them, and they're not that different. They wouldn't scare people if they were."

John looked at him. "Locksley is right about one thing—you can't take accept anything close to a compliment."

"This is not about Locksley. Everything does not have to be about him."

"Then it's about you being sick."

"I'm not that weak anymore. The fever's less. Ask the Moor if you don't believe me."

"Man has a name."

Will shook his head. "You don't use it yourself, John. Don't start lecturing me."

"I'm not. I'm just suggesting you don't have to sit here watching when you could be learning," John told him. "It doesn't mean you're taking Locksley's side in his war. It would mean you'd have other ways of fighting if you needed them. You'd probably make a decent swordsman, seeing as you're dangerous enough with your daggers."

Will had always thought that himself. And it wasn't like Locksley was the one teaching swordplay. It was the Moor.

He looked back at the sword group. The Moor was not watching his students, his eyes on Will instead. Will met the look, refusing to turn away in shame or fear.

"I might. If he was willing to practice with a real sword."

John laughed.

Chapter Text

Robin had found a routine that seemed to work for the majority of the camp, and he was a bit proud of it. He tried not to be too proud, but it was hard not to when things were going well. They had all of the shelters built, and the men among them capable of making weapons had fashioned enough swords, bows, and arrows to outfit an army—or at least every man in the camp. Robin thought that some of the women were interested in training as well, and he'd discuss that with the others later.

They had enough food, and he believed they had defenses in place to keep them all safe, even if the skill level of the men wasn't quite what he'd hoped. They were all eager, all learning, even Will Scarlett had taken up Azeem on some lessons.

Robin felt it was time. They were as ready as they were going to get.

He needed to get them ready for the next step.

"John, I want to talk to you about how you used to do your routine at the road," Robin began. "The rope trick remains very effective, but if we're going to start striking back at Nottingham, we need more than a few stragglers coming into the woods. That road is the only route between Nottingham and London, and we should be using it."

"Go ahead, rich boy," Scarlett told him. "Take it and never come back."

Robin grimaced. "Actually, Will, I was thinking we were going to need you for this. As I understand it, you were the one responsible for most of the successes on the road in the past."

Scarlett folded his arms over his chest, and Robin figured the way he kept his bandaged hand in front was deliberate. It should have healed by now, or Robin would have thought so, but Scarlett kept the thing bandaged, almost like a reminder. "You have trouble hearing, Locksley?"


"You must," Will said. "Because I've said more than once I'm not having any part in your damned war, and you won't listen."

Robin shook his head. "This isn't about my war—"

"Don't bother lying."

"Not just about my war, at least. You collected a toll on the river. Why not on the road?"

"More dangerous, for one," John said. "Most people on the road travel armed or with guards. They're on horses or in coaches. They could run us down. Only thing that worked before was Will sneaking up behind a few of them and cutting loose their purses."

"And that is what I am thinking we'll do again."

"No, we won't," Will said. "I don't work for you, Locksley. And there's not another man here—not you—who would be able to do what I did. Most of you stumble around the forest like you own it, never once thinking about where you put your feet unless you trip over them. You sound like a stampede of cattle crossing the damned camp."

Robin fought his amusement at that description. "Stealth can be learned, too. You seem like you'd be the best teacher—besides Azeem—and we could use your help—"

"Again, no."

"Do you expect me to grovel? To apologize again in front of all these people?" Robin demanded. He didn't believe this man. What else did he have to do to prove himself? He had put the safety of everyone first, giving them shelter and teaching them to defend themselves. He made sure they had what they needed to do it. They were going to have to keep improving, but they had a start.

"I told you. Pretty words don't mean a damned thing," Will muttered, rising and walking away from them.

Robin sighed. He still didn't know how he would ever make peace with that man. Will refused every effort he made, and he was making them. He didn't know what else to do.

"You don't have a bad idea," John said. "The road did pay better when we could make it work, but we had a few too many run down by horses to risk it that often. Will had a way of doing it, and he could make it worth it if one of us did get hurt, but not everyone wants to risk that, and not for Will. He's a good lad and good thief, but you know he doesn't get on well with... anyone."

That much was clear. Robin knew Will had some respect among the other men, but he didn't know that anyone besides John would call him friend.

"We can teach the men to be quieter," Robin said. "And we can set up measures to make it safer for anyone involved. We create cover alongside the road, stronger and thicker than what exists. We set traps along the road. We prepare for each traveler. We can make this work."

"Aye," John agreed. "And I think we will."

"Your insistence on using a real blade is not doing you any favors, young Christian."

"Why do you keep calling me that?" Will asked, meeting the Moor's blade with his own. He knew the dark man was not even trying to fight him, and it was embarrassing, enough to make him want to walk away from these lessons and never come back. "I'm not religious."

"Yet you would call me 'the Moor.'"

"Is that your way of telling me that I should call you Azeem if I want you to stop calling me young Christian?" Will asked, stepping to the side to avoid the Moor's feint and rolling back when his true intent became clear. Daggers were easier and less clumsy than this sword was, and every attempt Will made to use it had him feeling stupid.


Will shook his head, annoyed. The Moor did that too often. He was almost as irritating as Locksley was.

"Your anger is a distraction, and your health is not where it should be for this kind of exercise."

"If you really thought that, you wouldn't let me train, and you wouldn't let me do this with a real blade," Will told him. "You're a liar. You put it in fancier words than Locksley, for all he's a noble and you're not."

"I could be insulted by that statement."

"Are you going to choose not to and suggest I do the same about all of this? That I can forget all the wrongs of my life just like that?" Will shook his head. "You may believe that, but nothing I've ever done has made it so that I could forget. When you can't forget, you can't forgive."

The Moor knocked the sword out of Will's hand. He dove for it, cursing himself for the distraction. He shouldn't have let the Moor have that advantage over him. His hand closed over the sword only to feel the tip of the Moor's blade against his neck. He didn't dare move, or he'd risk losing his head.

"Again, your anger is a distraction."

"Fine. You won. Are we done yet?"

"No, we are not." The Moor gave Will's neck another prod with the sword. "We need to discuss your hatred of Locksley."

"There's nothing to discuss. I hate him. He's an idiotic rich boy. All of that you already know."

"There is a great deal to discuss," the Moor disagreed. "This is not just about him coming into your home or his war against the sheriff or his ability to gather others to this cause. It is not even about his status as a noble. Your hatred of him is personal, and it is not just because of that wound in your hand."

"What is this? Another attempt to sway me into thinking I should trust him? I don't. You can't make me help with those damned fool missions of Locksley's," Will said. He reached up to touch the sword, pushing it back from his neck. "I'm not afraid. You won't use that. We both know it."

"Do we?"

"Does that actually work on Locksley?"

The Moor smiled at that. "In at least one sense, but do not mistake me, young Christian. I am not here to persuade you to his cause. I am here to understand yours."

"There's nothing to understand. I hate him."

"That is what concerns me," the Moor told him. "You harbor great animosity towards Locksley. Tell me, would you hurt him?"


"I owe him a life debt." The Moor leaned down to face Will. "You say you would harm him. You attempted to before. I cannot allow that to happen, even if I do think you have the right of some matters. If you are a threat to him, then I am obligated to do something about it."

"Then do it," Will said, though he didn't want to admit it stung. The Moor seemed different from Locksley. He'd tended to Will's wound and trained with him, and a part of him thought that he was a bit like John. Almost... a friend. He should have known it was not any different and Locksley won again, as always.

"You are brave but foolish. You need not fight me this way."

"What do you want from me? A promise not to hurt him? I won't give it. I swore I wouldn't let Locksley lead these people to their deaths, and I won't."

"What did he do to you?"

"You know what he did."

"That is only a part of it," the Moor said. "This anger is not the product of a few weeks. It has been nurtured within you for many years. What did he do to you?"

"Would it change your life debt?"


Will snorted. He didn't believe that. "I have plenty of reasons, and I don't have to share them. Even with that life debt, you won't kill me because I haven't actually done anything. I'm going."

He forced himself up, aware that the Moor was watching every move he made, following it with the blade.

"Your wound has healed and your fever has passed, but the ache in your spirit remains," the Moor told him. "Only you can fix that."

"Oh, and what would you have me do? Let it all go? Or tell you every detail of my past and beg for your mercy? I do not want your pity. I will keep my anger, and you both can go to hell."

"Do they follow a man so unworthy?"

Will shook his head. "You know the answer to that."

"I do not know why you feel that way. You may have reasons, but without knowing them, how will anyone see you as anything but a spoiled child acting out against him?"

Will flinched. "I... I met him. I told you that. He doesn't remember it. He wouldn't. I'm nothing to him. I... It doesn't matter."

"No, my friend," the Moor said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "It matters a great deal."

"We are not friends," Scarlett insisted. "You can't just say that and expect me to tell you everything. You don't know me. You don't care about me. And I'm not going to change my opinion of Locksley because you said so."

"I am not telling you to change it," Azeem disagreed. "I want to understand it. I know that you have met before, and that meeting shaped you, hardened you against him. What I do not know is why, and the longer we all go on without knowing, the worse your position becomes. He has apologized to you in the camp. He gave you a home of your own—which you rejected—and he has asked for your advice on many occasions. Each time you rebuff him with cruel words and a heated temper. You look a fool, and you will lose what support you have if this continues."

Scarlett turned away. "I don't need anyone."

"You are incorrect in that assumption," Azeem told him. He sat down next to the younger man. "What did he do?"

"Why do you care?"

"I have my reasons."

Scarlett grimaced. "Just leave me alone. You don't need to understand anything."

"I do," Azeem insisted. He was convinced that whatever was to come would involve Will Scarlett, even if this was Robin of Locksley's war. This young man had a part to play, but what that part would be was not yet known. "I would like to know... as the friend I would call myself."

"I don't have friends."

"Another erroneous statement. Why do you persist in them? They will not deter me."

Scarlett sighed. "You won't quit until I tell you something."


Scarlett cursed him in quite vivid terms before stopping and letting out a breath. "Fine. You want a story, Moor? Here's a story. I met Locksley once. At his home."

Azeem knew that part of the story was already missing. "You went there?"

"I was young and stupid. I'd heard Lord Locksley was generous, but they wouldn't even let me see him. They got the young lord instead, and he didn't much like what I had to say. Or what I did. I kicked him, he had me run off for trespassing. Turned me over to the sheriff for it. I got to experience Nottingham's dungeons at their finest. Only... you tell that story and no one will believe it."

"Because they say no one can escape from Nottingham's dungeons," Azeem said, wondering if this young man had been capable of it. If he were, the man Robin thought he would should have bragged about it, but this story came out with great reluctance and only after much work on Azeem's part. Even now he knew that he was not hearing all that he should. "I am sorry, my friend."

Will stared at him. "What? Why would you say that? I just got done telling you that no one would believe me. You shouldn't."

"You are young yet, which means you were younger still when this happened," Azeem said. "And what you did to escape had a great cost."

"Just let Locksley assume I'm a coward. I turned. I begged. I bargained for my freedom."

Azeem shook his head. "None of that is true."

"Why do you say that?"

"It is not just anger you carry. You are ashamed of what you did to escape."

"Ashamed? I never said that."

"You do not have to say it. You show it. It is in your face and the way you are holding yourself now. You will not speak of it, but I can see it."

The younger man swallowed. "I... It's not..."

"Free yourself from the burden, my friend. I am not here to judge you."

"You don't even know—"

"You asked me what I'd heard about you. You did not finish that statement, but you implied something with those words. Not just about yourself but also about a nameless female. One I believe was, in fact, your mother, despite your clumsy efforts to conceal that. If there was a basis for this accusation somewhere, I have not seen it. Most legends of you speak of you as a fearsome killer or a daring thief. You alone carry the story of this other pain, one I fear is all too real."

Will shuddered. "I... the guard... he liked young boys... I was able to use that against him... that's all. It... It wasn't like the rest... wasn't like... that."

Azeem knew he was unequal to words of comfort. He knew of none that were capable of easing such torment. Even using such a weakness against his enemy did not change what Will had experienced at that man's hands.

"You are a brave young man."

"I don't want the pretty words from you any more than I want them from Locksley."

"My words are not flattery. Were all things good and equal, you would not have known these circumstances at all. It is how you face them that defines who you are."

"You mean a bitter coward?"

"I do not see you that way, young Christian."

Will stared at him for a moment before he rose, disappearing off into the forest without another word.

"There you are, Azeem," Robin said. He'd been hunting through the camp, looking for the Moor since early that morning. He hadn't seen him since he left to pray, and while he knew that Azeem did sometimes train with Will Scarlett after that, he'd seen the angry thief come and go through the camp already, leaving without a word to anyone as usual.

Robin had been hoping that he would come along on some of their early attempts. Not everything would go well, and he knew that, but if Scarlett was able to lift a purse or two in the chaos, then the men would be reassured that their efforts were worth it.

Even John seemed to have some doubts despite his initial approval of the idea. They certainly weren't making the kind of money Robin had hoped for.

"I am not hiding, Christian."

"I know that. Still, you haven't been easy to find lately, and I thought you were planning on helping us with our work on the road. You haven't been there. You're supposed to be working on the men, helping them to move quieter. I don't have you. I don't have Scarlett. I've tried giving the lessons myself, but they keep pulling me away for other tasks. I can't do it all myself, though God knows I've tried."

Azeem gave him a measured nod. "I am aware of your extra work, and I believe the efforts you make have not gone without notice. I regret I have not been as able to participate as you would like. I have allowed other tasks to be my priority."

"You mean training Will Scarlett."

"He is not my only pupil. I still work with the other men of the camp to train them with swords. Most have gained enough skill to practice with real blades, but others are still beginning." Azeem held up a hand before Robin could speak. "Remember, this is not a race. You will not win if you act in haste. I am seeing to it that the men are trained. Focus on one group. Give them all the necessary training. You do not need to have every man in the camp involved from the start."

"Must you lecture me on every choice I make?"

Azeem seemed to smile. "Christian, you have seen war. You have fought it. That war was not this one. It is not the same, and not all strategies can be used as they were in the past. You must adapt. None of what you're doing is wrong, but there are more effective methods of making your ideas work."

Robin sighed. He leaned against the tree. "You think I want too much too fast."

"It is a failing common to all men, my friend," Azeem said. "Do not think I exclude myself from this. I would like to have all things finished."

"You wish to return home?"

"You mistake me. I am not overeager to go to my homeland. I told you. There is nothing for me there," Azeem said. "Yet I would see this conflict end, and I would like to see it end quickly. I do not want anyone to die."

"Is that why you train with Will Scarlett? You think you can persuade him to our side?"

Azeem shook his head. "I do not."

"What? Why are you wasting your time with him if—"

"I would not expect him to forgive you."

Robin frowned. "I apologized. I did it more than once. I did it in front of everyone."

"I know." Azeem put a hand on his shoulder. "That wound is on the surface. You have not healed the ones beneath, nor am I certain it is possible to do so. You remain ignorant of most of them, as are we all, and that is how he prefers it."

"What do you know?"

Azeem shook his head. "I have said too much as it is. That story is not mine to tell, nor do I think it wise for you to press for it. You will either reach him through your actions or you will not, but were he to know you were aware of his situation, he would avoid you as he now does me."

"I don't understand. I thought you trained with him this morning."

"The attempt was made. It was rebuffed. He no more wants my pity than your false hope, or so I have been told."

Robin shook his head. "He is one stubborn bastard. These people care about him. At least John does. This is not pity. I would like to see him in action, as all I have heard makes me think he would be a valuable ally. How do I convince him of that?"

"Time, perhaps," Azeem said, and Robin could only grow more frustrated. "We cannot prove sincerity through words alone. It is easy to speak. It is difficult to have faith. Young Scarlett has lived through enough to destroy his, and your actions took away more of it from you, even if it was necessary for the others. You cannot fix this by an apology or an offer to include him. Some hail you as a hero now, when you have done nothing. You may need a lifetime to convince Scarlett of the same."

"I am not looking to be a hero to anyone. I am looking to regain what we all have lost."

"Then you must be patient, not just with Scarlett, but with us all."

"You know you're not fooling anyone."

Will looked over at John. "Apparently you are. Your lessons from Locksley seem to be working. I didn't even hear you, which considering your size and all these trees... pretty damned impressive."

John gave him half a smile. "I figure we all have things to learn. I am no expert, but I have to admit, some of Locksley's crazy ideas can be a bit of fun. Should have seen what we did to the last coach—no, wait. You did. You've been watching us."

"The hell is it to you, John? I'm not a part of Locksley's war. I can do what I please."

"'Course you can," John said. "No one's telling you that you can't."

"Then why are you here?"

"Nothing. Robin's got a new group he's working with today, and I thought I'd do what you're doing—watch and see how they did."

Will snorted, turning his eyes back to the road. So far, Locksley's little band had accomplished nothing. Two riders had passed without even being stopped, and it looked like they might be the only travelers to come this way for the rest of the day. This should be very boring indeed, and not even John's company would make it tolerable.

"Here." John handed him the mead, and Will had to smile as he did.

"Been a while since you were passing this around."

"Aye, I haven't had much chance to make any and we didn't have the supplies, but we're settling in now. Homes built, training done. I'm still not sure about this war, but we're at least not in the same position as before. If Nottingham had ever found us, we'd not have stood much chance, and you and I both know it. We had a few brawlers, but people with skill? That was you and I, laddie, and we're not enough for a blooming army."

"I know."

"I still want you at my side if I do have to fight," John told him, and Will snorted. "No, listen to me. First time I saw you, you were mouthing off to the steward with more bravery than sense. I knew you were going to get yourself killed, but you didn't. You led him on a merry chase, and even after he caught you, you fought back. He ended up dead, and you lived through what he did to you. There's not many men who would have. Who could have."

"John, you don't know—"

"Hold!" one of the men cried, and Will looked back to see the men surrounding a coach done up in dark colors. He thought he knew it. That was Gisborne's, wasn't it? "If you intend to go to London, you must pay the tax."

"Tax? More like the bloody plague," the driver said, and the men frowned. "These are the finest whores in Nottingham. They've got nothing you want."

"You lie," Locksley said. "They travel in Gisborne's carriage, and he would not send them if they were not of some value."

Will swore. "If that's a carriage full of whores, I'm the rich man."

"Aye, laddie. I think you're right about that," John said, following him out into the clearing. "I don't think you want to be opening them doors. This looks to be a trap for you."

"Is that so?" Locksley asked like a fool. "Then perhaps we should spring it."

"You're an idiot," Will muttered, shaking his head even as the man went to open the door.

A moment later, Locksley pulled out a woman. Her long dark hair was loose, and her dress was not quite that of a noblewoman. It was nice, but not fine. Her eyes darted around in fear, but he held tight to her. "This is quite a trap, wouldn't you say, gentlemen? Tell me, Miss. How did you intend to harm us?"

"I didn't," she said. Her eyes went back to the inside of the carriage like she might actually have something hidden in it. Money or a weapon? "I'm not—I just want to go."

"Bloody hell," Thomas said. "That's Nottingham's whore, all right. Used to be she was just the tailor's daughter, but she sold herself out to him long ago. Probably became another witch, too. They train you in the dark arts in that castle?"

The woman shook her head, now more desperate than before. "No. I didn't—I was just—I—"

"Is this true?" Locksley asked. "You are Nottingham's mistress?"

"She's not that fancy a thing," Harold said, and Will frowned, not sure when his lazy ass was allowed near the road. "She just took his money to spread her legs. We all know it. We all know what she done before him, too."

"That was different," the woman said, putting a hand on Locksley's, pleading with him. "Please. I thought—he was just an apprentice—he swore he loved me—but when the child came—he would not marry me. I... We were starving. I had no choice. I had to take Nottingham's money. I had to feed my son. It was the only way."

Will felt sick. He wanted to run from this place, but somehow he was in front of John and backing into him left him nowhere to go. The woman was lying. She had to be.

"Where is your son now?"

She lowered her head. "I don't know. Maybe dead. Nottingham took him so that I would keep with my visits to his bed."

"Yet he sends you to London?" Locksley asked, not believing her. He turned and peered into the dark carriage. "You'd best come out now, son."

Will watched, swallowing, as a young boy crawled out of the carriage. He looked so much like her that there was no denying he was her son.

"Don't hurt him," the woman said, wrapping her arms around him. "He doesn't know about this. Please. He's just a boy."

Will heard an echo of his mother's voice saying the same thing, and he almost puked.

"We don't intend to harm any child," Locksley assured her quickly. "We do need to know what you were doing in this carriage. I find it hard to believe that Nottingham was sending you and your son to London."

"He wasn't," John said. "This is Gisborne's carriage. He's the one sending her. He wouldn't do it without a reason, and if this isn't a trap—blooming hell. You've got his child, haven't you? You're carrying Nottingham's baby."

"Kill her! Burn her! She's a witch, too, carrying a bastard son of a witch."

Will was going to vomit. He could hear them screaming similar things about his mother as they led her to her death. He knew to them she was just a whore and a murderess. It hadn't mattered that she hadn't taken money for that in years or that the man had tried to force himself on her or even that Will had done the killing.

He looked at the boy. She'd covered his ears, but he might still have heard part of it.

"What kind of monsters are we," Locksley began, "to kill this woman only because of a poor choice in companion? I can think of plenty here who have made bad decisions in that regard with less of a reason than she has given. The reason that is standing right in front of you."

"She's lying. The boy changes nothing."

"Anyone might lie when faced with your sort of accusations, but I wonder—what woman would lie with Nottingham willingly?" Locksley asked. "Think, my friends. If Gisborne sent this one away because she is to have Nottingham's child, then he either meant to control her or to keep her out of our hands. By killing her, we would perhaps do Nottingham a favor... or we would become like him, killing any who disagree with us, and while it is to our minds unthinkable to have anything to do with Nottingham, are we not all guilty of the same crime?"

Harold stared at him. "You calling us whores?"

"I am saying that we have all done things for our families and the ones we love that are considered crimes. That are sins. We have fought and lied and stole for our own. Why is a woman who bartered the only thing she had—her body—any different from one of us?"

The men looked around in confusion, some of them trying to protest. Will felt John's hand on his shoulder, still trying to control his stomach. He wanted to tell that boy to run, but it wouldn't help him. It wouldn't change any of this.

"You don't mean that," Will heard himself say. "You're a rich noble... you'd never understand a woman giving up her body to feed her child. You think they must be... sacred and pure... and they're not. They're..."

"Like us," Locksley insisted. He looked around at the men. "Hear me. This woman is now under our protection, and no one is to harm her or her son."

"But she's the sheriff's whore."

"She is a mother, he is a child, and if any one of you does either of them harm, he will answer to me," Locksley insisted. He looked at the driver of the coach. "That one, on the other hand, is fair game. Come, Miss. We must discuss what to do with you and your boy."

"You can't take her into the camp," Will said, choking on his own words. "Even if she's telling the truth, it's too much of a risk. Nottingham might look for her, and you'd bring more hell down on our heads. Besides, we don't even know that she's actually pregnant."

"You are going to suggest I change my mind about harming her?"

"No," Will said. "Send her south to the distant villages. They'll be far enough away so that if she does carry a child, she can claim that the father is dead and no one will be able to say otherwise. You foil Gisborne's plans for her and the child, and whatever else she does is her choice. If she tries to betray us, she'll have a hell of a time doing it. If not... she can start fresh where no one knows who she is or what she did here."

"You really think that's going to work?" Thomas asked, snorting. "Send her back to Nottingham. Let him deal with her. If she's with him, he won't hurt her."

Will shook his head. "That's not—"

"She has a son," Locksley said, frowning at them. "And I can think of no reason why sending her back to Nottingham would come close to mercy. No, we are not doing that, though I agree that we can't show her our camp. Will, this idea of yours—"

"It'll work," Will said. His mother had used it for a time, and while it had failed her in the end, this woman would at least have the same chance Anne Scarlocke had once. "I'll take her south myself."


John shook his head. "Will, you don't—"

"I told you I want no part in this war, and I don't see any reason to stay here and watch Locksley get you all killed. I know my way south, and who the hell else are you going to send?"

Chapter Text

“Step there. No, no, don't do that. You'll get yourself hurt. Look, you're small. That's all you've got going for you. You're not going to win, but you can survive, and that's the point,” Will muttered, holding the kid away from him as he tried to fight. He looked down at him, trying hard not to see himself in the boy.

The woman was no Anne Scarlocke, and Will hated her, which was half the reason he'd started defying her to teach the boy how to defend himself. Their life would not be easy, and from what he'd learned so far, the woman had few skills. She'd be lucky to survive on doing laundry, though she was still pretty enough she might find a husband.

Will almost hoped for the boy's sake that she did.

“I can fight.”

Will shook his head. “No, Corey, you can't. You're not even half my size. Trust me, when I was your size, running and hiding were my only options. When I got older, I got good at using these, but it took a long time.”

Corey reached for the dagger, and Will held it up above his head, watching as the boy jumped after it without getting close. He looked down at him. He'd hated this when he was a boy, and he didn't feel good about it now, even if it made his point.

“That's not fair.”

“Life's not fair,” Will told him. “Learn that quick. No one will let you forget it.”

Corey frowned. “Why are you so mean?”

“I'm not. This is me being nice. I don't have to show you this. I don't have to teach you anything. I don't even have to take you and your mother all the way south. I could leave you right here. I'm tempted to do it. I don't like her very much.”

Corey looked at his feet. “She was better before I got sick. We couldn't afford the medicine, she was always upset... Then she started being gone all the time. And then I had to live in that room at the castle. She said it was better, but it wasn't. It was still cold and damp and smelled.”

“That's the better part of it,” Will muttered. “It could have been a lot worse.”

“The guards would kick me and take my food.”

“That happens.”

“One of them shoved me down the stairs.”

Will didn't need to hear more. “I told you I'd help you. You can dodge a lot of that, and it will save you. Quit trying to fight. Learn to use what you have. You're small. That means you can get into places no one else can. You get fast enough, they can't catch you. It won't stop them saying things. It won't stop them trying to hurt you, but it will make it harder for them to do it.”

Corey nodded. “Would you teach me the daggers, too? I could be bigger. I'm growing all the time. That's what she said.”


“And then,” Bull went on, regaling everyone with the tale even though most of them had been there for it, much to Robin's embarrassment, though at least the womenfolk had missed it, “she calls him an ugly toad and kicks him right in the shin.”

“All right, all right,” Robin said, hearing the laughter spread through the group. At least they were enjoying themselves. Nottingham had started putting more pressure on the other villages after their first robberies—possibly even because of what they'd done in sending his mistress away, and the spirits of many had been low despite their successes. “It's true she took me rather by surprise, but I think that little girl was a fighting lass the equal of any of our young ones here.”

He gave Fanny Little a smile, and she rolled her eyes at him, growing larger with child each day it seemed—and grumpier to boot, given the rows he kept hearing from her and John.

Little Rosie came over and held her hands above her head. “Up. Up. Up.”

He smiled at her as well, though he hadn't known her to like him much in the past. She seemed to share Will Scarlett's distrust for him, darting out of sight and running away if she saw him coming. Fanny would grumble at him for that, too, but Wulf usually found her straight away and set things right.

“Up,” she repeated again, and Robin picked her up so she was in his arms. He thought about how long this war against Nottingham might take, and he hoped that she was not forced to live that. “Up.”

“You are up, sweetheart,” Robin told her. He looked over to John. “She's doing well these days. Growing fast, too.”

“Aye,” John agreed. “She's over the cough and looking to get taller than her brothers.”

“No,” Wulf said. “Not as tall as me, and I'm going to be at least as tall as you are, Father.”

John smiled at him. “We'll see.”

“Oh, don't you go underestimating your sister, Wulf,” Fanny warned. “She's stubborn and knows her mind. She wants to be tall, she'll be tall, you mark my words.”

Wulf shook his head. Robin did think John was blessed, having all this family around him. Many of the men had no one at all—in Bull and Much's case, Robin wasn't all that surprised, though Harold's wife was a shock—but John had one of the largest and happiest families in the land. All of them were in good health and spirits, even here in the woods.

“Up,” Rosie said again, this time hitting Robin's shoulder. She put her hands back to the sky. “Up. Up.”

“I can't make you fly, child,” Robin said, wondering if she wanted to be in the upper levels of the tree. “Perhaps later we can go walk along the trees, but I would rather wait until after my supper has settled.”

“Up.” She hit him again, and for such a young child, she had an arm on her.

“Not now.”


“You are an insistent little thing, but I am telling you—”

“Here,” a voice said from behind him, and he turned, blinking in confusion as Will Scarlett dropped down from one of the trees. “Give her to me.”

“Down,” Rosie said, shoving at Robin, who knelt to let her go. She ran over to Scarlett with a wide grin. “Up.”

He picked her up, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, giving Robin a wide grin that seemed almost mocking.

“We didn't know you had returned,” Robin said. The man was ahead of the time he thought they might see him—if they saw him at all. “How long have you been back?”

“What, did you think I wouldn't come at all?” Will asked, bouncing Rosie in his arms. “I told you I wasn't going to let you lead these people to their deaths.”

“I haven't harmed anyone here.”

“Not lately.”

Robin fought the urge to argue with him. He knew that would only make it worse, and in part, he did bear responsibility for what happened to their village. Azeem had helped him to see that. “You could not have gone very far south.”

“Are you asking if I failed in my duties?” Scarlett asked, shaking his head. “You think that the road is the only path, but you're wrong. There are ways, if you know them, that can cut days off the journey, and while they're not the easiest route, they're better than an open road.”

Robin watched him as he set Rosie down. He took a seat on the edge of their group, and the girl climbed back up into his lap, causing him to frown and look over at Fanny as if to question why her daughter was clinging to him.

Fanny just smiled.

“The boy and his mother?”

“Settled. She's paid a month's lodging and they asked her to assist in the inn, cleaning and so on,” Will answered. “Boy's fine. The blacksmith is looking for a new apprentice. Could end up being Corey.”

“Corey,” Robin said, belatedly realizing they'd sent the woman away without learning her name or the boy's. “Fine name. You think he's up to the work?”

“He's tougher than he looks.”

“Should we be counting those knives of yours, laddie?” John teased. “I'm wondering if you might be missing one, and that's now a set of five.”

Will snorted. “You know I'd never part with any of my own. I paid for these, and I won't let a one of them go while I'm still breathing.”

“Sure you did,” Harold muttered. “You mean you stole them, same as you steal everything.”

Will glared at him. “And what have you ever earned, Harold? You're too lazy to work, so how is it you afford anything again? Oh, wait, you don't. You just assume those of us who do work will give it to you. And you're not even a noble.”

“I wouldn't think you'd think that an excuse for a noble, either,” Robin observed, watching Scarlett as he did.

“I don't. Nobles think they're entitled to many things they're not just because of who they are. And they're wrong.”

“Now there my father would have agreed with you,” Robin said, and Scarlett stared at him in disbelief. “He used to tell me—and I never wanted to listen, always yelling at him or ignoring his words—that nobility isn't a birthright. It's defined by one's actions.”

“Lord Locksley said that?” Will repeated, still not believing him. “And, what, you think these are the actions of a noble man? Drawing others into your war and pretending you're not using them, that all of this is for their good? That's not nobility, and Locksley died a devil worshiper, so why should we care what he said?”

Robin tried not to let the words get to him. “I said before I'd have words with anyone who said that.”

“What, you want to put another arrow in my hand?” Will demanded. “Go ahead and try, Locksley. You'll only prove my point. Honor is a fine thing for nobles to pretend they have, but killing someone because he insulted your honor? That's not noble, and it doesn't take the stain off your name. One day you'll understand that nothing ever can.”

Robin wanted to fight the other man, here and now, but that wouldn't help. He didn't need Azeem to tell him that. “You consider your name still tainted?”

“You know what most people ask me about my knives, Locksley?” Will asked, pushing the child out of his arms and nudging her toward her mother before he rose, taking one of them out of its hiding place. “If I know which one of them I used to kill the steward and if it still has his blood on it.”

Robin knew he was being baited. All he wanted to know now was if the lad did, because he thought that was the case, but he didn't dare ask. “We've all done things we can't undo, things we regret.”

“And now you would have me regret killing him?”

“No, even from what I knew of him before I left for the Crusades, you did everyone a favor. I can only imagine that this land would be that much worse now if he lived,” Robin answered. “I was thinking of my own actions.”

“Oh? That's a first.”

“No,” Robin disagreed. “I had long years in prison to remember the man I was and to grow quite ashamed of him. I have endeavored to change that since I have been home, but I fear I have not.”

“Oh, I can answer that for you, Locksley. You haven't,” Will told him, walking away from the fire. Rosie ran after him, her little legs rushing toward him and almost tripping him when she managed to outpace him. He swore and stopped to pick her up, but he did not carry her back to her parents.

“I swear there must be some good in him for the child to like him so, but he makes it damned difficult to see,” Robin muttered, shaking his head.

“Will's a good lad. Still, I'd consider it a victory he came back at all,” John said. “You want me to get her, Fanny?”

She shook her head. “She'll be fine with Will. He won't harm her.”

“I am pleased to see you have returned, young Christian.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?” Will asked, looking up from where Rosie was playing with his doublet. He should get rid of the thing, since the red animals were too much of a favorite with children. Stephen's boy, Rosie, even Corey seemed fascinated by them, and they were starting to be more trouble than they'd ever been worth.

“Perhaps because it annoys you.”

“Right,” Will said. That made perfect sense, didn't it? “Is there something you need?”

“I had been wondering when you would return.”

“Not if I would return?”

The Moor shook his head. “I did not doubt that at all. While you remain quite angry, even after your journey, you have made it quite clear that you will not abandon anyone here to what you feel is a war they cannot win caused by Locksley's pride. I knew you would return.”

Will snorted. “I think you're the only one who thought I would. And I still don't see why you would.”

“You doubt yourself too much, my friend,” the Moor told him. “There was not a question of if you would return but when that would happen, and it does seem like you made better time than most people thought possible.”

“I know the shortest routes between here and the southern villages. I used to use them all the time before I started living here full time. You find all sorts of crazy paths that no one knows about when you're being run out of town,” Will said, shaking his head. “I didn't force the others on any of the difficult routes, but I did use them to get back faster.”

“Which explains why you have been here watching the group for two days without saying anything. Would you have told anyone you were here if the child had not noticed you?”

Will shook his head. “No one noticed, and I figured I'd see what stupidity Locksley had talked everyone into while I was gone. And I'd also prove to them that they're not half as safe as they think they are. If I can get in without being seen, others can as well.”

“I doubt that.”

“Why, because you supposedly spotted me when I first walked in? You didn't say anything.”

“I was curious to see what you intended to do,” the Moor said. “I admit I am still confused.”

“More like you didn't see me.”

“You think I lie?” the Moor asked, like that somehow surprised him. It shouldn't. Will had been clear about this before. “You doubt me?”

“I'd doubt anyone who calls himself my friend.”

“You do not doubt John Little.”

“John has never called himself my friend.”

“Then perhaps he is wiser than I knew,” the Moor observed, and Will had to fight not to laugh. “For I know he considers you a friend, and he has said much in support of you. He understood what I did not—you would not accept that term in relation to yourself. You do not believe you are worthy of friendship, do you?”

“You know what I know? What I am, something you people now seem incapable of understanding, is a thief. And a killer. I've just been a thief for longer. Think I started when I was five, maybe six. I'd already gotten good at running and hiding by then. The other children hated me, would chase me and beat me if they caught me. They hated me. So did the adults. No one wanted me there.”

“I think you are overstating that. You still had your mother, did you not?”

That had Will laughing again, unable to stop the bitterness. Rosie stirred, but she didn't wake. He wasn't sure how she could sleep through this, but he didn't care. “No. I didn't. She hid it most of the time, but she would look at me sometimes and I could see it... She didn't want me there.”

“Everyone has moments when they grow frustrated even with the ones they love.”

“No. If my mother never had me, they wouldn't have assumed she was a harlot. They wouldn't have treated her like she was one, even when she wasn't doing it for money. I stole to help her, but I knew... if she hadn't had me, she would have been able to have a future. She wished I'd never been born, regretted ever being involved with my father. She could have married someone instead of having no one want her because she had a son. She wouldn't have to sell herself for food or medicine. My mother didn't want me, Moor. She was stuck with me.”

Will started to rise, stumbling and almost losing hold of Rosie as he did. He should never have sat down with her. He didn't know why he had. Or why he'd told the Moor anything.

“Here,” the Moor said, trying to take the girl from him. “Allow me to assist.”

“I don't need your help.”

“And yet I want to give it,” the Moor insisted. “That is—if you once again insist on running because you told me more than you wanted to.”

“I'm not running.”

“Yes, you are, and I would allow it if it was what you truly wanted. I am not here to cause you more pain. I would like to help ease it, though I see now why you find it so difficult to accept my help or any offer of friendship.”

Will sighed. “You don't have to do this for Locksley.”

“You are mistaken. It is not for Locksley that I do this. It is for you,” the Moor told him. “I am not stuck with you. Nor are John and Fanny. We have chosen your company for who you are, aware that you are a thief and have killed men. Those things are you, but so are others, such as your efforts for this child and the others. You have just returned from such an errand, one with undeniable parallels to your own life.”

“That's not why I did it.”

The Moor studied him. “It is why you made the suggestion you did.”

“It didn't save my mother.”

“No, I feared it had not, and yet you still chose it for her. Why?”

“Because sending her back to Nottingham was as good as killing her, but we couldn't have her in the camp. Even if he hadn't come for her, those men who recognized her would have made her life and the boy's here hell. She wasn't safe. She wouldn't have been in any of the closer villages. It was her only real chance.”

“You still worry over them?”

“I hated her. Don't think just because she was in a similar position to my mother made her anything like her. They weren't the same. She was... I did what I could for Corey. She'll still ruin his life, but... maybe he'll do better than I did. I didn't take the apprenticeship when I had the chance.”

“You regret that decision?”

“It wouldn't have saved either one of us,” Will admitted. “Well, maybe if the blacksmith had chosen to marry her, but I don't know if he would have or if he just wanted to use me to make an 'arrangement' with her. He wouldn't have been the first.”

“I suppose if I asked you, you would not tell me how she died.”


“Very well,” the Moor said, seeming to accept that answer. “Now that you have returned, would you like to resume your lessons with the sword?”

Will stared at him. “Why would you think I'd want to do that? How many times do I have to tell you people that I'm not interested in this war?”

“Learning to fight with the sword was never about Locksley's war. It was about you. You wanted to learn. I am willing to teach,” the Moor answered. “Would you like to resume your lessons?”

Will surprised himself by saying yes.

Chapter Text

“Your footwork is much improved, as has your technique,” Azeem observed, thinking that the young thief had taken to swordsmanship quite well. Will Scarlett had a bit of natural athleticism and grace to him, and his years of dodging bullies and guards had given him skill in evasion and counterattack.

“Why are you flattering me?” Will asked, stepping back and leaving himself open to attack. “I thought we agreed that you weren't going to do that if you wanted to keep teaching me.”

“Remarking on your progress is not flattering you,” Azeem said, both frustrated and amused by how difficult it was to interact with the younger man. He still had no idea of his own worth, and the damage done in his childhood was not easily overcome. “I have noted improvement in your fighting. You no longer carry that sword like you will drop it or that it is wielding you. You have grown used to its weight and movement and now use it almost as well as your daggers.”

“You sound like Locksley, and no, I don't.”

Azeem shook his head. The Christian was many things, expanding his role by the day as he worked with the men and women of Sherwood and the surrounding area, giving back much of their ill-gotten gains to the public, but he continued to take the wrong step when it came to young Scarlett.

“You are more at ease now with the sword, and it shows. That is not false flattery. You move more like you have been fighting with it for a long time as opposed to when you held it as something offensive. You overcame your own unknown dislike for the weapon.”

“I've nothing against swords.”

“You are barely willing to use them, and you never touch bows. I have been curious about this.”

“There's no point in using a weapon you don't need,” Will answered. “I can throw a dagger if I need to, and I don't need a bow.”

“You avoid those lessons because of Locksley.”

“You think that is my reason for everything. If I do something, it's to spite Locksley. If I don't do something, it's the same thing.”

Azeem shook his head. That was not quite accurate, though many of the lad's actions did seem to be decided by the presence of the Christian and whether or not it would aid his cause, but it was not only about the continuing conflict between them. Scarlett remained close to the Little family, and he did plenty for them despite the oldest boy's dislike for him.

“Not everything is about what the Christian does, but you do seem more determined to avoid him since your return. Are you certain that there is not more we should know about that trip you took? Did some harm happen to you or those in your care?”

Will forced the sword into the ground, facing Azeem in anger. “Nothing happened. I told you—I saw them there safe. You people. One minute you lie and pretend you care, and the next you accuse me. Forget this. Lesson over.”

“You mistake me. I am concerned about your well-being, not accusing you. I know that it was difficult for you to deal with a mother and child in a situation so similar to the one you experienced as a child.”

“It was nothing.”

“No, it was something. Your reluctance to discuss it is only more proof of that.”

“You are impossible. There is nothing to discuss. I took them there. I got them settled. That's it.”

“It is not.”

“What is it you want me to say, huh?” Will demanded in anger. “You want me to tell you that I taught him to defend himself? That I knew what I was doing was nowhere near enough but that boy had to believe it was? That I knew leaving him meant he was probably going to end up hurt or dead? That I was tempted to take him from her because they would still see her as a whore and punish him for it?”

Azeem looked at him, knowing he had caused the younger man distress and not liking himself for it, even if he felt having Will be honest about his emotions and their cause would help him. “I only wanted the truth, young Christian.”

Will shook his head, starting to pace. “What the hell good is the truth? The truth has never helped anyone.”

“Hiding all of one's pain does not help. Wounds need care, as you should know.”

“I didn't get hurt.”

“Physically, no, but your other wounds are still deep and very painful.”

“You are an idiot.”

“In many respects,” Azeem agreed. Will stared at him. Azeem crossed to him, wanting to offer some form of physical comfort but knowing that it would be rejected. “You do not deserve this pain you carry. You should not have to suffer it. Think, my friend. What life could that boy have here? You gave that woman a chance to start over, and the boy had the opportunity for an apprenticeship. Here, he would be in hiding. Alone. He would be scorned by adults who knew his mother's past and most likely children as well. You gave him a much better chance, even if your experience in the same situation was much different and far less pleasant. I think most people would believe you did the right thing.”

“I never wanted to care about doing what was right,” Will muttered. “No one cared about me or my mother or doing right by us. Not our neighbors, not my father, not anyone. Even when she died, they had that all wrong. Why should it matter if I did the right thing for that boy?”

“Because you are a good man in spite of the difficulties you have faced in your life, and you have proved this in your actions.”

“Thief and killer, remember?”

“As are we all, young Christian.”

“I think you need to insult me again.”

Will froze, turning back to frown at Locksley. “What?”

“I think, judging from your expression, that you heard exactly what I said.”

Will had, but the words made no sense at all, and he was not in the mood for a joke or a prank. He was still trying to understand what the Moor was up to, since he kept being... friendly. It was strange and disconcerting.

“Fine. I heard you. Where are the others? Are they hidden somewhere so that they can laugh if I agree to this? Why are you even here? You have a whole damned camp to rule over as lord of the manor. This is my space, and I don't want you in it.”

Locksley looked around at the trees. “You chose well. This area is pretty dense with foliage. It gives you shelter, warns you if there's someone coming, and you even have an upper level if you want to use it. Those trees look solid and just your sort.”

Will leaned against the tree Locksley had just mentioned, glaring back at him. “Go away.”

Locksley took a place next to him against the tree. “I was in town today. We got a good haul from the road, travelers loaded with fresh provisions. We took them right back to the others, not wanting them to go to waste. Fanny was giving away money. And I heard them as I walked along. They were saying to bless me. That I was some kind of hero or angel.”

“Which is exactly what you wanted, isn't it?” Will demanded. “Why are you here? To gloat? Go to hell.”

“I thought, when I started this, that I knew what I was doing and it was for the best. I wasn't setting out to be a hero. I'm no angel. I've done plenty I should be sitting in confession for, and I haven't been to that in well over six years.”

“I've never been.”

Locksley frowned.

“Peasants don't get the luxury of religion. Oh, some of them have faith, some of them need a god to help them escape from their lives, but the truth is, being poor teaches you that no one, especially not some far off benevolent God, gives a damn about you. So, no, I've never been to confession. I'd never go now. That's how it is.”

Locksley nodded, still seeming a bit confused. “Well, I figured if I was ever in need of a dose of humility, I should come to you.”

Will snorted. “Go bother the Moor.”

“Azeem will lecture me soon enough, I am sure, but why should you not have first opportunity?”

Will stared at him. “Locksley, have you been drinking?”

“Would it help if I was? Perhaps we should find some of John's mead.”

“You are an idiot. If you want someone to teach you humility, let John give you a bit of a beating or go have the Moor talk sense into you, but I want nothing to do with you. Now go and leave before I get tempted to use a dagger on you again.”

“You want to get shot again?”

“You're not carrying your bow this time, but I'm never without my knives, so I'd win. Go away.”

“What about a contest? Your knife versus my bow?”

Will shook his head. “No. You've humiliated everyone in this camp with that bow of yours. You teach the archers for a reason. I might be the best with one of these—a fact you'd debate, I'm sure, since you're so damned perfect you must be better at this than me, too—but I won't be able to beat you with a bow, and I am not interested in giving you something else to gloat about.”

Locksley looked at the knife. “I've never actually used daggers like you do. Perhaps we could trade. You can teach me about them, and I'll help you improve with the bow.”

“Hell, no. I told you. I told you so many times you should have been able to understand it by now. No part in your damned war. Not helping you with a thing. Go away, or I will use this.”

“Why did you take that woman and her son south?”

The hell did Locksley think he was doing asking about that. “What does it matter?”

“You surprised me. I have seen you with the Little children, so I know you're not terrible with them, but you volunteered. You don't volunteer for anything. And you shouldn't be leaving the forest any more than I should—the bounty on your head is second only to mine, even if the other men have been participating in the thefts on the road and you haven't.”

Will lifted up his dagger and took aim at the other tree. “I don't have to explain myself to you.”

“Fine,” Locksley said, moving away from the tree and walking back toward the main camp.

“Why did you spare her?”

Locksley stopped. “What?”

“You heard me. Why did you let her go? Why believe any of her story or send her south? She was just a whore, right? Why show her any kindness?”

“We're not monsters.”

“That's not an answer any more than mine was. You're a noble. Nottingham is your enemy. Why protect a woman carrying his child? Why believe any part of her story? Why not blindfold her and send her away as you've done others? If you were worried about the boy, you could have taken him in and sent her off. None of us could prove she was pregnant. You didn't have to spare her. You could have let them go on to London.”

“It wouldn't have been right.”

“And you care about what is right?”

Locksley nodded. “I do. I know that's difficult for you to accept, but I do. I didn't always. I told you that before. When I was in prison, I had time to think about who I was and what I'd done. Peter and I spent hours in conversation, too, and the more we recalled our 'good times,' the more ashamed I felt. I did things I wasn't proud of. I was a bully in many ways, but there was at least once that I caused great harm to a woman in her position.”

“Just once?”

“My father loved a woman who was not my mother,” Locksley said, and Will just stared at him, unable to breathe. “I made him send her away. I don't know much about her, just that she wasn't my mother, so I hated her for it. I hated him for it. I did learn later that she died. Some boy told me she had, he said I was probably glad she had. And I was. I was stupid, and the boy kicked me, so my pride was wounded.”

Will shook his head. Unbelievable. Locksley still didn't realize he was standing near the same boy. Or did he? Was it possible that Locksley knew? The old man. He must have said something. That was the only reason Locksley was saying this.

“In prison, I realized I was wrong. I never told my father she was dead. He never knew. I didn't want him to know, but I should have let him be told. It was too late for her, but maybe he could have buried her. Or something. I don't know. He could have mourned her. He deserved the truth.”

“Maybe he never cared,” Will said, not sure how he'd gotten words out.

“I swore he still thought about her. All the time. It was part of why I still hated her,” Locksley said. “I didn't want another like that on my head. Maybe we made the wrong choice, sending her south, but it had to be better than giving her back to Nottingham. Probably better than keeping her here, since Harold and the others were willing to let her die.”

Will nodded. “Fine.”

“You hardly sound it.”

“I am standing here talking to you, and I despise you. Of course I'm not fine,” Will grumbled, pushing himself away from the trees, needing to get away, to be able to think. He knew Locksley must be lying. He must know, and that was the only reason he'd say any of that. Why he was pretending to make nice and suggesting a contest.

Damn him.

Will hated him even more now. He would not be manipulated by a false apology and a bunch of lies, even if Locksley was his brother.

No, especially not because Locksley was his brother.

Late that night, Will made his way through the main camp, keeping to the shadows and making as little sound as possible. He knew where the sentries were, and he knew most of them were idiots or blind. He could run circles through this place and not get seen, not at night, and that was exactly what he needed to do.

He had to get close to someone who had the center of the camp, someone close to Locksley, and when he was done here, he would have to leave. He knew that.

Still, he had to know what the old man had told Locksley, and why he'd done it now, after all this time. Was Locksley aware the entire time? Had that damned noble shot him in the hand knowing he was his brother?

Will might kill him for that.

He thought he wanted to kill the old man either way.

He went into Duncan's shelter, up to the old man's throat, putting a blade to the man's neck. He covered Duncan's mouth and shook him awake. When the old man started struggling, he gave him a warning with the knife as he leaned down near his ear.

“You scream, you die. Call for help, you die. Answer my question, I'll let you live. Do you understand?”

The old man nodded, trembling.

“Good,” Will said, letting go of the man's mouth. “Now, what did you tell Locksley about Anne Scarlocke?”

“I didn't tell him anything.”

“You're lying. You must have told him something because he apologized to me for what he did to her, and he would not have done that unless he knew. He has to know about her. About me.”

“I wouldn't have said her name to anyone. I don't speak of her. She was a harlot, a stain on my lord's name and his generosity. She seduced him when he was grieving, lied to him about a child, and had Master Robin not forced him to send her away, he'd have married her.”

Will wanted to kill him here and now. “She wasn't lying about the child, and you know it. That's what you told Locksley. He knows. He tried to apologize for sending her away.”

“No. She lied. She had to have lied.”

“I am Anne Scarlocke's son,” Will ground out, prodding the old man with his knife. “Don't you ever call my mother a liar again, or I swear, I will end you.”

“You...” Duncan said. “You... you are the one... you speak angry... you hate Master Robin... You... you claim to be her son... You... You are Lord Locksley's son?”

“You already knew that. You told him that.”

The old man shook his head, frantic, ignoring the knife. Will pulled it back so it wouldn't cut him open. “No. No. She lied. My lord was told he could have no more children. I thought... We both believed it. She was a liar. I would never tell anyone about her.”

“You're the one lying.”


Will didn't believe Locksley had said any of that and meant it. He had to have known. The old man was the only one who could have told him. The Moor knew that Will had visited the Locksley Hall, but he didn't know about Will's mother. Or was it enough to know that he'd been there and Locksley had done the rest?

He would have to confront the Moor, too.

That would probably get him killed. Damn it.

“Please. Don't hurt me.”

Will looked back at the blind man. He put the blade back to his neck. “You are not going to tell anyone what I told you. You will never tell Locksley of this. Do you understand me?”


“Swear it.”

“I won't tell a soul. You weren't here. I swear.”

Will let go of him, aware of the old man whimpering. He shook his head at himself and left, disappearing back into the night.

Chapter Text

“You have chosen to discontinue our lessons?”

Will did not look up from his contemplation of his dagger, and Azeem's already concerned mind became almost worried at the sight of it. He would rather believe it was one of the young man's many nightmares plaguing him now, but he knew that was unfortunately the best answer, not necessarily the true cause of this unsettling scene.

“You had only tell me. As fond as I am of our time in practice and as proud as I am of your accomplishments, I would not force you to do something you no longer wished to do.”

“Did you tell Locksley about that day? About... meeting him... about him sending me into Nottingham's dungeons?”

Azeem sighed. How little trust this man knew, to doubt so quickly and with such devastation in its wake. He thought perhaps he had reached the youth on some level to distress him so, but it was not a victory that pleased him. Under other circumstances, perhaps, but not now. “I did not.”

“You're lying.”

“What cause would I have to lie?”

“Everyone lies. Don't think because your skin is different or your religion not like theirs that you are somehow better than the rest of us. You're lying.”

“I am not, and I would like to know what makes you believe I am other than ignorant generalizations. It is one thing to accuse me of false praise when I am being sincere, but why should I lie to you? I am not here for the Christian. I am here for you. And myself. I would not deny myself the exercise—both mental and physical—of sparring with you.”

Will shook his head. “Locksley came to me and apologized. He said he'd... that he regretted that day, not letting me see Lord Locksley. He said he regretted a lot more than that, but he wouldn't have said any of that to me unless he knew I was that boy. That I had been there and because of his pride, I went straight to hell.”

“It is your distrust of Locksley again,” Azeem said, disappointed. “You cannot allow yourself to believe him, so I must be at fault for telling him, but why would I? Think, my friend. It would have gained me nothing. You would not have accepted the apology had I prompted it, for it would be valueless and empty. If he were ever to atone for his error, he must do it without me prompting him. He would not have changed or learned from it if I alone pointed out his faults. Nor would I ever feel it was my right to discuss your pain with anyone else unless I needed an herb to treat a wound and could not think of its name in this forsaken country.”

Will shook his head. “No. You don't—you're all the same. Everyone is. Everyone wants something. They don't do things just to do them. You want to protect that idiot to fulfill a debt. John wants to create a family—he's got seven kids already, but he's not stopping—and he thinks he's responsible for all of us here for reasons... I don't even know. I just know he does. He is. And he's not above using a thief and a killer to get things for his family. Everyone wants to use you. That's life. That's how it is. That's what I learned.”

“Life's lessons to you were not kind,” Azeem agreed. “Yet not all of it shares such cruelty. Have you truly no belief that any person can be good? What of the child Rosie?”

“She's three. When she gets older, she'll be the same as everyone else.”

“That is not true. She has a choice, as do we all, and most here have chosen a decent, if not good path. You will find they will falter and disappoint. They are human. We all are.”

“You never do. Locksley thinks he doesn't.”

“Behind all those confident smiles and fine speeches is a man worried about where he is leading these people. He hides it to keep his fear from spreading, as the last thing anyone here can lose is hope. That is what his path gives, even with its risks. Hope.” Azeem placed a hand on Will's shoulder. “One can hope and yet still fear. One can think all is wrong and yet act as though it is not.”

“Locksley's an idiot who's sure he's right. Don't defend him to me.”

“That is a futile exercise I have no desire to engage in,” Azeem said. “I will occasionally offer advice and insight if I have it, but that is all I can do.”

“And if you offered 'insight' about me to Locksley?”

“I have, though not in the way you fear.”

“I am not afraid of you,” Will said, and his eyes were back on the dagger again. Azeem drew in a breath, now understanding.

“You would have harmed me if you believed I had told him,” Azeem said. “Or you would at least have attempted it. That is why you are here, why you avoided our session. You are preparing yourself for an attack.”

“I'm not someone you get to use, and you don't get to tell Locksley all about me so he'll pretend he's changed. He hasn't. I don't want a fake apology. I don't need him pretending to be a hero.”

Azeem shook his head. “I am not using you, except perhaps when it comes to matters of my curiosity. I find a great many puzzles in you, young Christian, and I seek understanding. That is one of my failings, though I have other more human ones. I was once to die for the love of woman.”

“We don't share, Moor. Go away.”

“I do not wish to leave with such an accusation between us.”

“Can you prove you didn't tell Locksley?”

“No, I cannot.”

“Then there isn't anything to discuss.”

“I don't even know why you're upset, Father. All he does is grumble and fight with Robin,” Wulf said. “We don't need him here. Everyone else can fight better than he can with bows and swords, and he's just a knife thrower like that carnival.”

John shook his head. He would have to have a long talk with Wulf about his attitude toward Will and how much of the man he missed with his jealousy. Wulf was his son, and Will could not replace him, nor had the lad ever tried. Will was a friend, even if he was much younger. That was all, just a good friend.

“What's the matter now?” Locksley asked as he came up to them, bow in hand. He was just about to set off for more robbing on the road, and John was supposed to join him, but he thought a few other things needed to happen instead.

“Father says Will's disappeared again.”

“What?” Robin asked. “There was no word of him leaving, and he and I have not spoken for the better part of a week. These days, I take his silence as a victory.”

John nodded. It was a bit of one, as angry as Will still seemed to be. His silence to Locksley passed for a sort of truce, and both men seemed to prefer it that way. “Will does come and go as he pleases, always has, but we tend to notice when Rosie's fussing for him for four days straight and no one can remember when they saw him last.”

“I can,” the Moor said. “And it was four days ago. He and I...quarreled.”

“Quarreled?” Robin asked, not sounding like he believed it.

“In some sense. I did not yell, nor did he, but he felt I had shared something with you that I had not, something personal, and he did not believed me when I said I had not. He ended by saying we had nothing more to discuss. I would not be surprised if he had left afterward. He was... distressed by the conversation.”

John frowned. “You got a secret out of Will Scarlett and told someone about it? Are you out of your mind, Moor?”

“I did not share any details he shared with me, only the general emotions that related to his arguments with the Christian.”

“It's true. All Azeem told me, much to my frustration, was that Will's anger went deep and he would not forgive me easily, if at all. That it would take much more than my words or speeches for the man to believe I was doing this to help everyone. None of that is betraying a trust, nor is it anything you cannot agree with or see for yourselves. Even now, Scarlett distrusts me and thinks I'm bringing you all to your ruin.”

“Aye,” John said. There wasn't a man in the camp who could or would deny that. “Sorry. That wasn't—I know Will. He's a stubborn lad who can defend himself. I still worry when he leaves, especially if he's gone long enough where we notice.”

“He's not your son,” Wulf muttered.

“He's my friend,” John told his son. “Robin, I'd like a word with you.”

“Of course,” Locksley said, and John walked away from the others, making sure that he could still see Wulf and the little bugger wasn't coming over to listen.

“I want to take Wulf out hunting. Just me and the boy. No one else, no big group. No fuss.”

Robin nodded. “Shouldn't be a problem. I know I can spare you as we've plenty up for the work and trained, too, by now, but what of Fanny? I'd rather not face her wrath.”

John laughed. His wife had a temper, no denying that, but he loved her fiery fierceness and her near endless strength. “I think it best I do this with Wulf before the new one comes.”

“Tell me, John. Wulf's comment made me think he believes you see Will as a son, an older one, and it bothers him.”

“I'd have been just Wulf's age myself when that boy was born, and while I like him, I would never want to be his father. He's damaged there, even if the only way I can prove that is he never speaks of the man. Had he a good one, we'd have heard of it, but the silence... No. He had some devil for one, and that's not a thing I can fix. Will's my friend. He's been good to my family, and Rosie loves him beyond reason. I don't know where Wulf got it in his head I ever wanted to replace him or would use Will like that, but I need the boy set right. His hatred for Will is no better than Will's for you.”

Robin smiled. “We could all do with a lot less hate, even if uniting in our hatred of Nottingham is about all we have these days.”

“Not forever,” John said. They would have their freedom, and if not, they had a good life, much better than the one that had separated him from his family.

“No, my friend. Not forever. That much I am sure of,” Robin said. “Though for today, I think we should get to collecting some tolls.”


It wasn't hard to figure out where Robin had buried Lord Locksley.

Locksley Hall didn't have its own graveyard, at least not one that Will had seen before, when he'd come and found the ruins. He wasn't sure what he'd thought he'd find, though he'd known that his father's body was bait, and he'd never made any other attempts to remove it.

He was almost certain that Duncan had paid for that with his sight. Will should pity him, but there was that irritating part of the man, the one that despised and denied his mother, that kept him from that. He would likely hate Duncan to the end of his days as well.

He didn't care. The servant was nothing to him, even if he'd served Locksley to the end. Will wasn't a Locksley to that man.

He knelt down near the grave, lowering his head. Will didn't know why he'd come. He couldn't get any wisdom here, couldn't talk to the man. Locksley was dead, and he was still a stranger to Will.

You could know him, a traitorous voice said in his head. Just ask Robin.

Will snorted. He didn't want to know. He didn't care about Locksley, and he didn't care what Robin had said.

Will was not forgiving him. Ever.

“My lord.”

“Get off me, old man,” Will said, not sure what Duncan was doing clinging to him, but he had not come back to the camp for this. A part of him hadn't wanted to return at all. He'd gotten nowhere in figuring anything out, still uncertain how to react to the Moor if he saw him. “I swear, you grabbed the wrong person.”

“No, I have the right one. The angry one.”

Will bit back a swear, pulling out a knife. “Go on, now. You can make your way back the way you came.”

“Please,” Duncan said, and then the man's hand was not just on his arm but on his face, and Will shoved him off.


“You have his features. Like young Master Robin did as a boy.”

Will gagged, not sure why Duncan was being stupid enough to talk about this where others might have heard him. “You are drunk, old man, and I don't feel like carrying you back to your bed. You can fall down in the filth here for all I care.”

“He wanted another. Always did. That was how... how we knew... his physicians said impossible. No more. Ten years after Master Robin, and nothing.”

Will shook his head. “You need to stop talking. Now. I know I made myself very, very clear about this. I warned you—”

“If there'd been one, he'd never have let her go, so he had to believe she lied,” Duncan went on. “He'd lost Master Robin in his anger, and he would do anything for him.”

“Locksley!” Will yelled. “Your damned servant is drunk, and if he doesn't let me go, I'm going to kill him, blind man or not.”

Duncan wrapped his arms around Will's legs and held on. “Forgive me. Forgive the wrong I did. Forgive me.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Will demanded. “I'm not going to forgive you. You are insane to think I—”

“He was generous. He'd never have left you alone if he'd known.”

“Get off of me, now,” Will ground out, ready to end this before the old man broke his word and told the whole bloody camp that Locksley was his brother. “I mean it. Let go, or I will make you let go in such a way as to make the pain you suffered for those eyes seem like a scratch.”

“Peace, Will,” Locksley said, running up to them. “I'm afraid we've all had a bit too much of the beer that the good Friar Tuck had in his stores. It's finer than most, and almost puts John's mead to shame. I'll take him. He's done no harm.”

“I have, Master Robin. I have.”

“Shut up, old man. Your babbling will only irritate everyone,” Will told him, prying Duncan's hands off of him. “Now go.”

“You know,” Locksley began. “That was a bit—”

“Not funny. Try and say it was, and I'll stab you myself,” Will said, pointing the dagger at him in warning. Robin held up his hands, and Will turned, walking away to leave the other men standing there.

He didn't run, not at first, but by the end, he was. He found himself down by the damned river again, breath coming in heaves, and he didn't know what the hell to do. He couldn't believe the old man was really apologizing. That was wrong.

And the rest of it... that was all lies. All of them.

Will still hated them, all of them. Damn them for having this much power over him even now.

Chapter Text

“Is he sick again?”

“In spirit, perhaps,” Azeem said, accepting the blanket the Christian handed him. He did not know what had brought the Christian here. Azeem himself had been guided by no true purpose, yet he was where he needed to be, thanks to Allah. “Though that has not changed.”

“Has he said anything of where he was while he was gone?”

“He was in a troubled sleep when I found him, and I remained only to ensure that he did not injure himself,” Azeem answered. He had not been here for any significant amount of time, not that it would have mattered if he had. “I have not woken him, nor am I certain I should, though I dislike his place of refuge.”

The Christian went to the water. Kneeling, he ran his fingers through it, letting the current wash over them. “He favors it. I think because you showed him kindness here. This is where you treated him. I don't—you shouldn't have to lose your friendship with him because of me. At first, when I was blaming him for the arrow, I was mad at you for seeking him out, but you were right to do so. I think your friendship may just be the only one he's ever known besides John and Fanny, and that is too important to lose.”

Azeem had no intention of losing it, though Will would not make holding onto it easy. Still, if he could, he would salvage it. “I will honor my vow.”

“I know.” Locksley looked down at the younger man and frowned. “It was strange earlier. Made me want to find him again after I'd settled Duncan down.”

“Something upset him?”

“You didn't hear that?” Locksley seemed surprised. “I don't know what was with Duncan. He kept insisting on apologizing. He's barely had two words with Will before, and those were harsh ones on Will's part. He's the one who should apologize.”


“I wish I had somewhere to send him. Duncan shouldn't be here. His health is poor, and without his sight... I don't think I should keep him here. I should send him away. Somewhere safe. Only I can't. There's nowhere anyone can go.”

Azeem laid the blanket over Will with great care. “You will find a way to see to his safety.”

“I hope so,” Locksley said. He gave the other man another glance. “I wonder what his theory will be about that gold we got from Nottingham.”

“I am curious as well. When he wakes, he can tell us.”


Will sat up, his dream shaking him more than usual. He didn't know why it would, not when it had a seemingly happy ending. Instead of his father ignoring him and Robin sending him off to the dungeons, he'd been taken into Locksley hall, welcomed and loved, treated like a son.

He'd never dreamed of that before, not even when his mother was alive. He'd never thought Locksley would do it, and he didn't think he wanted a brother. He didn't think it was possible, so he never let himself think about it.

His father had never wanted him, and he knew that. If he had, he would never have let his mother go on her own. He would have found her. That old man was lying. Lord Locksley would never have done that, never have taken him in, and Robin—No. That dream would never have been real. It was all a lie.

“Peace, my friend,” the Moor said, and Will looked up at him in surprise. “It was only a dream.”

“What do you want?”

“I found you by the river again. I didn't want you to develop another fever.”

Will looked at his legs. “I suppose that explains the blanket.”

“That was not my doing. I did not plan to find you. Later, the Christian found us both, and he had a blanket with him.”

“What? Locksley did this?”

“You need not kick it off, nor should you toss it in the river. You were in need of it, and he thought to bring one when I did not.”

“I didn't even know where I was going when I left the camp. Why would Locksley think I needed one?”

“Because your place of rest is hardly the shelter that the rest of us have. You are too far from the main camp. You do not seem to make many fires for yourself, and I am not certain how many blankets you keep. You seem to come and go without much in the way of supplies.”

“What does that matter to anyone?”

“There are more who care about you than you think,” the Moor said. “We notice these things.”

“You can stop at any time,” Will told him, getting up and leaving him behind.

“Ah, Will,” John called out to the lad, going over to block his path. He wasn't about to let him go off and disappear again. Fanny was getting close to birthing, and she fussed more as that time got near. John wanted him here when it came, even if all he did was distract Rosie when it was happening. “There you are.”

“John, I don't—”

“I need to ask something of you,” he said, putting his arm around the smaller man's shoulders. “Fanny wants to, I should say. Come on. She wants to see you. Someone seems to have been avoiding her, and believe me, she's got words for you.”

Will tried to pull away. “I don't need a lecture. Seems that's all anyone thinks they should do when it comes to me, and I've had enough.”

“Aye, laddie, I'm sure you think so, but I'm not above letting my wife have a go at you when we're all wanting the same thing, so come,” John said, walking him over to the Little's hut. He pushed Will inside. “Got a present for you, Fanny.”

“Will,” she said, rising from her bed with a grunt. “Ah, get your scrawny little behind over here. Where have you been?”

“I wasn't gone that long.”

“Long enough for Wulf and John to go hunting for days and come back,” Fanny disagreed. “And now I want you to promise me that you won't go off disappearing again.”

“Why would I do that?” Will asked, frowning. “I never made promises like that before, and you never asked for them. What is this? Something is wrong. Or is it something else? Has that damned old man been telling tales in the camp or something?”

“No, though we heard about him getting drunk and bothering you.”


“Will, everyone around here except maybe the children have been drunk a time or two. It's nothing new to us,” John told him. Someone called his name, and he shook his head, not sure what they needed him for this time.

“A leader's work is never done,” Will muttered, and John shook his head, pushing him closer to Fanny. She had wanted to ask him something, and she wasn't up to doing much walking these days, at least not for long.

“You mind yourself, Will Scarlett. She may be near birthing, but that just makes her more dangerous.”

“Oh, go on, you,” Fanny said, waving him off. John gave her a smile and went to find Robin.

“I want more than your promise to stick close, Will.”

“I figured when John left,” Will said, and Fanny nodded. She put a hand on her side and grimaced, not wanting to think about how bad she felt.

“This one's giving me trouble,” she admitted. “More so than any of the others. You think, first time, you'll bloody die with them, pain's that bad, but I didn't die. None of them ever brought me that close, but this could be the one.”

Will stared at her, his face giving away his shock. “No. That's not—”

“It's always a risk with babies,” she said, dismissing it as much as she could. “I do want you to stay close. Rosie'll want you if I can't be here.”

“I am not—”

“And I want some of that stuff from the apothecary,” Fanny said. “The one you used for that wound in John's leg that got infected and almost took him.”

Will flinched. “Fanny, that's all gone. There wasn't much when I took it, and I used most of it up on my own wounds long before John got shot that time. And it's not for babies.”

“It was good for pain, wasn't it?”

“Yes, but—”

“This hurts so much more than the last ones, and nothing I've got is working,” Fanny admitted, rubbing her back again. “You know I'm not one to complain. I'll manage. Just if you had any, I'd have been glad of it.”

He nodded, and she caught his arm, knowing she'd said too much already.

“I didn't say go steal more.”

“I'm not.”

“Promise me.”

Will laughed. “Since when do I make promises? No. I'll send that annoying Moor your way. He was fussing over me earlier, and he might know of something that will help.”

Fanny nodded. “Fine. Just don't you be running off now. You'll be needed.”

“Will, there you are. I wanted to talk to you.”

Will stopped, turning back to face Locksley. Robin was probably the last person he wanted to see besides his damned servant. He didn't want more lies, and he didn't know if the old man had kept his word or had told Robin all of it after Will forced him off of him the night before.

“We had rather a splendid haul the other day, as you might have heard,” Robin said. Will started to shake his head, but Robin held up a hand. “Peace. I'm not here to brag. The size of the escort and the value of it has me concerned, and I would know what you thought of it.”


“I'm asking for your opinion on Nottingham's motives for the envoy he sent,” Robin said, using too many fancy words again. “Why send so much gold? The armed guard is obvious with the amount we found, but they were also traveling with a friar and a great deal of spirits as well.”

“I'd check those barrels, because at least one of them will prove to be something other than spirits,” Will said, since who the hell sent a clergyman of any kind with an armed escort and a bunch of money? That made no sense at all. “Where did the friar tell you he was going?”

“He didn't.”

Will snorted. “Well, there's your first mistake, Locksley. You didn't bother asking. You just figured man of the cloth, has to be good, take him in. Don't you have a thought in your head? Any sense at all? Or does the world somehow still seem good and wonderful to you? Religious people can be just as corrupt as anyone else, some of them more so. I've seen them go on and on about marriage and purity and all that and then ask a poor woman struggling to feed her family to trade her body for the food, so don't tell me they're all good people. They're not. Go ask that friar.”

“I did ask, though your point is well made. He said he was too drunk, and they didn't tell him anything.”

“Then he's lying. You may not remember everything when you're drinking, but you're not deaf. They probably said a lot more around him because they thought he was drunk. Go ask him again, and if he thinks he can't remember anything, I've always found a sharp blade improves that of any man.”

Robin nodded. “It does, though sometimes it makes them remember things that never happened.”

Will grunted. “The hell do you want from me, Locksley? I can't tell you how to win your war, and I don't want to fix your problems. It's like you're playing stupid on purpose to include me, and I don't like it any more than your other pretenses. Leave me the hell out of it.”

“I am not playing at being stupid. We all overlook things, and it doesn't feel good to admit that I didn't think of the things you said. Friar Tuck did warn me that I might regret inviting him to join us and minister to the people, but I ignored it.”

“You are a fool.”

“In many ways,” Robin agreed, surprising Will. “I have come to see that more and more as I do this. I know so much less than I thought I did when I started, and while I have learned, it's not something that's easy to admit. In the beginning, I saw only my way, never giving thought to any other possibility, because this one was right and true and had to be for everyone.”

“You are—”

“You held to your own, and it has not brought you harm nor has it harmed anyone else,” Robin said, and Will frowned. “Not everyone needs to be brought under the same yoke to help, and to think it was necessary... I was being more like Nottingham than I cared to admit.”

“Locksley, I swear—”

“I should never have shot you,” Robin told him. “I know I've said that before, but I am saying it again. I should have found another way. Mine seemed best, it was a way to silence the doubts you raised and put you in your place.”

“A humble peasant under your boot.”

“In some sense, yes,” Robin agreed. “I think Nottingham would have pushed this war even if had not, but I made it come faster, and others were hurt. I don't know if it would have been different, but it could have been. Perhaps Rosie would not have been sick. And you certainly wouldn't have been.”

Will shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

“I know you don't trust me, but I—”

“I don't trust you, and I don't know what that old man told you, but you can forget it. It's all lies, and I want nothing from you. Leave me alone.”

Robin stared after Scarlett as he made his way through the camp, visible through most of his travels. His coat was still the most distinctive piece in their group, something that set the other man apart almost as much as his attitude did.

He turned, almost startled by Azeem coming up beside him. “What am I doing wrong? I still don't understand why every time I talk to him it goes so damned badly. I even made a fool of myself being too trusting with the friar, and I know he thinks I'm an idiot. I haven't always made the best decisions, and I admitted that, too.”

“Humility is a good quality, Christian. It is one any man in your position should have.”

“I know that tone. You don't think I have it.”

“Perhaps it is presumptuous to think that you could say anything to him and have him forgive you,” Azeem offered, and Robin frowned at him. “In the end, that decision is his, not yours, and you cannot force it. What you can do, you have done.”

“And if I killed Nottingham, if I ended this war, would that be enough?”

“I cannot say. Though I am curious... why does it matter so much to you to have his forgiveness?”

Robin shook his head. He shouldn't care. Scarlett was one detractor, one among many who even bothered to disagree with anything he suggested. He would be better off if the man left, taking that dissent with him, even if most of the camp believed the man got just as he deserved for almost knifing Robin in the back. All of Robin's efforts to include Will or apologize were rebuffed angrily. It was almost humiliating, and yet somehow he always felt like he had to try again.

Was he trying to rule them all? He didn't think so, but a part of him was convinced that Will's opinion mattered, not just of him but of all that was happening here.

He didn't understand that feeling, and if Azeem could explain it, Robin doubted that he would.

“Damned if I know.”

Chapter Text

It was almost midday when Will returned from his latest trip to the apothecary. Fanny had told him not to go, but he happened to know she wasn't in any state to stop him, and John was busy with things for Locksley and watching over the other children with Wulf's help.

So he went in the night, snuck in to town again, heard the latest news—Gisborne was dead, and they would want to know that back in the camp—and he'd be glad to share that bit, even if Locksley was sure to take it as a sign that he was winning this war of his. Still, Will would enjoy sharing that at least one of the bastards was dead.

Nottingham could have died before, Locksley could have killed him, and maybe there wouldn't have been a damned war. And Gisborne could have died a long time ago, but Locksley had spared him over and over again.

Maybe he wouldn't be that happy about the man's death. He might have wanted to keep playing games with him and with Nottingham. Will didn't know. He knew Locksley was an idiot. That hadn't changed.

Will crossed through the camp, hearing more whispers as he did. He didn't stop to ask about them, not needing to hear more lies about himself, instead making his way through to where the Littles lived. He went inside without knocking, as usual.


“Over here, love,” she called from her bed, and he winced to see her. She wasn't moving, and he didn't know how long she'd been that way.

“You look terrible,” Will told her as he got closer. “The baby's coming, isn't it?”

She nodded. “Been a few hours now. These things often take that long.”

Will shook his head. He didn't want to think about that. He could imagine the pain was much worse than the arrow had been, perhaps as bad as when he'd escaped from the steward.

“I thought I'd see you before now,” Fanny went on, reaching for him. “Rosie's been asking for you all morning. Where have you been?”

He held up the jar for her to see.

She sighed. “Bless you, Will. You're an idiot, but I love you for it. I was getting ready to demand all of John's mead.”

“Has the Moor come yet?” Will asked, frowning. He would have thought Azeem would have come by while he was gone. Surely someone was keeping watch or helping her. They had to be.

“He came by before it started,” Fanny said. “I'm fine, Will. I've birthed seven others. I'm fine.”

“You don't look it.” Will opened the jar, reaching inside to take a few pieces from it. “Here, chew the leaves. That helps with the pain. The paste works in the wounds, but you're not bleeding, so you should be fine without that.”

“You don't have to worry. Don't need no fuss, either. I'll be fine. It's just a baby. They come all the time.”

“And women die having them all the time, too,” Will muttered. He'd seen it before as a child. Over and over again in every village they lived in as he was growing up, there was at least one woman who didn't make it and several children, too. He'd always wondered if his mother had wished that he was one of them.

“Up,” someone said, and Will frowned, looking down at Rosie.

“You have helped me plenty already, and more when you take that one for a bit. She must have escaped Wulf again,” Fanny said. “You distract her for a bit, and if you see John, tell him to get his big arse over here.”

“Will do,” Will said, picking Rosie up into his arms. He had every intention of finding John right now and getting him over here. Fanny shouldn't be alone even if she had done this plenty of times.

He stepped outside and caught Wulf as he ran past the door.

The boy glared at him. “Really? She's with you again?”

“She was with your mother, but I stopped into give her something, and now I've got her. You go in there and take care of anything your mother needs. The baby's coming, and she doesn't—she needs you. You stay. I'm going to find your father.”

Wulf nodded, going inside to his mother.

Will adjusted Rosie in his arms and set off across the camp.

Marion found herself wondering if she had not made a mistake in demanding to see Robin. She thought perhaps he could use word of the outside, as he had not risked coming to see her in months. She had to admit she was worried over him. The price on his head was high, and the bishop spoke against the bandits every sermon, condemning Robin more than anyone.

And she had to wonder what came of his supporters. How could they survive here? Winter could be upon them soon enough. How would they cope? How could this place be good enough for any child?

Especially one left in the care of these fools she'd found on the road. She worried about the safety of all as their escorts argued amongst themselves again, neither of them sure where to find Robin.

“There's Scarlett. Ask him.”

“I'm not asking him. You ask him.”

“You're afraid of him.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

Sarah looked like she'd like to hit one of them, and Marian decided it was well past time to take charge of this situation herself. She went over toward the man she assumed was Scarlett, seeing no reason to fear him as he argued with the little girl in his arms.

“Ouch. What is it with you, child? My hair is not a toy,” he said, and Marian tried not to laugh to see him struggling with the girl's death grip on his hair. “Let go, Rosie. We have to find your father.”

“Oh. She's not yours.”

He stopped, looking over at her. “Um, no. Thankfully, she's not.”

“Thankfully? Are you saying that because she's got your hair?”

“No, because I don't like children. I think you're lost, unless Locksley started taking hostages. Did that idiot actually think that was a good idea? No, don't tell me. He would. Anything to win this stupid war of his,” the man shook his head. “If you want, I can send you back where—Damn it, Rosie. Let go of my hair.”

Marian found herself smiling. She did not think this man disliked children as much as he said. Anyone who did would not even be holding the girl and would not let her pull on him like this.

“I'm not a prisoner.”

“You know there's a rule about no one who's been here leaving, don't you?” the man asked, prying the girl's fingers out of his hair. “Here, Rosie. Red. You like red.”

She started tugging on his doublet instead, and he gave her a small smile. Marian watched them with amusement, thinking there was a bit of sweetness to this moment and this place.

“I do, and I took care of that. I was blindfolded on the way in.”

He snorted. “Good plan. You must be as insane as he is. Why the hell would anyone come here willingly? No, don't tell me. I don't want to know.”

Marian frowned, not sure how to take him. He was rude, certainly, but also something more than that, a contradiction not just of his own making, as the others were still arguing about talking to him. “Do you know where Robin is?”

“Why would I have any reason to know where that fool is?”

“Excuse me?”

“The lady insists on seeing him,” her escort said, finally noticing that he was talking to her. “Come on, Will. We all know you don't like him, but you know where he'd be sos you can avoid him.”

“Try the waterfall. His high and mightiness likes to pretend he's better than everyone by bathing there,” Scarlett suggested, shaking his head. “Damn it, Rosie. Not the hair again. Shirt yes, hair, no. Bull, have you seen John?”

“Not lately. We've been guarding the road today.”

“You're the ones guarding the road?” Scarlett demanded. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“The ladies insisted on seeing Robin, so we brought them in.”

“You did.” Scarlett shook his head. “Unbelievable. I am surrounded by idiots. You leave your post. John leaves his wife. Wulf can't mind his sister for five minutes. And don't get me started on Locksley.”

“You don't care for Robin, then?” Marian asked, wondering if this was a common sentiment among these men. “Why not?”

“My reasons are my own,” he said, reaching for the girl's fingers to pry them free of his hair. “I swear I will cut it all off if you don't stop.”

“Up,” the little girl said, and he gave her a look. Marian tried not to laugh. The girl already was up, since he hadn't put her down even with her constant grabbing of his hair.

“You know that's not my name.”

“Up,” she repeated, snuggling against him. He glared down at her, irritated.

“I could take her for you if you like,” Marian offered, and he gave her a look that made it clear he didn't like that idea. “You said you didn't want her.”

“No, I said I didn't like children. You nobles never listen.”

“Is that so?” Marian asked, wondering if he was aware of how insulting and rude he was. “Would you care to think about that statement?”

He looked her over. “Lady, you're standing there in all your finery while this girl is playing with a doublet I've mended and worn since I was thirteen. The woman that made me the only decent piece of clothing I own is in on her own suffering through childbirth alone because her husband is too busy with Locksley's damned war against Nottingham to know she needs him and her pest of a son would rather follow lapping around Locksley's heels than care for his siblings. I just got back from town after stealing medicine for her because even with the money he's taken from the rich, Locksley doesn't seem to realize people need medicine. It took me all night to get there and back. I'm tired. I have a three year old pawing me, and you're standing there accusing me of things I never said and getting offended when I correct you. Don't think I haven't heard that noble tone of yours before. All of you look down on us, thinking the few coins you spare the poor at Mass somehow make you better than us or atone for all your wrongs. That's not how it works, and you can go back to wherever it is you came from and quit gawking at us because we are not here for your entertainment.”

Marian shook her head. “I did not come here to be entertained. I came to—”

“Good, because there's nothing to see here,” he muttered. “Come on, Rosie. Let's find your father. Or the Moor. I'd settle for the Moor.”

“He's a charming fellow,” Sarah muttered as he walked away.

“You don't want no trouble with that one,” Bull said. “Will Scarlett's a killer.”

Marian frowned again. “He's caring for a child.”

“Ah, well, John likes him. No one knows why,” the other man said. “And she's John's daughter, and just as crazy as her father, because she loves him and won't let him go half the time.”

Sarah shook her head, making the sign of the cross.

Marian forced herself back to her task. “Where is this waterfall? Take us there. Now.”

“You're sure she can stay here?”

“Will, she's sleeping. Fanny's having the other. Of course she stays. It's not like you can take her to your part of the camp,” Fanny's mother said, and Will grimaced. He'd never been that fond of this woman, and he'd rather not be here now, but he'd needed somewhere to take Rosie after she fell asleep.

Fanny's mother was right about him not having a place for her. He didn't even have a place for himself, since he'd moved his things and not set them back in place after his trip to Locksley Hall. He should never have gone, but he didn't know what to think of any of that.

The old man's words about Locksley wanting him still haunted him. He found himself looking at Robin and wondering if he was sincere about those apologies. If Robin knew, what would he do? Would he dismiss him like any good noble, or would he actually accept that Will was his brother?

What would that even mean?

“You can go to her,” Fanny's mother said. “She'd probably be glad of your company, though Lord knows why.”

Will grunted. “I see she's not asking for yours.”

“I swear, Scarlett, I will tan your hide and—”

“You'd have to catch me first,” he said, walking away before the old crone could take even a step toward him.

He walked back toward the middle of the camp, trying to decide what to do with himself. He wanted to go see Fanny, make sure she was all right, but he knew he'd know when everyone else did, and he'd just be in the way if he snuck in through some place other than the door.

He could get something for her, bring it to her later. Medicine was good and practical, but Fanny could have something else, something nice.

She'd made him a shirt, and he couldn't think of a damned thing to do for her.

He saw that noblewoman's servant watching him, and he tried not to grimace. He'd been so worried about Fanny and irritated by the others—Rosie pulling his hair, John being nowhere to be found, Wulf being a pain, and Robin being Robin—that he hadn't even stopped to pretend at politeness when that woman approached him.

Damn it.

He shouldn't care what that woman thought, and he didn't want to, but he didn't want her to stick her nose up and stop helping the others because of what he said. Plenty of people counted on alms from the DuBois family to live, and he couldn't let them take that.

Fine. He'd find something for Fanny and the noblewoman.

Marian watched John rush out with the baby, the pride of fatherhood all over his face, and she gave the exhausted woman a tired smile. She would rather have held onto the babe for a bit, but someone else had priority.

This day had gone by so fast, changing everything. She had gone for a simple ride and ended up finding a whole secret city, a paradise hidden away in the woods. She'd found Robin, too, and he had surprised her.

Gone was the overgrown bully who had burned her hair, the too proud nobleman who'd tormented a few local peasants and thought his father a charitable fool. War had changed him, and she wanted to believe it was for the better.

Marian had to admit, she was rather impressed with what Robin had built in this place. It seemed so unlike him, though she could hardly credit him with every building she saw in the camp. She knew that he was not responsible for all of them, but if this was what he was giving the people, he could not be all bad.

Everyone here seemed so much happier than out in Nottingham, and that was both beautiful and sad. She knew this was not their home, and while they had made a fine place for themselves, it did not compare to the city or her own lands.

Still, they'd come together here, and nothing proved that more than what they'd done for Fanny Little, and Marian was glad to have been a part of it.

“I'll let you get some rest now,” she told Fanny, preparing to leave and let her sleep, but the woman caught her hand.

“Will brought me some medicine earlier,” Fanny whispered. She pointed toward it. “Supposed to be good... for bleeding, too.”

The Moor went to pick up the jar. “Yes, this should help.”

“So will rest,” Marian told her. “You try and get as much as you can.”

Fanny nodded, and Marian felt sure that she would be asleep within minutes now that her ordeal was over. She had to wonder about the man who'd had her little girl, though. Where was he? And was the girl well? She knew the Moor had helped, and John had been there, but she had not seen the one they called Scarlett since before the waterfall.

Thinking of that moment had her blushing again, and she did not look at Robin as she stepped outside for air. She saw everyone dancing, celebrating life and the new birth, and she couldn't help smiling. The music was infectious, and she found herself dancing along as the others passed.

Oh, she would love to be a part of that, but she doubted any of them wanted a noblewoman like herself joining them.

“May I have this dance?” a voice asked, and she turned to find the rude man from earlier holding out some flowers to her.

She was about to take them when Robin came up to her.

“This lady is spoken for,” he said, pulling her away and into the crowd of dancers. She smiled as he did, though she had to admit, he was being rather like his old bully self now.

“You didn't have to do that,” she told him. “I think that was an attempt at an apology.”

“From Will Scarlett? You must be a miracle worker, Marian. That man doesn't apologize to anyone. Ever.” Robin frowned. “And what would he have to apologize for? If he did something to you, why didn't you tell me? I'd have spoken to him. I'll do it now, make sure he doesn't—”

“He didn't hurt me. And I doubt that he would listen to you. He happens to think you're an idiot,” Marian said, enjoying telling him that more than she should. “I have to say, your guards don't exactly inspire confidence.”

“Bull and Much may not be the most brilliant of men, but they have good hearts.”

“Are you saying Will Scarlett doesn't?” Marian shook her head. “Perhaps you have not seen it. He did deny it. Still, watching him with that little girl made it very hard to believe that both Bull and Much were afraid of him and that he was telling the truth about hating children.”

Robin smiled. “Well, he does care about Rosie Little. Not so sure about the rest of it.”

“Oh, I don't know,” Marian teased. “I think I can believe a part of it.”

“Can you now? Which one?”

“The part about you being an idiot, of course.”

“They all abandoned you again.”

Fanny forced a weak smile. She wanted to be sleeping, but she was having trouble keeping her eyes closed. Everything hurt. She wouldn't lie about that, but she couldn't stay asleep. She wanted to rest, and she would if she could. She didn't know if it was the celebration or John not bringing back the baby or if it was what the Moor did to save her and the baby.

“Here,” Will said, setting some flowers in her hand. “They're not what you deserve, but you hate my turns at sewing and I didn't have much time and—”

“Oh, don't be daft, lad. I don't need anything,” Fanny said. She set the flowers aside and took his hand. “You did plenty already. You got me medicine, and you took care of Rosie.”

“She's asleep with your mother. And I don't think that's any kind of favor.”

Fanny laughed. “Oh, you. She fusses because she likes you.”

“Don't lie. She hates me.”

Fanny smiled. Her mother didn't like much of anyone, and she knew it. They all did. “You can do one more thing for me.”


“Tell that big idiot of mine to bring my baby back and get his arse to bed.”

Will laughed. “All right, Fanny. I'll have them back soon. You get some rest.”

“You know Robin doesn't speak for all of my dances.”

The young man stilled, blinking in confusion at Marian. She smiled, thinking that expression was rather like Robin's. She had been enjoying their evening, and she was a bit disappointed that he'd been forced to leave her for his duties to his people.

“Excuse me?”

“I think that we were interrupted earlier, and I did rather like those flowers.”

He shook his head. “Fanny has them now. Guess I figured a noblewoman didn't need them.”

“That doesn't mean she wouldn't have appreciated them,” Marian told him. “I would have, especially if they were intended as an apology.”

“I don't apologize.”

“That is what Robin said.”

Scarlett studied her. “Did he also tell you I hate him and disagree with nearly everything he says or does? Because if he did, and this is some attempt to get me to apologize by being contrary, it won't work. Hell, I should continue to dislike you because you obviously like him, and that makes your judgment questionable at best.”

She smiled at that. Scarlett intrigued her. “You really don't like him.”

“No, I don't.”

“Yet you would have danced with me.”

“You need me to tell you you're an attractive woman?” Scarlett asked. “That would be sad, and I don't think you do.”

Marian laughed. “I suppose I don't. Is this how you interact with all women?”

“Why does that matter?”

“I'm trying to understand.”

“Oh, the Moor does that, too, and he's gotten nowhere in months,” Scarlett told her, sounding rather proud of that. “I don't think it's worth the trouble, and you made sure you got blindfolded so you didn't have to stay. It's a waste of your night to spend it trying to understand me, and frankly, I thought you'd be too busy mooning over Locksley for that.”

“You can't go two minutes without insulting someone, can you?”

“Nobles bring out the worst in me, though my mother did always say that my tongue was as sharp as the blades I carried.” He looked her over. “Why do you care? Is it that you want to get that apology you think you're owed? Or are you trying to prove you weren't here to gawk? What are we to you, Lady Marian?”

“People. My people.”

“Interesting statement considering you're royalty and we're peasants.”

“That doesn't mean I don't care.”

“Locksley claims the same thing. I don't see it.”

“Then you would seem to be the one that we need to convince the most.”

“Amusing, but no. You're not going to, and he sure as hell isn't going to,” Scarlett told her. “I just didn't want you to stop giving money to the others because I insulted you. No one else needs to pay for my mistakes.”

“And no one would. I would not punish them for your harsh words.”

Scarlett shrugged like he didn't believe that. “If you say so. You'll have to excuse me, milady. I have to set up my camp for the night.”

“You don't have a home? Please tell me Robin has not given us yours for the night. I told him we weren't to put anyone out if we stayed, and I refuse to let him—”

“I don't have a home in the middle of the camp, and I don't want one,” Scarlett said. He saw her frown and smiled but did not explain. He turned, looking behind him. “Locksley, your timing is great for once. Your company is irritating me.”

“Marian? She couldn't irritate anyone.”

“Says the man that used to bully me and burn my hair.”

“I did apologize for that.”

“No, you didn't, actually,” Marian said, watching Scarlett shake his head as he walked away from both of them. He was a rather strange young man, though she swore she felt like she knew him. He was rather a lot like the Robin she remembered who used to burn her hair.

“Well, then,” Robin said, offering her his arm. “Let me do that now.”

Chapter Text

“I am sorry to be such a burden to you, my lady,” Duncan said, and Marian forced a smile. She did not begrudge Robin his request that she take in the blind man, not at first, but if he kept going on the way he had, she would.

“You are not a burden,” she told him, taking hold of his arm and guiding him into the other room. She would feel much better when he was settled and she was able to be alone again. “Come, your bed is ready and you should rest.”

The old man shook his head, moving slowly and even pulling away from her as they got to the room. “I am. I know I am. I suppose it's fitting this should be my end. My punishment.”

Marian looked over at him, frowning. She didn't know how anyone could think that. “No one deserves to be blinded. Now, please, come and lie down. This will be your room from now on, and I hope you like it.”

He didn't argue as she got him to the bed, sitting down. She picked up a blanket and started to cover him with it.

“Now rest, please.”

“You're wrong, my lady,” he said, holding onto her arm. “I do deserve it. I burned the letters. He never knew. He never knew the fate of the mother or the child.”

Marian stared at him. Was this why Robin had sent him to her? Was Duncan's mind going as well as his sight? “I think you are confused.”

“I am blind, but some things I still see,” Duncan repeated. “And the sins I committed before I still remember.”

Marian nodded. “We are all troubled by our pasts, but you must try to rest. It has been a long journey for us all. Just rest, Duncan. Please.”

“I hear you're mooning over the lady.”

Robin grimaced, thinking he must be a bit red, and also surprised by the speaker. Since when did Will Scarlett seek him out for any kind of reason? He never did before, not since he accused Robin and ended up with an arrow in his hand. All the other times they'd interacted, Robin had approached him, and it had not gone well.

“Is that why you're here? To tease me?”

“I can think of few reasons worth seeking you out besides humiliating you,” Will told him, and Robin shook his head. “Though since everyone seems to think that I'm jealous of you getting the rich lady, I am almost in the same position despite the fact that I insulted her nearly as much as I do you.”

Robin frowned. “I did want to speak to you about that. Marian found it amusing, but I can hardly think that insulting any woman is right.”

“Oh, please. Like you haven't done it yourself or no one would do it to Nottingham's witch,” Will muttered. “You're only offended because you like this rich one. I'm not sure she's worth it. Pretty, but a pain in the arse.”

Robin laughed. “You are very bad with people. Marian is one of the most generous people I know, and yet you still managed to irritate her. How do you do that, anyway?”

“I've been told it's my next best talent aside from these,” Will said, and Robin tried to understand where that knife had come from, because he swore that he hadn't seen the other man get it out. In fact, only two, maybe three of Will's hiding places for the knives was obvious, but Robin had heard the man had a matched set of six.

“I suppose that person is dead?”


“And you killed them?”

Scarlett snorted. “You could say that, I guess.”

“I'm almost afraid to ask.”

“You don't have to bother. I'm not going to tell you,” Will said, giving Robin a tight smile. “I just wanted to see you squirm when someone asked about the woman. I was hoping for more. Maybe if Fanny was up to doing the asking, but she's going to be in bed for weeks if she's lucky.”

“I heard. Still, it's better than dying.”

“It could mean dying in this place thanks to you and your little war,” Will told him. “And you letting that noblewoman go could mean them finding this place, even if she supposedly was blindfolded. You think that's going to matter? That her royal blood will matter? Wake up, Locksley. If Nottingham is plotting against the throne like you think he is, he won't stop just because she's a woman or because she's a royal. He'll torture that blind man, her lady-in-waiting, and her to get to you. And that is on your head.”

“You really did come here to ruin my day, didn't you?”

Scarlett shook his head and walked away.

Marian could not help fretting over Sarah's fate as she waited. It was no short journey to France, and it would be some time before they got word of her or Marian's cousin. She could only hope that when Richard heard, he would come and end this dispute. Though there were other enemies who might be better able to vie for the crown, Nottingham was still a threat that could not continue to gain power.

He was doing too much harm already.

“Something troubles you, my lady?” Duncan asked, and Marian forced a smile though she knew he could not see it.

“No more than usual. You look tired. Please. Go rest. You need not stay awake for my sake.”

“I am not,” Duncan said, lowering his head. “My own shame keeps me from rest. I have apologized, but it is not enough.”

Marian frowned. “Apologized? To whom?”

“He made me swear not to tell Master Robin,” Duncan said. “I am not supposed to tell anyone.”

Marian knew that Duncan was a loyal servant. Not telling Robin must be like torture for him. “I think that some things must be told if we are ever to atone for our mistakes. That is why we go to confession. We admit the wrong we have done.”

“I cannot go to a priest.”

She took hold of his hands. “Tell me and know peace.”

“You are being too kind to an old blind man who does not deserve it,” Duncan said. “I cannot burden you with this.”

She didn't bother telling him that she had made no promise to keep silent. If this was something that needed said, she would say it. “I would like to hear what you would tell me. It is no burden.”

“It is my shame,” Duncan said, lowering his head. “I supported my lord when he sent that woman away for Master Robin. I told my lord he was right, that she must have lied about the child. And I burned her letters so he never knew... she said... she said she'd given birth to a son, named him after her father.”

Marian stared at the old man. Surely she was misunderstanding him. If this was true, that woman Robin had spoken of, the one he drove away from his father, she'd had a child. A boy. Meaning Robin had a brother. What had become of him? Had that child survived? Was Robin's brother alive now? Surely this news would change everything for him.

“You thought you were protecting Lord Locksley.”

“He was told he couldn't have any more children, and she only told him about the baby when he told her he would not marry her. It had to be a lie to keep him, to trap him. I could not let my lord be harmed in such a way. Then when she wrote and told him the child was born...”

Marian did not know that she wanted to hear any more of this. She knew too much now. “Duncan, I think you should rest.”

He shook his head, tightening his hold on her hand. “Please, my lady. I swore I would not tell him, but how can I say nothing? How can I ever make right this great wrong I did to them all?”

“You will tell Robin,” she said, covering his hand with hers. “You will tell him everything the next time you see him. For now, though, you must rest.”

“If something happens to me, will you tell him?”

“Duncan, I really don't think—”

“I was not supposed to tell anyone, but I cannot keep silent. I did that already and caused much pain, much suffering... so much anger...”


Marian shook her head. She was assuming too much, but she could not help connecting Duncan's words to the rude young man she'd met in Robin's camp. Will Scarlett had made no secret of disliking Robin. He was angry.

Could he have been the one that threatened Duncan into silence? It would have had to have been someone in the camp, and perhaps it was too much to think that the one man who seemed to disagree with Robin was the same one as the one who didn't want Duncan talking.

Still, Robin needed to know the truth, that he might well have a brother, and he needed to know before something happened that got that man killed.

She would tell him first chance she got.

While admittedly Will wanted to like the idea of sentries, he didn't think their watchers were actually far enough away from the camp to do much good. Also, shooting arrows and yelling out warnings wasn't really a solution. Maybe if more of them could read, they could attach warnings to the arrows. Or they could use symbols. That would work since most of them couldn't read.

Yeah, that would have been better than just yelling.

Maybe Will should have said something about that, but by the time it came for the warning about Duncan, it was too late.

“All's well. It's Duncan.”

Though, really, any idiot would know that Duncan coming back on his own would never be a good thing. Will had been relieved to have the old man gone, but if he was back, something was wrong. At best, he'd come because he wanted to be with Locksley when he died.

At worst...

“Duncan, what happened?” Locksley asked, helping the old man off the horse.

“I found you, Robin. Thank God, I did,” Duncan whispered. Will knew the old man was dying. He had minutes at most. “Nottingham's men attacked us.”

While Will had always thought he wanted to see Locksley get his comeuppance, wanted to see him suffer, the pain and panic on his face now didn't give him any pleasure.


“They took her.”

Arrows started flying everywhere, and Will told himself if they survived this, he was having words with Locksley over that part of their security. They could do a hell of a lot better than this.

“What is it?” John asked, worried.

“Over there,” Bull cried. “Look!”

“On the hills!”

Will looked up. That was not a few of Nottingham's guards. They weren't in armor, but furs, with painted faces and bodies. No. That was insane. They couldn't be here. No one would want them here. They wouldn't fight for Nottingham, but hell, how else could they have found this place?

“Celts! God help us.”

“Allah, be merciful,” the Moor said, and Will knew if he was worried, they weren't going to survive this. Damn it. He wanted to kill Locksley himself now. He had brought this on them, and they would all die now because of his stupidity.

“To the trees!”

The others started running. Locksley seemed to falter, his grief overcoming him or something. Will almost yelled at him for the whole damned mess, but if he was going to start a war, he had to fight the damned thing.

“Poor old fool led them straight to us,” Will said, and Locksley looked at him, taking his meaning and moving into the fight.

The battle quickly went to chaos. Will wasn't surprised. None of them were warriors, not army trained and disciplined. Even with what Locksley had taught them, the things he'd insisted they learn did not include the sort of harsh discipline Will had heard of from squires and the like. He had heard of knights that beat their pages, wanting obedient slaves, and Nottingham had killed his own cousin for failing him. That was something Locksley wouldn't do, and in part that was good, but judging from how they'd scrambled and no one knew what the hell they should be doing, it was also bad.

Will didn't have a sword, he was too far away from most of their attackers to make good use of his knives, and he might as well have stood back and done nothing for all he felt he'd managed to do so far, and everywhere he looked, the Celts were winning, hurting the people Locksley swore he would protect.

Oh, Will had seen him fighting, and he was actually killing the Celts, him and Azeem, but the others weren't doing as well.


Will swore, loudly, not sure where the hell that had come from, since Rosie should have been safe with Fanny, but he knew he'd heard her.

“Up! Up!”

He grabbed hold of the nearest ladder and started climbing. He thought her cries were from above him, and that was the best way to go for now. He felt the ladder shake as he got near the top, and he climbed off in time to see one of the Celts trying to follow him.

He pulled out a dagger, cut the cords tying the ladder to the rail and shoved it back, not caring about trapping them all up here.


He pushed past the others on the rails, heading toward the voice. “Rosie, stay where you are. Just stay there.”

God, if she was up here and she fell off, he'd never forgive anyone, and he wouldn't be surprised if this was somehow Wulf's fault. He didn't know for sure, but this was ridiculous.

“Up.” Something hit his leg, and he thought for a second he'd been shot again, but this was too damned solid for that, and it spoke. He grabbed hold of Rosie as the others started cheering. He frowned, looking back at the hills. The Celts were retreating.

Oh, that was too damned easy.

And not two seconds after he had that thought, he could see flames up on the hill. Shit.

Arrows came flying in, already aflame, sending blazes through their shelters. Rosie screamed, tugging on his doublet, and he knew he had to get her out of here.

“Get down before you burn,” he called to the others, grabbing hold of rope and lowering himself and Rosie down. He had no idea where John or Fanny or any of the other Littles were. He couldn't get Rosie to them, but maybe he could find Fanny's mother.

Will spotted the friar herding the children away from the camp. “This way my lambs.”

“Wait,” Will called to him, and Tuck turned back with a frown. “Here. Take her. I need to get back and do what I can.”

Tuck nodded, and Rosie screamed, trying to keep hold of Will, but he pried her fingers off and gave her to the fat man, knowing he had to get back to the fight. “I'll get them out of here.”

“Thank you,” Will told him, and he headed into the camp again, managing to sneak up on a guard and make quick work of him.

Out of nowhere came a crossbowman, and when he turned to fight him, there was another. Will hadn't heard either of them.

He could tell himself he'd done good in getting Rosie out, but this was ridiculous, and he felt stupid, getting caught so damned easily.

More than that, though, he shouldn't have let them take him alive. He knew what was coming. He already had those scars.

He wouldn't survive that twice.

Marian hid in her room, trying to tell herself that Nottingham was wrong. Robin wasn't dead. He couldn't be dead. Not only was he the only hope these people had for freedom, for any kind of future, she hadn't had a chance to tell him anything. He didn't know about the letters Duncan had burned or the possibility he had a brother.

She felt certain if he did, he'd fight for him.

If Robin had only known that, he'd be alive now.

Marian lowered her head, feeling sick. She knew she had no choice. She had to marry Nottingham to spare the children. She couldn't let him kill them. That beautiful new baby boy wasn't among them, the one she'd helped bring into the world, and she hadn't seen Rosie Little, either, but that didn't change her decision.

She had to spare them.

She could always kill Nottingham in his sleep once she was his wife. That was some small comfort, even if nothing could make things right again if Robin was dead.

No, she refused to believe that.

Will started out making it simple for himself. He did what he did best, angering the men in charge of the torture. He knew what he was doing even as the others seemed to think he'd gone even crazier than before. He just had to make them annoyed enough to kill him fast. He wanted that over a slow death in pain. He knew how long he could survive horrible wounds, and he was not going to live through that again.

The scars would give these bastards ideas, and he wouldn't have that, either.

Though, admittedly, all he'd managed so far was to get himself hung upside down instead of by the hands. They were actually stupid for it in some ways because he had his hands free, but they also had his feet bound where he couldn't hope to free them, so they still won.

He was still hanging that way when Nottingham entered, parading about the room. He teased the other men, asking them if they wanted pain or death, and he decreed it was torture for both of them.

Will knew that was coming, too. They'd all get their turn soon enough.

He still hoped to push his tormentors far enough that they'd kill him first.

“Now I have heard that Robin Hood may still be alive,” Nottingham said, and Will frowned. Could Locksley actually be alive? He'd heard rumors on the march back that Robin was dead, killed in the fires, but he didn't know if that was just the guards trying to break them or not. Still, shouldn't Locksley be doing something about this if he was alive? These were the men he'd said he was doing this for, and they would die here. Damn. Locksley was the coward, using them. He'd abandoned them just like Will thought he would.

He'd wanted to be wrong about that.

“Either tell me where he may be hiding,” Nottingham went on, “or you'll be hanged, and we'll find him anyway and we'll do the same thing to him.”

After realizing that Locksley had abandoned them to this, there was only one thing to say to that. “I'd love to kill him for you.”

“Will, no!” Wulf shouted, and Will reconsidered. Maybe he wanted to kill the kid a little more than he did Locksley. That was bad, but then Will wasn't a good person.

“So he's alive then,” the sheriff said, coming over to Will's side. The man was actually more repulsive upside down.

“I'm not really sure,” Will admitted. He'd lost track of Locksley in the battle, and while he'd heard the man was dead, he hadn't seen it. He'd been captured before then.

“Then why would I need you?”

The sheriff was an idiot. That answer was obvious. How long had it taken the man to find their camp? And how had he done it? He'd needed one of them to do it, and that was what he'd need now if Locksley had survived.

“Because, my lord, if he is alive, I could get close to him,” Will explained. “I'm one of his men, he would never suspect me.”

“He knows you always hated him, traitor!”

“Shut up!” Will yelled at the same time as the sheriff.

“He's a trusting fool,” Will said, since Locksley was. If their roles had been reversed, he would never have let Locksley stay in the camp, not after the arrow incident. He would have made sure Robin was gone, and he never would have tried to apologize. “He'll believe me, and if he doesn't, he'll kill me. And you'll have lost nothing.”

“If you fail, I will personally remove your lying tongue.”

Will thought that was almost funny, since that was supposed to be his second best weapon. “I want my pardon... and the bounty on his head."

He didn't think Nottingham meant it, but he nodded. Will felt relieved, even if he was disgusted with himself for how he'd gotten it. Locksley did deserve to pay for this, for dragging them into a war and then leaving them to rot, but Will had to wonder if that was enough, if it could ever justify what he was doing, if this wasn't about fear of being tortured again and not about anything close to vengeance or nobility.

“The lash, I think,” Nottingham said. He gave Will a false smile. “It'll help sell it.”

Will stared at him as he left, wanting to yell that it wasn't true. No matter what he did, they'd think he was a traitor, and he didn't have to get beat for that. He had to be able to walk back to the camp, and he couldn't do that if he'd been lashed.

“You know you don't actually have to—”

The lash hit, and Will stopped, not able to say anything else as the pain tore into him. He refused to cry out, not sure if that was stupidity or pride or both, and he grit his teeth, tempted to use his original plan instead.

“You know, Flavell was a lot better at this.”

The man with the lash stopped. “Yeah, and what would you know of that? You think you can distract me, that it?”

“I've already got scars. You don't need to do this to 'sell it.'”

“Scars aren't enough.”

“Flavell's ones are, trust me.”

“And what would you know about that?”

“I'm the one that killed him,” Will said, wondering if he was crazy for throwing away his pardon and his life like this. Yes, he was, but he thought maybe he'd rather die than be tortured only to die in some futile attempt to walk back to the camp. He'd never make it if he was lashed, and even Nottingham should know that.

“You don't deserve a pardon,” the man with the whip said, and Will felt it hit his skin again, over and over again.

He couldn't ignore it, couldn't find a way to avoid the pain. It just kept coming, and when the darkness came, it was more than welcome and far too late.

He woke on the outside of the gate, tossed out like refuse.

“The sheriff is going to hang your friends at his wedding,” the guard tells him, giving him another kick. “They're all going to die, but then so will you.”

Will didn't argue with that. He couldn't hardly move, and he didn't know how he'd walk back to the camp without dying first.

“You better hope you can find and kill Robin Hood, or the price on your head will be three times as high as his... if you live through the night.”

Will nodded, deciding he could close his eyes again for a while. It wasn't like he was going anywhere right now.

Chapter Text

Robin had wanted to avoid this kind of bloodshed, this kind of loss. He had thought those days were long since behind him. Five years in prison and the end of the Crusades should have been enough, and he had looked forward to being home as the end of all the fighting and the death. He had wanted to celebrate and retire to his own home.

He had not thought it would ever come to this. He had known that fighting this war was dangerous, and he knew it would cost them, but he'd thought he'd taken steps to prevent this. He'd thought they were safe, and they had been as long as Nottingham couldn't find them. He'd thought he had everything planned, had thought of every way they might be found and prepared for it.

He'd never thought to protect them from Duncan. He hadn't seen that old man as a threat, as anything that might harm them. He'd thought he'd done right in giving Duncan to Marian for his safety.

Instead, he'd doomed them all.

“My pride brought us to this,” Robin said, looking around at the wreckage and the graves.

“No,” Azeem said, surprising Robin by not lecturing him. “It was you who gave pride to these people.”

Robin shook his head. They had pride before, Will Scarlett more than any of the others, but they hadn't been organized. They hadn't been fighting a war they had no business being in. Scarlett was right about that. Robin had done this to them. “I was a fool. I was a fool to let him leave. I believed I planned it all so perfectly.”

Azeem studied him. “I once heard a wise man say 'there are no perfect men in this world. Only perfect intentions.'”

That was rather kind. He did not deserve it. He had gotten them killed, as Scarlett feared he would. The only reason he wasn't hearing angry words now was that Scarlett himself was either dead or taken. Robin was lucky to have anyone left. “You're an honor to your country, Azeem. You fought better then twenty English knights.”

Azeem seemed amused by the compliment. Robin covered Duncan's face and set to burying him. This, he hoped, was the last of the bodies, the last of the dead, and their terrible work was over.

Robin went over to the water, needing it and more to cleanse himself. He was tired and worn thin, weary after battle but more weighed down by guilt than anything else. He knew he would always blame himself for this.

All the words about perfect intentions aside, he had caused this, and he couldn't even say he'd done it with pure intentions. Wasn't this all about avenging his father? And how many others had suffered for that?

He looked up and frowned. There, in the fog, almost like a miracle, was a bedraggled looking Will Scarlett. A funny sort of miracle, but perhaps his talent for coming and going unnoticed had served him well. “Will. I thought that you were taken.”

Scarlett looked at him. “I was.”

“How did you escape?”

Before Will could answer, John ran up to him, grabbing hold of him and dragging him off, hitting him as he did. “Traitor! I'll break your scrawny neck, for you, Will Scarlett. You get in there. Get in there. No one escapes the sheriff unless he's lining his bloody pockets.”

Robin ran after them. John was likely right, but Robin would have thought if anyone could escape, it would have been Will. John gave him no time to explain himself, still beating on him, but Robin wanted an answer. How did Will come to be free?

Fanny didn't seem to be as quick to believe that. “Where are the others?”

“Get a rope,” John told Bull before turning back to beating Will. “Where's my son? I'll have your guts for garters.”

In the middle of all the chaos, John pushed up Will's shirt, showing them all the marks on his skin. He'd been whipped. Robin had seen it many times before, in the prison, but not like this. Most guards whipped a prisoner on the back—did that mean Will had more wounds there, or was it just this? How had he managed to get back here at all?

“Bugger me,” John whispered, and Fanny winced.

“Let him speak,” Robin ordered, his own voice seeming strange. He wanted to know what Will had to say for himself. Would Nottingham have beaten him if he was betraying them?

“I bring a message... from Nottingham,” Will said, bitterness in his voice. “Our men are to be hanged in the square at high noon tomorrow.”

“What about my boy?”

“The boy, too,” Will told her, and John pulled her into his arms. “Ten men in all. The hangings are part of the celebration for the Sheriff's marriage.”

“Marriage?” Bull asked, frowning. “To who?”

Will looked back at Robin when he answered. “Lady Marian.”

“He takes a bride of royal blood,” Friar Tuck said as Robin struggled to cope with what he'd heard. Nottingham intended to marry Marian. She would never have agreed to that. He must be forcing her into it.

“And with King Richard away, he'll be after the bloody throne,” John muttered. Robin wondered if he could do it. Weren't there others closer in line to the throne than Marian? There must be. Still, it would put Nottingham closer to it, and he wouldn't stop at marrying Marian to do it.

He turned his attention back to the man on the ground, taking a step toward him. “You were to use this news to get close to me and then kill me, right, Will? What are your intentions?”

“Well, that depends on you, Locksley,” Will said, rising to face him. “I never trusted you, that's no secret. What I want to know is—are you going to finish what you've started? I want to know if he's gonna turn and run like the spoiled little rich boy I always took him for.”

Robin closed the distance between them, standing right in front of Scarlett. “Did I wrong you in another life, Will Scarlett? Where does this intolerable hatred for me come from?”

Will turned away, and Robin thought that once again, he would get no answer. Azeem stepped closer, and Robin wondered if this time he would intervene to fulfill his vow.

Facing him again, Will's bitterness came out in the most unexpected of words. “Knowing that our father loved you more then me.”

Robin could not believe what he was hearing. How dare Scarlett say that? “Our father?”

“I'm your brother, Robin of Locksley,” Will said, and Robin grabbed hold of him, shaking him. This was a lie. Will was lying. He had to be lying. Robin had no brother. “I'm the son of the woman who replaced your died mother for a time. It was your anger that drove them apart.”

Robin wondered if somehow Will had heard him tell that to Marian. If he'd heard rumors or something in the past. Had he somehow learned more of the time he'd told Will about himself, when he admitted to sending the boy away because he'd spoken Anne Scarlocke's name and Robin refused to hear it. “You lie.”

“It's not a lie!” Will snapped, angrier than ever. “You ruined my life.”

Azeem heard the words from the young Christian's mouth and grieved, though they were not much of a surprise. He had wondered himself if this were the true cause of all that anger and distrust. He had seen much that interested him in the younger man, and he found himself as drawn to Scarlett as he had been to Locksley, perhaps more so, as this one was a bit less tiresome in his childish antics.

His anger had always kept him at a distance from everyone, and it seemed something he would not part with or share, even if he'd given a brief moment of that pain up once.

The men standing before him were alike in ways they did not see, and yet so different as well, as was too often true of any brothers. In many ways, Azeem thought it strange no one had seen it before, and yet Will had guarded that secret with a fierceness that kept everyone from guessing at the truth.

And yet that only made the wound deeper, as the Christian had caused Will great pain not just once but several times in his life. They all knew of the arrow, and Azeem knew more, which pained him. This would not be an easy mend, as nothing could give back all that Will had lost, things he still did not speak of, and Robin would blame himself even more if he knew all of what his brother had endured over his life.

This was no happy reunion, no glad finding of lost kin. This was pain now and even more to come when all was known.

John wanted to repeat the same words that he'd said before, when he'd uncovered Will's wounds. Bugger him. It wasn't like he hadn't seen that lad covered in horrible marks before, had seen him so stubborn that he wouldn't quit and made it further than he should have. That was what he should have remembered.

Will had killed Nottingham's steward and survived. He'd escaped and lived when by all rights he should be dead. This should be no different, except he had admitted that he was supposed to kill Locksley.

It was the rest of it that was one hell of a shock, even if it shouldn't have been. John could kick himself for missing it. No, he'd never known Will's mother to know who she'd been, but he could tell her death had altered the lad, and she'd been all he had. No father.

Except there was one, and hearing it was Locksley made all of Will's strangeness after Lord Locksley died make sense. The lad was grieving his father as much as he hated him. No wonder he'd been a damned mess back then.

John should have seen it then, and if not then, then when Will continued fighting with Locksley past most sense. That hatred was too deep, too personal, and yet John had still failed to see it.

And where the hell did they go from here? Robin's brother looked to be a traitor, and they were going to lose everyone Nottingham had taken. They'd lost the whole bloody war they should never have been in.

Will was right about that, which just made this whole mess worse.

Damn it. What did they do now?

Fanny wanted to pull Will into her arms and hold him again, as she had so many times in the past, ever since that scrawny thing had stumbled into their hut trying to avoid the sheriff's men. He was a smart mouthed pain in the arse, but he'd a good heart underneath all that.

She hadn't wanted John to beat him, even if she was worried about Wulf. She just wanted to know what was happening. If Will got out, he could get back in. They all knew what Will had done before, killing Flavell, and if he escaped then, he could have done it now. He could maybe even get them back in to save her boy.

And she knew he'd saved her daughter more than once.

She hadn't really understood that his hatred of Locksley was because he was his brother, but she didn't doubt it. That hatred was personal, and it wasn't wrong to say that the boy's life was ruined by his father sending him off. Robin was a lord's son, never wanting for a thing, whereas Will was a thief who'd had a price on his head when he was young. His mother was long gone by the time Fanny met him, and she'd seen his scars.

Ruined his life indeed. Robin may have been a child at the time, but that didn't make it much better, not when she knew what Will had lived through.

And Robin had shot him. This just got worse and worse.

How were they going to save her son like this? She wasn't sure Will wouldn't kill Robin now, not after all of this. She almost didn't blame him. If Wulf hadn't taken so much to Robin, he would have been safe with his brothers and sisters and Rosie wouldn't have run off.

Now he was to be hanged, and she didn't know how they'd save anyone.

Tuck hadn't been in the camp long, but he knew of the feud between Robin of Locksley and Will Scarlett. Everyone did. He'd had a few tell him to counsel Will to lose his anger, as most felt that the arrow incident was deserved and that Robin had apologized more than was necessary. Others said not to bother.

Scarlett had not had any of it, refusing to listen at all and telling Tuck he didn't have any use for religion. Tuck had left it at that, having no desire to force the man to listen and figuring his ministry would be better served when he had some beer.

Besides, the Moor got along with the lad, and if the Moor could do it, Tuck would find a way, though he'd been slow about it. He hadn't had enough time, and now he was hearing that the same angry young man was Robin of Locksley's brother.

Clearly the lad had been born out of wedlock, and while Tuck wasn't going to judge him for that, others would. That alone would be enough to, as the lad said, ruin his life. No wonder he had no use for religion—most would have refused to allow him to be baptized, and without that, he was not saved. Tuck knew there was more to salvation than that, but that alone could have soured the man on religion.

He was just as sour on his brother, and Tuck didn't know what would happen now that Locksley knew the truth of things.

Will's body ached from the lashes and dragging himself on through the night, needing to make his way to the camp. He wasn't sure why he did it. His freedom from Nottingham meant he could go anywhere, do anything he wanted, and he didn't know why he'd done this, why he'd come back here at all. He wanted Locksley dead, yes, if he wasn't already, for dragging them into all of this, and yet he hadn't done it.

John hadn't given him half a chance, but he'd still meant to do it. He might have, if he hadn't been half dead from the walk and the lashes.

“You were to use this news to get close to me and then kill me, right, Will?” Robin asked, and Will glared up at him. “What are your intentions?”

“Well, that depends on you, Locksley,” Will said, forcing himself to his feet. He would stand for this. He had to, or he should just run and leave, die alone from these damned wounds. “I never trusted you, that's no secret. What I want to know is—are you going to finish what you've started? I want to know if he's gonna turn and run like the spoiled little rich boy I always took him for.”

Robin walked up, getting into Will's face. “Did I wrong you in another life, Will Scarlett? Where does this intolerable hatred for me come from?”

Will turned away, not wanting to answer that. Let the bastard die not knowing. He should take his dagger out and end this. He needed to kill Locksley, and yet he was hesitating again. Oh, hell, he was going to die himself. Maybe it was time. He might as well say it before he died. This was the end of it all, and he could go to hell knowing he'd had a bit of the last laugh, hadn't he?

How would Locksley react to this?

Will faced him, finding the words harder to speak than he'd thought. He hurt, and getting them out was a struggle. “Knowing that our father loved you more then me.”

Robin stared at him in disbelief. “Our father?”

“I'm your brother, Robin of Locksley,” Will said, not sure why he bothered when Locksley didn't believe him the first time. Robin grabbed hold of him, starting to push at him, and the wounds flared up with new pain. “I'm the son of the woman who replaced your died mother for a time. It was your anger that drove them apart.”

Did Robin know what he'd done? That Will was the same boy he'd chased off? Did he understand now what he'd done in getting Will arrested that day? Did he even care?

“You lie.”

“It's not a lie!” Will shouted, wishing he felt up to fighting Robin. He wanted to hurt him, but he couldn't hardly stand at this point. “You ruined my life.”

Robin stared at him. He wasn't the only one. Will knew the others were watching. He'd never told any of them, so John and Fanny were probably mad at him, too. The Moor... Will didn't know. Sometimes he thought the Moor knew.

“I have more reason to hate you then anyone,” Will told Robin, not giving him any of those details. He wouldn't. He didn't care if Locksley was his brother. He looked at him, thinking back to that moment in the dungeon where he wanted to be wrong. “But I found myself daring to believe you. What I want to know, brother, is will you stay with us and finish what you've started?”

“I have a brother?” Robin asked in disbelief. Then he repeated himself. “I have a brother.”

Will found himself pulled into Robin's arms, and he would have pushed away if he felt stronger. At the moment, he was ready to collapse. Everything hurt, and Robin holding him didn't improve anything.

Robin put his hands on Will's face. “I'll make my stand with you, side by side. Until the end.”

Will didn't know what to think of that. He hadn't wanted any part of this war, but he didn't want the others dead—well, maybe Wulf, a little—and he couldn't let them die, not if Robin was actually going to fight for them.

“Until the end,” Bull said, and Will wanted to call him an idiot again.

“We're all bloody in,” John said, speaking for himself and Fanny. “Daft buggers.”

“We finish this,” Robin said, and Will snorted as he pushed himself away from Locksley.

“You know it's not that simple. It's not—you don't just say that and have it all be fine,” Will told him, stumbling backward, his hand over his stomach again. Damn, that hurt.

“Indeed not,” Azeem said. “You need treatment for those wounds and rest for your journey.”

Will shook his head. “I only told him because I thought I was dying. I don't want you to save me. Just let it end.”

Robin was still trying to cope with the news that he had a brother. He'd wanted one for years, back when his mother was alive, and he'd grown close to Peter, feeling him as much of a brother as Robin would ever have. Then came Azeem, and Robin valued him as friend and companion, a much older and wiser brother in many respects.

And the other men of Sherwood were like brothers, even idiots like Bull and Much.

Only Will... Will was something different, something apart from them, and it wasn't just that the man had always hated him. It was that and their blood tie, which was half the reason for their disagreements, even if Robin had not known it.

Should he have guessed it? Oh, probably, but all he could think now was the same few words. “I have a brother.”

He pulled Will into his arms, wishing he could take back all these months of arguing and fighting, that he had never baited the younger man into attacking him just to use that arrow against him. He wanted so much that he had denied himself in forcing his father from Will's mother.

He looked Will in the eyes, giving him a promise. “I will make my stand by you, side by side. Until the end.”

“Until the end,” Bull repeated, ever loyal.

“We're all bloody in,” John said, muttering an added, “Daft buggers.”

“We finish this,” Robin said, looking back at the others, and that was when Will pushed himself away from him.

“You know it's not that simple,” Will told him, and Robin cursed himself for thinking it might be, even for a moment. “It's not—you don't just say that and have it all be fine.”

“Indeed not,” Azeem said, moving forward as Will stumbled back, almost falling again. “You need treatment for those wounds and rest for your journey.”

“I only told him because I thought I was dying. I don't want you to save me. Just let it end.”

Robin went to Will's side, kneeling down beside him. “I am not ready for that. I know I have wronged you, both in my actions since my return but also in ways I cannot even begin to imagine. I would atone for all of them. I did not come this far, fight this much, to lose everything. I wanted to avenge our father's death, to stop this sense of loss I felt. He was all the family I had, save Duncan, but that was never the same as my father... or the brother I always wanted.”

“I hate you. You know that.”

“I do, but you came back. You told us what Nottingham's plan was, and because you did, because you're a stubborn bastard who should be dead already, we know what he's doing and we can fight him. We can save them.”

“Christian, mind your words,” Azeem cautioned, and Robin winced. He'd chosen poorly again.

“I will always make a fool of myself when it comes to you, Will Scarlett, but I will still make that stand with you if you're willing. Let me show you that I have changed, that I'm not the boy who cruelly sent your mother away or the proud son of a lord who had you arrested when you mentioned her name. You had one hell of a kick back then, and my pride was wounded, but I'd like to believe if you'd told me, if you'd said who you were, that I wouldn't have been the idiot I have been and that I would have made you welcome in our home as you always should have been.”

“You wouldn't have.”

“Perhaps not. I was an idiot then, and it took years of war and prison to make me see that,” Robin agreed. “I have had months with you and still get it wrong. I fear it will be a lifetime before I manage to get it right, but I'll try if you'll only let me.”

Will swallowed. “I... You're going to fight for them. To save them?”

“I'll start working on a plan as soon as we get those wounds treated.”

“You're no physician.”

“No, I am not, but I would not leave you now,” Robin told him. “My head is full of fear, and I do not know that I could think if I did not have some assurance of your recovery. I have to get our men and I have to save Marian, but I cannot lose you, either.”

Will snorted. “You're an idiot.”

“That I am, brother. That I am.”

Chapter Text

Will hissed as the Moor applied the salve to his skin. Though he knew it would help, as it had in the past, the first touch burned like hell and made him want to run rather than have all his wounds seen to, even if he knew how stupid that was.

Then again, he wanted to be done with this. He did not want to live. He didn't know why he had, and he already regretted telling Locksley about their shared father. The man was being foolish about it, falling over himself trying to do anything he could to help, and even Fanny and the Moor were annoyed by it.

“Are you sure you don't need more of that on there? You barely covered the mark and—”

“Christian, go and get more water,” the Moor ordered, and Locksley nodded, taking off to do as bid to everyone's relief and amusement.

“You're in for it now, laddie. I've seen how he fusses over his horse sometimes, and we all know how he was with Duncan. You'll not have a moment's peace with him,” John said, and Will glared up at him, still not sure why this had to have an audience. “He's going to see you as his to protect.”

“I don't need or want his protection. I've done fine for twenty years without it,” Will snapped, shoving the Moor's hand away after it probed too close to a cut. “You don't need to look at it. You've already seen. Just put the stuff on it and leave me be. Or let me do it myself.”

“I'm not so sure you could, love,” Fanny said. “It's not the easiest job to do when you can see properly, and you'd be looking down on them.”

“Not to mention that you probably have the same marks all up and down your back,” Locksley said as he came back with a jug of water. Everyone looked at him. “I saw it many times in prison. When a man was lashed, it was almost always on his back. Did they have any reason to choose your stomach, or are you injured on both sides?”

“Damn it,” was all Will could find to say, since the last thing he wanted was them fussing over his back, too, even if they should treat them. He didn't want to think about it. This was somehow better than his last two times in Nottingham's dungeon, which was both wrong and such a strange thing to say. He had been lashed, but compared to the scars carved into him by Flavell or the touches of that sick guard, having to let that man kiss him and pretend he liked it, this was better by far.

“You are always so stubborn,” the Moor said, and Will frowned but was too tired to fight him taking off the doublet. “I think you have need of a new shirt, my friend.”

Will knew this one was tattered and torn, but he didn't have any others. He'd torn the one Fanny gave him on his trip to Locksley hall, and he hadn't felt like he could ask her to mend it and knew better than to do it himself.

“I was making another for you,” Fanny told him, “but I think it did burn when our home did. Sorry, love.”

“I've got others, if they haven't burned,” Locksley said. “You can have one of mine.”

“Stop it,” Will told him. “I don't want anything from you.”

“Well, that's too bad, isn't it?” Locksley said, setting off to find a shirt. He'd scour the remains of the camp for one at this rate.

“Best let him be,” John advised. “He needs a purpose, and he's already irritating you as it is. Let him find you something to wear. Those wounds will need to be covered, right, Azeem?”

The Moor nodded. “Yes. Fanny, if you would wash this mess, I will use it to cover the wounds after they have been treated.”

“Of course,” she said, taking Will's ruined shirt with her to wash. He grimaced. They had little left, and he knew that, but he didn't want her doing that for him.

“Why did you think you would conceal this?” the Moor asked, applying the paste to one of the marks on Will's back. “It would have been foolish, as the infection will come in either side, and you must be in great pain.”

“I hate the fuss. And showing people you're weak just means they'll use that against you.”

“Not here, lad. Not with us,” John said. Will gave him a look, but he shook his head. “Maybe he did it to you once, used that anger he knew you had against you, but he's never done the like since, and he sure as hell won't now that he knows you're kin. You don't understand that because you've never had it, but blood can bind you a lot more than you think.”

“I still hate him.”

“And you still can, but you brought him out of his own head to remember there's still others to think of, and we will get them back because you tricked the sheriff.”

“Don't be so sure I wouldn't have killed him,” Will said. “I wanted to so many times...”

“You didn't, and you won't now. Like as not, Will Scarlett, you're what he needs, a reason to fight, and you gave it to him when he might well have done as you feared, given up. He blames himself for all of this, make no mistake about that. He sees this as his doing, and he may be right to do so, but if we're going to save our friends—and his lady—he needs someone to believe in him, and that coming from you—well, it's priceless.”

“Shut up,” Will muttered, the pain getting worse with John's words.

“It would be well if you rested now, young Christian,” the Moor said. Belatedly Will wondered if he had always called him that because he knew or at least suspected, but he was too tired and in too much pain to ask about it.

“Don't let Locksley dress me in anything stupid.”

John laughed. “Never, laddie. Just rest now.”

“He's sleeping now,” Azeem said, and Robin nodded, watching his brother with a lingering sense of disbelief.

The whole thing wanted to be impossible, but he knew it wasn't. He'd forced his father away from Anne Scarlocke, and he'd known that they were together in that sense, even at twelve. He'd called her a harlot, since they weren't married, and it did seem like she was only doing it to become the new lady of the manor. He would never know if that was true or not, having never met her himself, but he had made sure she was sent away and never allowed into Locksley castle. He knew she'd left the nearest village and gone far from their land, but it was what he wanted, so he never bothered to care.

He would have cared if he knew she was taking his brother with him. He wanted to believe that, though he was not certain.

Why had he not once wondered about the boy who'd come to them with news of her death? He had known the lad was a stranger, so why had he not thought for once that he could have been hers? Why had he not seen her or his father in the boy then when it was clear to him now?

“He will need time to recover.”

“Time is something we don't have much of,” Robin said. “We can't let them hang the others. And I can't let him marry Marian. We have to stop them.”

“It is a noble idea, but little better than suicide with our current resources. Of those who are free, only you, John, Bull, and myself are fit to fight. Friar Tuck has said he is with us, but he is no warrior despite his fierceness in defense. We have only so many men, and they will have armies, armies that have already taken a great number from us.”

“Will will want to be there,” Robin said. “And though I would deny him it to protect him, he would only hate me more for it. Whatever we do, he must have a part in it.”

Azeem nodded. “Yes, I fear you are right in that, Christian.”

Robin looked over at him. “Did you know?”

“I did not, though I suspected,” the Moor admitted. “Several of your actions upset him more than would make sense for a grudge that was not deeply personal, and when I learned of the day he saw you, I found many questions in what he did not say—for he did not say why you would not permit him in or why he quarreled with you.”

“You asked me, and I told you of the woman I felt wronged my mother and even my father,” Robin said. “And yet you said nothing to me or him of knowing.”

“He would not have wanted me to tell you. He guarded this secret well, and he left when he thought I had betrayed it.”

“And not long after that, he was fighting with Duncan,” Robin said. He looked at the Moor. “Did Duncan know?”

“Perhaps, though I do not know that you should ask your brother about that.”

“Too much past? I know you said I could not make his anger fade by my words alone, but I cannot make it end if I know nothing of the past, either. I almost ruined everything by one careless remark earlier.”

“It is his place to tell you or not, and you must respect that if you are ever to learn more of your brother,” Azeem cautioned. “He has learned for many years to survive harsh conditions on his own, and you cannot now start to know all that is best for him.”

Robin nodded. “I know, though were it in my power, I'd take him far from here to somewhere safe until this was all over. He is all I have left.”

“There is the Lady Marian.”

“That's not the same,” Robin said. “My love for her is different. I would die for her, but I would die for him, too. That is the bond of our blood, and I don't care if he hates me—that is how I see it. I would rather he didn't hate me, and I will work to that until the day I die. That may well be tomorrow.”

Azeem shook his head. “I know of something that may change all our fates. I have never used it before, but a traveling merchant from a distant land showed it to us. Had we adopted its use, I think we would have been able to defeat your uneducated kind.”

“Indeed, I fear it would not have taken much,” Robin said. “If you can make it and it will work, we will once again be in your debt, my friend.”

“I will see to it as soon as I have had some rest of my own,” Azeem promised him. “Do not stay up all night with him. As much as I know you are worried, you will be no good in battle or planning tomorrow if you do not sleep now.”

“What if they come back?”

“Unlikely. Nottingham thinks he has won and you are dead. He did not send Will back here to find you. He sent him here to die.”

Robin winced, though it was clear from his brother's wounds that was the case. How Nottingham thought Will could kill anyone like that—no, he couldn't. Will was sent as another warning, another death.

There would be no more. Robin would see to that.

John woke to find his wife gone, not that he was much surprised by that. She had the wee ones to think on, didn't she? And the newest one would be wanting her. She'd stayed with them longer than she should have, tending to Will late in the night with the Moor, and then she'd slept beside him, but she was a mother. She had others to see to as well.

Still, he didn't like waking without her, and his mood was far from pleasant, knowing they had little time before they might lose their son.

They'd been lucky so far. None of the young ones had died either being born or in their first hard years. Rosie had come the closest to that, but Will had seen to it they'd kept her, getting her that expensive medicine not once but twice.

Still, John couldn't lose Wulf.

He found Robin still asleep next to Will and kicked him awake with his foot. The other man scrambled for a weapon, finding none, and moved to shield his brother all before realizing that it was John in front of him.

“Afraid we've all slept too long, laddie.”

Robin nodded, and John doubted he'd slept much, not just because of the uncomfortable ground, but because Scarlett looked damned pale and was probably due for another fever like the last time. “Did you know of his nightmares?”

John tensed. “Aye, I suppose I did. He did tell us once that only drinking too much mead made them stop.”

“And that's why he never wanted to sleep with the rest of us,” Robin said, shaking his head. “I did so much harm, John. Not just to him, but to all of us, and I don't think I can fix it today.”

“You'd better. That's my boy we're talking about.”

“I do not want to fail you. I fear I already have. No one should have been made to suffer for my pride, and yet you all have.”

John wasn't sure what to say to that, though a part of him wanted to smack the other man for talking nonsense when they had to fight. This was what they needed him for, since John had no idea how they were going to do this. He'd get himself caught saving Wulf if he had to, but he'd be spotted long before that happened, and he knew it. Everyone round here knew his size. He couldn't get in to the city easily.

“Get over yourself, Locksley,” Will muttered, rolling over and sitting up. “If you thought any of them fought only for you, you're an even bigger fool than I took you for to begin with. They all lost something or they wouldn't have been in the damned forest. They wanted it back. You just gave them a pretty speech about how it might happen.”

Robin looked back at him. “I've no pretty speeches today.”

“None of us want them, and some of us would kill you if you did,” Will told him, and John smiled as he held a hand out to help him to his feet. “Come on. All you need is... what, a distraction and a few arrows, right?”

“Maybe,” Robin said. “I think Azeem was working on that distraction for us. You feel up to seeing what he's made?”

Will grimaced. “I don't—”

“Come,” Robin urged. “Both of you. I would be a fool to think I could do this without you, and we must all work together to see it done.”

John gave the younger man a look. “Not so sure Will should be a part of this.”

“I didn't actually kill him,” Will said. “And even if I still wanted to—”

“Peace,” Robin said, though his brother's words wounded him, that much showed in his face. “He's worried about your condition. We can't forget you were whipped when we plan this. You have to acknowledge that weakness and counter it so no one can use it against you.”

“Aye,” John said. “None of us wants you dying for this, Will. We want our own back, but getting killed in the process is no better.”

Will nodded, looking tired, and John had half a mind to carry him over to the others. They'd have to be very careful where they put him, or he would end up dead.

Azeem had set to work on the black powder as soon as he rose. He knew he would need to check on Will again, but the lad was still asleep, as was Robin, and he would like to leave them that way for as long as possible. They would not have much time for this, it was true, but warriors without sleep were no better.

He knew that they would have to be at their best, which was difficult enough after all they had suffered. John's son was among those set to die, and Will was badly injured. People would be distracted. They would have to counter this, and the black powder would have to be their solution.

He was somewhat disappointed to see the others gathering about nearby. Robin set to work building a model of the city while his brother laughed at him through exhausted, pained breaths. John passed the younger man some mead, and while Azeem did not approve of his methods, Will seemed to improve with the dulling of his pain.

He put the powder in and ignited it, causing a small explosion that startled the one known as Bull. “What was that?”

Next to him, Friar Tuck stared in amazement. “Truly you are a wizard.”

Rather than be accused of dark practices again, Azeem shook his head. “The mystery is in the black powder.”

Startled by the explosion but too tired to embarrass himself like Bull had, Will turned back to the model his brother had built. It barely looked like the city, despite Will's criticisms of it. Robin had given up listening to him after John gave him the mead, but it still wasn't right.

And they didn't have a lot of time left to plan. They still had to get to the city before the hangings, and all Will wanted to do was close his eyes and sleep.

“Bull, you'll be positioned by the gate to cut of reinforcements,” Robin began, making sure he showed Bull where to be. “John, You'll sit on this wall to protect our escape. I'll conceal myself here, below the scaffold, to cut our men loose at the signal.”

That was the stupidest division of labor Will had ever heard. If anyone was going to make their escape good, it was Robin. Being quick and fast was what Will was known for, even if he wasn't feeling fast right now. He could still cut down a man or two with cover. He was sure of that much. “No, I'll do that. You can cover us with your bow.”

“It's too dangerous, Will.”

Will wiggled his hand, wanting to make his point. “So’s your aim.”

The others laughed. They all found Robin's protectiveness amusing. Will found it irritating. He knew he wasn't in the best of shape, which was why he had to be where he'd said. He could cut a few ropes, but he couldn't take on all the guards at the gate. He wasn't sure if Bull could do it. That was why they needed Robin up where he could cover them with his bow.

“Whatever Azeem is concocting, we must each be in place for it. Now, our success depends on total concert. We only have six men—”

“Seven,” Fanny corrected, picking up a sword and standing with it. Will wasn't sure what she thought she was doing, but if she fought anything like her mother, she'd be the best in the battle.

“What do you think you're doing, woman?” John demanded. “Where are the little ones?”

“They’re safe. They’re with me mother.”

They couldn't get much safer than with that crone, Will thought, and he was pretty sure everyone else agreed. Everyone but John.

“Are you bleeding cracked girl?” John asked, shaking his head. “You could get hurt.”

“I've given birth to eight babies,” Fanny told him. “Don’t you talk to me about getting hurt, you big ox. Anyway, I'm not just gonna sit here and let one of them die, am I?”

“You should be bloody well minding the other seven,” John snapped. Will found this all kind of amusing. “Tell her, Rob.”

Robin hesitated, thinking it over. Will knew what he was thinking, and he had to make the only choice they could. They didn't have enough people, and they needed Fanny's help, even if no one wanted to say it.

Stabbing a rock with his dagger, Robin made his decision. “Fanny, you'll take position here. You'll help John get across the wall without being noticed.”

“Oh, this plan is getting better,” Will muttered, and Robin gave him a wounded look. “Come on. Six of us, a mysterious powder, and what, courage? Four of us have bounties on our heads high enough we'll be spotted on sight. Well, maybe not Bull, but you know what I mean. And while that stuff the Moor's making looks pretty damned effective, we're still in a bad place and you know it.”

“Will's got a point. You found a way for me to get in unnoticed if Fanny drops a rope for me, but what about Bull or Will? The sheriff's men are definitely going to recognize the rest of you.”

“I know how I can get in without notice,” Robin said. “All I need is a cloak and a horse.”


“That's disgusting,” Will muttered, shaking his head. “And no. I'm not covering myself in horse poop just to get past them. I can do it without that. All I need is a cloak. Not sure what we're going to do about Bull, though.”

“We'll dress him as a Celt,” Robin said, and Bull frowned. “One of those headpieces should be enough, and no one will look twice at you. It'll work. Trust me.”

Bull nodded. “What about the Moor? He'll be noticed for sure.”

“I think I have a way around that,” Friar Tuck said. “He'll be with me, doing the Lord's work, covered like a leper.”

“That all right with you, Azeem?”

“It is less than ideal, but I will accept it. My concern is with the young Christian.”

“Me?” Will shook his head. “I can handle my part.”

“You look as though you're ready to collapse again, and the march to town will do you no favors,” the Moor said. “You should not go.”

“You can't leave me behind. Who else have you got? And if things go bad, I can always show myself and tell the sheriff what he wants to hear.”

“Damn it,” John said, but Robin held up a hand.

“Will has a point. We may need him as a distraction. God willing, it won't come to that, but I won't ignore the possibility. We need this to go... perfectly, or it won't work at all, and that's a dangerous thing. We'll need all the help we can get. Will can travel with you in the wagon and rest. We'll manage. We have to.”

Chapter Text

No one paid a bit of mind to Fanny as she moved through town, which was both what they needed and extremely insulting. She knew she wasn't supposed to be seen, but being dismissed just because she was a woman was still irritating. She was mother to eight children, and that was something few could say. She was no weak woman, even if she rather wished she'd had more time in bed after the birth of the last one and was a bit sore now.

If Will Scarlett could be here in his state, she could do no less, and she was determined to see this through and save her son.

She went up to the wall and threw down the rope, having to yell at her ox of a husband who wasn't paying any attention. He turned back, quickly tying the bundle he carried to the rope, helping it up after he was done.

She was sore from pulling it, but she got it up over the wall. She untied the rope and dropped it back down to John. She pulled two swords out of the bundle and took them to the edge, dropping them to the ground.

Bull grabbed one, and Will got the other, walking in opposite directions. She sighed, glad that had worked, but still worried about how long Will would be able to stay upright. No sane man would be doing this in his state, but Will wasn't sane. Both of the Locksley men were daft, but one had to admire them anyway.

“What are you doing here?” a soldier demanded, and she looked over at him.

“I'm doing no harm, dearie. I likes a good hanging, I does.”

“What's in this bundle?”

“Oh, that's just firewood,” she said, shrugging.

The soldier didn't say anything else, but she heard him cry out as he went over the wall. John came up to her, and she had to smile.

“Hello, my lover.”

Will tried not to get pressed in by the crowd. He could see Friar Tuck ahead of him, making his way toward the front of the crowd, right under the scaffold, calling out a strange message that was supposed to be hopeful and yet not. He thought it was strange, and he'd have been insulted if he was one of the ones up there.

He should be, but he wasn't.

He should be up where Tuck was, but he couldn't go any closer. He was going to mess this whole damned thing up, since he was too tired and sore to be of much use. They were going to need Robin to shoot the whole lot of them.

He felt someone touch him, and he looked down to find a young boy trying to look at his sword. He grabbed hold of the kid, pulling him close.

“Nothing there but trouble, boy,” Will warned him, letting him go and shoving him out into the crowd. The boy had better not say anything.

Damn, that had worn him out again. Everything hurt, and he almost wanted to have given the kid the sword. He should have stuck with daggers. He was better with them, and he wasn't sure he could actually lift the sword.

He just needed to stay on his feet for a bit longer. As long as he didn't get exposed to the crowd, didn't fall over and make a fool of himself, he'd be fine. He might even be able to do his part and cut one of them down—Wulf, maybe, since that brat was John and Fanny's and meant something to them.

Will realized he was the last one to be led out, and in his confusion, he looked for the boy. The crowd pushed against him, almost knocking him into the guards as the crowd spat at Wulf.

And then it happened.

The damned brat recognized him. Will tried to warn him off, knowing he couldn't explain it, but Wulf wouldn't listen.

“Traitor!” he cried out, rushing at Will and knocking him to the ground. Will's back started to burn with renewed pain, and he couldn't block the boy's attacks on his front.

He might have deserved a part of it, but he knew this was going to cost them everything, and he still hated the boy, but in a few minutes, none of this would matter. They were all going to die.

Marian stood on the landing, surrounded by men she despised. The sheriff was the worst, of course, but the bishop, too, and she knew that none of the barons were good men, not if they were with Nottingham. She couldn't escape them, couldn't run. She had to go through with this to save the children, even as it destroyed her.

Nottingham noticed the cross around her neck and picked it up. She'd chosen to wear it in honor of what she'd lost and to remind her why she did this, why she would voluntarily join herself to a monster.

“That's a little inappropriate, don't you think?”

“No more then your wedding present,” she snapped, yanking the cross back and glaring back at him. She hated him so much right now, and she would go on hating him for the rest of her life.

“Bring them out!” Nottingham ordered, and the soldiers started to bring the men out. She watched them, not recognizing any of the ones that she saw until the end. The last one was the boy, that young one that Robin had teased when he was shooting at the target.

Oh, God.

“Make way,” the soldier ordered, shoving the boy through the crowd. He stopped, looking at a man in a cloak, and then he lunged for him, shouting about a traitor.

Marian watched in confusion, not sure she understood what was happening. How could any of Robin's men have turned against him?

“What's going on?” the sheriff demanded as the soldiers separated Wulf from the man he'd attacked. Marian frowned, not quite able to see his face. “Bring him here!”

“Kill him!” Wulf shouted as a the soldiers dragged him away toward the scaffold, and Maria found herself staring in disbelief as the others brought Will Scarlett forward.

“Oh, the turncoat,” Nottingham said, amused. “Did you succeed?”

Marian didn't believe this. That was the man she thought was Robin's brother. She wasn't sure that Duncan was right, but if he was, this one was Robin's half-brother, and yet he was a traitor. How could that have happened?

“I found his lair,” Will answered, struggling in the soldier's hold, “but he was already dead.”

“Are you sure?” Nottingham asked, and Marian wanted him to be wrong, very wrong. He had to be lying. He would lie, wouldn't he? He would tell the sheriff anything but the truth. He had to, he was with Robin, even if he didn't like him. “You saw Hood's body?”

“No, I saw...” Scarlett struggled with his words, “a grave.”

The soldier held up a sword. “We found this on him.”

Will shrugged, giving the sheriff a smile and trying to pretend he was innocent. Marian knew he wasn't, but she still hoped that he was lying about seeing Robin's grave. It could have been anyone's, right? It had to be.

“String him up with the others,” Nottingham ordered.

The soldiers yanked him away, handing him over to the crowd, and in their frenzy they passe him over toward the gallows even as he cried in protest. “Let me go!”

The executioner took hold of him, and Marian frowned, not sure why he wasn't fighting more. Wasn't he the man that had both Bull and Much afraid? He was supposed to be some fearsome killer, but he wasn't even fighting.

This didn't make any sense.

When they reached the end of the row, they looked up to find it lacked a noose.

“My lord, it appears there's no more room,” Will called out to the sheriff with more bravery than sense. “I'm afraid that I respectfully decline.”

The executioner would have none of that, shoving him down onto a barrel and tying him down to it, again with far less fight from him than she would have thought. “There's always room for one more.”

Marian choked. She didn't know what she thought, if she believed that Scarlett was actually a traitor or not, but if he was Robin's brother, he couldn't die like this.

The executioner kicked the stand out from under the boy first, and he started twisting in the wind. She wanted to look away, but the sheriff held her arm, and she knew she didn't dare. She heard someone crying out, and then she saw it.

An arrow sliced through the rope, and the boy fell to the ground.

She looked into the crowd and saw him, and the word came from her mouth, unbidden. “Robin!”

Will felt like a fool. He hadn't meant to get seen by Wulf, and he would have been more careful if he'd realized the little idiot was going to attack him like that. If he hadn't been already sore, it might not have been so bad, but with his wounds, he couldn't fight back, and he'd been captured so easily, so stupidly.

He was useless, and John was right. He should have stayed back at the camp. He hadn't even been convincing when he tried to tell Nottingham that Robin was dead. He should have been, but he was hurting so badly he could barely think.

He wanted to pass out, and he felt like he would as the crowd turned him over to the executioner. He couldn't even fight off one man as he was dragged over and tied to a damned barrel. He even knew which barrel it was—the one full of black powder from Azeem, the one that was supposed to free everyone on the gallows.

He couldn't have ruined this more perfectly if he'd tried.

He could hear John screaming for Wulf, and then someone shouted Robin's name. His brother had revealed himself to save Wulf.

Heroic, but stupid, and very much a Locksley trait, Will thought.

“What are you waiting for?” Nottingham demanded. “Get on with it.”

Will heard the scuff of the stools as they were kicked out from under the others, the gasps and gags as they struggled to breathe. He tried to pull himself up, but all he managed to do was scrape the wounds on his chest again, making him see black for a moment.

“Get the troops in here!” Nottingham ordered, and Will could only hope that Bull would do his part. He wouldn't have trusted it to him, but Robin had, and when there was no sound of armored boots marching into the square, he knew Bull had got it done.

He saw the wood above him start to bend, and he heard John barking orders to the others, telling them to free themselves. That was something. At least they wouldn't die, which was more than he could say for himself as he'd just felt the executioner's blade on his neck.

He looked over at Robin. This was on him now, he had to see it through. Will could accept this. It was his fate, the price he paid for being weak and thinking he could do more than he could. He closed his eyes, waiting for it to be over.

The executioner grunted behind him, and he heard a thud. Will looked around in confusion, though he could see little even as Robin rushed toward him to cut him free.

He saw the man behind Robin just as he cut the rope. “Behind you.”

Robin ducked, and Will went for the bastard, jumping on him and hitting his face over and over again, needing to be useful at least once during this fight.

“This way,” Robin called. “To the wall.”

Will rose, weary and ready to follow them out and back to the camp. He couldn't do much else, and they'd gotten everyone down. They'd won. It was enough, wasn't it?

“English,” Azeem called out to the crowd. “I'm Azeem Edin Bashir Al Bachrim. I'm not one of you, but I fight. I fight with Robin Hood. I fight against the tyrant who holds you under his boot. If you want to be free men, then you must fight! Join us now. Join Robin Hood.”

And then the crowd went scrambling into battle like idiots, and Will decided he would like to pass out right here and now. It was supposed to be over. They needed it to be over, or at least he did.

Of course, Bull joined in, screaming for freedom, and Lady Marian called out to Robin.

Damn it.

“I have to get to her,” Robin said, looking around in distress. There had to be some way of reaching Marian even though the gate was down. “There. The catapult.”

“I know you're an idiot,” Will began, arm over his stomach and looking like he was ready to fall over. Damn it. Robin knew he wasn't well, and he knew that was likely how the soldiers had taken him so easily. He wanted to stay here, but how could he abandon Marian to Nottingham? He had to go after her. “Tell me you're not that much of an idiot. You have no idea what is on the other side of the wall. You're going to get yourself killed, and what good will that do?”

“I have to do something,” Robin said. “This is the fastest way.”

“You are an idiot. He intends to marry her. He won't kill her. The point is using her for the throne, right? So wait, let us get the gate up, and go after her then.”

Robin put a hand on his brother's shoulder. “Never have I appreciated your counsel more than now, brother, but I have to do something. I can't wait. He will hurt her even if he keeps her alive, and can you tell me that is something I should accept?”

Will grimaced. “No, but if you miss and die, what the hell good are you doing her?”

“I won't miss,” Robin told him with a smile. “I didn't come this far to lose either of you.”

Will snorted. “Again, you're an idiot. You never had me, and you still don't. You want to kill yourself for a girl, fine. Be my guest. I'm too tired to stop you.”

“John,” Robin said, looking behind his brother at the bigger man. “Make sure nothing happens to him while I'm gone. Please.”

“Aye, I will.”

“I hate you,” Will told him, and Robin pulled him in for a quick embrace, just in case this was the last time he saw him. “Get off of me, you idiot.”

Robin just grinned, going around to climb onto the catapult. Azeem climbed up next to him.

“Is she worth it?”

“Worth dying for,” Robin answered, more sure of that than ever. He turned back to his brother, knowing that as much as he had protested, the younger man would do this for him.

He might even want to do it, seeing as it might get Robin killed.

He still had much to do to finish atoning for the wrongs he'd done to his brother, and he would get back to that as soon as he had saved Marian.


The other man pushed the lever forward, and Robin and Azeem were launched into the air.

“Fuck me, he cleared it,” Will whispered, looking up at the wall. He shook his head, not sure what to think of the idiot he shared blood with, though he had to hope he could spare the woman that kind of pain. As irritating as she'd been, Will wouldn't wish that on anyone.

“Will,” Fanny said, and he looked back at her. “Time to come with me, love. You're done in, and I can see it.”

He gave a look toward Wulf. “I don't think that's a good idea.”

“We'll explain things to him.”

“I'd rather not, Fanny.”

She gave him a look. “Don't make me poke you in one of those wounds, Will Scarlett. I swear I will, and you've already taken a beating today.”

“Yeah, from me,” Wulf said, and Will glared at him.

“Don't think you are some great thing,” Will told him. “You botched the entire rescue plan when you did that, but sure, be proud of yourself. I was supposed to cut you down when it was time, but thanks to you, I almost lost my head.”

Wulf frowned. “But... you're a traitor... you went to kill Robin.”

“He came to warn us,” Fanny corrected, “and Robin has already forgiven him, in case you missed that. Your father will be busy for a while yet, but I want you to come with me and Will.”

“I'm not going anywhere.”

“Excuse me?”

Will sighed. “The idiot said we were making this a stand side by side to the end. It's not to the end if I leave now.”

Fanny frowned. “I would have thought you'd say you never agreed to that.”

“I didn't.”

“Then why are you staying, you bloody fool?”

“I made the mistake of telling everyone he's my brother.”

Chapter Text

“They might get that gate up there yet,” John muttered, shaking his head. “He could have waited a few more minutes.”

Will grimaced, though John couldn't be sure if it was the pain or the words he was saying causing that reaction. “If it's what he feared, a few more minutes might have been too many.”

“Aye,” John agreed, not liking that much. Next to him, Fanny made the sign of the cross again, tugging Wulf close. She was a woman. She'd been threatened with it before when she wouldn't tell Nottingham's men where he was, and while it had never happened, it was something all woman feared.

Nottingham was just the sort of bastard to do it, too.

“Do you intend to let them kill all the guards?” Fanny asked. “They're all doing as they please now, no one giving them orders with Robin and the Moor inside, and someone needs to stop them if you're not going to let them kill all the guards.”

John grunted. “Part of me says let them. All those guards had a part in harming us, so why shouldn't they have a turn being harmed?”

“Some might not have wanted to do it,” Fanny said. “We were all desperate for food and money, and they might have thought working for Nottingham was the only way to survive.”

“Let anyone who wants to surrender do it,” Will said. “If they were a willing part of Nottingham's forces, they probably won't, and even if they were, they can be punished other ways. If they weren't willing, they'll gladly take the chance to stop.”

“You're not just giving orders because Robin's gone, are you?” Wulf asked. “Just because you're his brother doesn't give you the right to do it.”

“Wulf,” John said, shaking his head. Would the boy never let go of his hatred for Will? Had learning that he and Robin shared blood made it worse? That kind of jealousy was not good. “I am willing to hear suggestions. I always have been, before Robin and after. It's nothing to do with whose brother he is. It's about him having a good idea, as usual.”

“John, Will, Fanny,” Bull said, running back towards them. “Those nobles, the ones with Nottingham. They're getting away.”

John shook his head. “The hell they are.”

“You do not look well, my friend,” Azeem observed, coming upon Will Scarlett alone in the square. Others who saw him might have assumed he was among today's dead, and that might even have been what he wanted.

“Speak for yourself,” Scarlett muttered, eyes barely open and yet nodding to the way Azeem was limping. “That better not have happened when you went flying over the wall.”

“Indeed it did not. This wound was of battle, given to me by the witch.”

“Saw her, did you? She's rather hideous, but as far as witches go, not half as scary as the stories say,” Will said, closing his eyes completely again. “If she was, she would have caught me, but I escaped. Twice. No, three times now, though the last time barely counts.”

“Because you made an unfair bargain for your freedom?” Azeem asked. “You did tell the sheriff that you would kill Locksley, and he still had you beaten.”

“Anyone should have known he would have,” Will said. “I didn't. I just wanted out. I think I would have done or said anything to get out of there. I could hear the other men screaming, and it was like Flavell had me again and was marking my legs... like that man telling me to kiss him and having his hands on me...”

Azeem reached over to touch the younger man's skin. “It is as I feared. You are burning up. We should not have brought you here today.”

“I wasn't much use,” Will said. “They caught me. So easily. I couldn't fight. Wulf won, and they won, and they tied me to a damned barrel. I should have died in the dungeon. That would have been less humiliating.”

“You are not to blame,” Azeem said. He and all the others had known that Will was in no state to fight, but they had brought him along anyway. They had let him be in a position where Wulf could reveal him and the soldiers would add him to the others on the gallows. They could only blame themselves, and he was certain that the Christian did. “Many things went wrong with our foolish plan, and it was not your fault.”

“You lie poorly, Moor.”

“I do not lie at all,” Azeem said, for he had not been untruthful. “Where are the others?”

“John and Bull organized them against the barons working with Nottingham. Wulf went along, and Fanny didn't like that, so she went after him. I stayed here. Not sure what happened. Think I feel asleep. So much for glory in battle.”

“The glory of your battle is not one fought in an ordinary war,” Azeem told him, for the battles Will fought were those of spirit and soul, and he had won them, though he did not know it yet.

“I really am feverish. You make no sense at all.”

Azeem laughed.

“We should find you something else to wear,” Robin said, trying not to look at all that had been exposed in Nottingham's attack. He knew she was still covered, but what she had endured was something that no one should endure. “And join the others, if you're up to it.”

Marian nodded, rising with him. He held her a moment longer, not wanting to think about how close he'd come to losing her or to dying. He had almost lost everything today. Had he not found that arrow or been a bit later, he would have lost his brother, and then Marian had been taken. Nottingham had almost killed him, and then the witch had.

He drew her into his arms again. “I would hold you like this forever.”

“I would be willing to be held,” she said. “Your touch... it is nothing like his. It feels like safety. His meant only pain.”

“I am sorry I was not faster in getting to you,” Robin said, touching her cheek. “I wanted nothing more than to be there, to stop him. If things had gone as planned in the square, he would never have been able to harm you, but it all went so wrong when Will was captured...”

“Robin,” Marian said, taking his hand down from her face. “I have something I feel I must tell you, and I do not know that it can wait. I would wait, and yet if anything is to be learned from this, it is that we do not have the time we think we do, none of us. Even Nottingham's death may not be enough.”

“Damn it,” Robin muttered. “Those nobles with him. I should have made sure we caught them all, but I had to get to you—”

“I am glad you came,” she said. “I could not fight him, and I needed you.”

He leaned his head against hers. “I will always come for you.”

“What I have to tell you will not be easy to hear.”

He frowned. “I know you were married, but it was not legal, and you are a widow now even if it was. Unless... you would rather I not ask for your hand, unworthy of it as mine has proved to be.”

“No, no, that's not it at all, though I think some time must pass before that happens even if this marriage was not my wish,” she said. She turned away. “Oh, this is just making it worse. I... Duncan told me something before I was taken, and it has plagued my mind ever since. I knew I must tell you, even if he had sworn he would not.”

“Duncan wanted you to tell me something?”

“No, he didn't. Yes, he did. I suppose it was both. He'd sworn he wouldn't tell you, but you should know,” Marian said, turning back to face him. “He said he burned letters from the woman you told me about, the one that your father had loved. That... that there was a child, and she wrote to him when he was born, but Duncan never gave your father the letters.”

Robin put a hand to his face, not sure what to think. Duncan had been so loyal to them, it was hard to comprehend such an action, and yet that was the answer in of itself. He must have thought he was protecting them. “You're sure he did this? Burned letters?”

Marian nodded. “It distressed him greatly. He wanted forgiveness before he died, but he seemed to think that he could not tell you, that he was sworn not to, and that he had already caused so much pain by the silence. I do not know if the child lived and if your brother is still alive, though I admit when he said anger my mind went to—”



“Will Scarlett is my brother,” Robin told her, and she stared at him. “Do not judge him on the sheriff's words. He was no more a turncoat than I deserved for all I put him through. I sent his mother away, forced him to be born without a father. Later, I had him arrested for kicking me and wounding my pride. And when I came back from the Crusades, I put an arrow through his hand to unite the people of Sherwood under my cause. I have wronged him, and I cannot believe I can ever earn his forgiveness, but I will be trying until my dying day. I suppose it is only right you know—I will claim him as my brother and give him all he should have had if my lands are restored to me. He will be my heir unless I have a son. I will not deny him.”

“I would not ask you to,” Marian said. “Though I do not think he will want what you intend to give him.”

“He can argue with me about it later,” Robin said. “Come. Let us join the others.”

“And here I thought I would have work yet to do,” Robin said as they drew closer to the others. Marian did not miss the glares from the barons, and she steeled herself not to look at them, hating them more than they could ever look down upon her.

“They hadn't gotten far, and we didn't figure on letting them,” John said. “They were all conspiring against the king. He'll have plenty of living traitors to deal with, seeing as we hear Nottingham is dead.”

“Yes, he is,” Robin said, and Marian tried to contain her relief at that. “We have won many battles today, but we cannot overlook their cost.”

“Oh, not again. No speeches, Locksley. You sound like a pompous idiot. More of one, I suppose,” Will Scarlett muttered, and Robin smiled. Marian thought it was a strange thing to see, such pleasure at the insult, but Robin seemed pleased.

“I was half afraid I'd get back down here to find you'd somehow gotten yourself killed while I was off playing hero,” Robin said, going over to embrace him. “Never, ever scare me like you did today.”

“For the damned last time, Locksley, do not hug me,” Will said, “I don't care what blood we share. I don't hug. It's embarrassing.”

“I think you are unused to affection,” Marian told him, and he eyed her warily. She stepped closer and gave his cheek a kiss. “Thank you. I believe we all owe our freedom to you today.”

He touched his hand to his cheek. “Azeem, what was in those herbs you gave me?”

The Moor laughed. “Nothing at all, my friend, though you are among the ones that should be treated and seen to a bed for the night.”

“Nottingham's castle is ours,” Robin said. “We may as well make use of its hospitality for now.”

“I suppose, being high and mighty and lordly, you're not going to go to the lady's room and spend the night with her, but you don't need to be here,” Will muttered, turning over on the cot. This was strange, and while it should be softer and easier to rest against with his wounds, he could not get comfortable. He had not slept in a real bed in years, longer than he could remember, if he ever had at all. He had the floor in most places, even when his mother was alive.

“Though the castle's rooms seem many, not all are fit for habitation, and too many of ours are among the wounded. Many of us will be sharing rooms tonight. Should he ever stop tending to others, we will have another join us here.”

“The Moor intends to sleep here?”

“Azeem is a good friend to both of us. Why do you still call him the Moor?”

“To irritate him as he does me,” Will answered, closing his eyes as the pain got bad again. He shivered, and Robin pulled the blanket he'd just kicked off not two minutes before back over him.

“Neither of you will get any rest in here with me, and I cannot sleep here. I should go find the stable or something.”

“You are ill, and I will not have you lost to fever. We have done this before, Will, and I did not like it then, even though I did not know our true ties,” Robin told him, reaching over to touch his shoulder. “And I know of your nightmares. Some of them are my doing, and I will not abandon you to them. I cannot.”

“You are going to irritate me for the rest of my life.”

“Gladly,” Robin told him with a smile, and Will groaned. “Peace. It is my hope that someday you and I will do more than irritate each other. We are brothers, and I would like to one day be as Peter and I were, good friends.”

“That's not likely. I don't want that. I still regret telling you any of this.”

“I think I was meant to know one way or another,” Robin said. “Marian told me that Duncan admitted to burning your mother's letters to my—our—father. He never let him see them. I fear Father died not ever knowing your fate.”

“I am not going to forgive him ignorance. My mother told him before I was born. She only left to try and spare us both the shame that was coming, and it didn't work,” Will said, closing his eyes and biting down as the pain got bad again. “Did you actually kill Nottingham with a dagger?”

“Yes, though not with any particular sort of skill. I was fortunate in taking a lesson from you, even if you did not know you taught me it.” Robin patted Will's foot through the blanket. “I had the dagger in my boot just like you always do. It served me well when I needed it.”

“I lost mine. All of them. When I was taken, they searched me... I think they're somewhere in the damned dungeon.”

“I swear I will return them to you—or if they cannot be found for some reason, I will find you better ones.”

“I want mine. I earned them, and they are... sacred to me.”

Robin smiled at Will's word choice. “I'm sure they are, and I have heard they strike fear into many men, as one of them must have been the one to end Flavell.”

Will nodded wearily. “One of them did.”

“I am sorry you suffered at his hands.”

“I do not want your pity.”

“Someday you will understand that it is not pity at all,” Robin said. “Try again to rest. We will have to decide tomorrow what we will do.”

“Not everyone will be pleased with you occupying Nottingham's castle. You risk more war by staying. Not that all of us could have done the journey to Sherwood or that we have the kind of shelter we need there after the fire, but there will be others besides the barons.”

“I know. I do not intend for us to stay much longer. Marian may be willing to shelter us for a time, but until we have official pardon, I fear we will be forced to remain in the woods.” Robin sighed. “I failed. I did not restore them back to their homes as I promised.”

Will almost laughed. “They can go back, Locksley. The fines for poaching and taxes won't be a problem without Nottingham. It's the blood on our hands that will still be demanded from us. You will answer for Nottingham as I will answer for Flavell.”

“Ah, so then it will be just the two of us in the woods.”

“Not if I kill you first, Locksley.”

Chapter Text

“Good, you're awake,” Robin said smiling even as his brother groaned and turned over, looking like he might ignore him for most of the morning if given half the chance. Robin didn't intend to, even if he knew that Will should rest. That wasn't something he could allow his brother to do here, unfortunately. Using Nottingham's hospitality for one night was reasonable, but overstaying would put them all at risk, and Will more so than anyone else, as he was injured and feverish. “Come on, brother. It is a beautiful morning.”

“I see your face, therefore guaranteeing that it is not,” Will muttered. “Go away.”

“While I am certain you want to sleep longer and could not possibly have gotten enough rest, I'm afraid I can't let you,” Robin said. He sat down next to him. “We are trespassing in Nottingham's castle, and we risk starting another war if we don't leave. Marian has already insisted on moving us to her land.”

“Careful, Robin,” Will warned. “If she's giving you orders now, when you marry her, it will only get worse.”

“And what would you know of marriage, Will Scarlett? You have no special someone, not that I've heard about.”

Will gave him a tired glare. “If I were to have someone like that in my life, do you think I would be stupid enough to tell anyone about it?”

“So there is someone.”

“I didn't say that, either,” Will said, turning away again. “You can't possibly have the wagon ready yet, and Azeem won't let you take me anywhere without one, so go. Leave me until then. I'll go when it's time.”

“I should have done this earlier,” Robin admitted. “If I'd gone for them last night, you might have rested easier, for I know your sleep was troubled, but here. Look at me, please. I have something for you.”

“I'm not hungry, and I don't want more of the Moor's herbs.”

“I doubt he'd approve of this gift,” Robin admitted. He didn't think Azeem would feel it wise to return this to Will so soon, but Robin had to disagree. He wished he'd been wise enough to think of going for them last night, as soon as Will fell asleep for the first time.

Will turned back, frowning. “What are you doing, Locksley?”

“You did say these were sacred to you,” Robin said, holding out the first of the daggers. He'd spent most of the morning looking for all of the ones in the set, getting filthy in the dungeon, and Marian had repeated her urging for him to bathe when she came to inform him that they were welcome on her land whenever they were ready to leave.

Will took it, swallowing. “You... you went and found them? I thought...”

“You thought they were gone forever,” Robin said. “I know, and I'm sorry. It's never easy losing something that means so much to you, and while I think some people might not understand our affection for items over people, they can have just as much significance for us, perhaps even more.”

Will turned the blade over in his hand. “A part of me wanted to believe I could actually have fought if I had them instead of being so damned useless...”

Robin put his hand on his brother's shoulder. “I know you would have carried out your assignment if it was necessary. We didn't need it, and I don't blame you for being taken. I blame myself for allowing it to happen and not saying anything sooner. I should have stepped out and stopped them as soon as Wulf attacked you. I didn't. I was the coward that time.”

Will shook his head. “We agreed I was a distraction if necessary.”

“It shouldn't have been,” Robin said. “I wish we'd had some way of warning Wulf. I wish he didn't hate you so much.”

“I hate him, too.”

Robin shook his head. “It shouldn't be like that.”

“Oh, listen to you, you big idiot,” Will said. “Peace has never meant that everyone loves each other and people don't disagree. We're all still going to be different, and we're still going to have our own minds and opinions.”

Robin nodded. “I know, but he has no good reason for hating you, and what he did almost cost us everyone.”

“Fine. Let's kill him.”

Robin knew he shouldn't laugh, but he did. “No, we're not killing anyone else, not now. The war is done. We are going back to our lives, and we are going to make them better. We don't have to hurt anyone else. Wulf will learn as he gets older, and I think, since he hasn't been around yet this morning, that he may already be feeling some remorse for his actions.”

Will snorted. “He doesn't regret anything that happened to me.”

“I do,” Robin said. “I regret so much... I can't even begin to tell you how much or to show it. I had to find these knives for you, but they're not enough. Nothing is.”

“If you hug me again, I'll stab you with this one,” Will said. “Don't even think about it.”

Robin laughed. “I won't, but I'd like to. My father—our father—was an affectionate man, and he would often embrace me, sometimes before lessons, sometimes after. After I found out about your mother, I pushed him away, refused to let him touch me. I was such a fool. I never saw his pain, never even considered that you existed to have yours... I thought only of myself. I denied him, and I denied you, and I hurt everyone.”

“I don't need another apology. I've heard it already.”

“You haven't accepted it.”

Will sighed. “You can't erase years—a lifetime—of hatred in an instant. Not with words. Not even with actions. It doesn't just... stop.”

“I know.”

“And don't do it. I just got done telling you not to hug me.”

“I missed so much not having you in my life,” Robin said, shaking his head. “Imagine us bickering like this all our years. I would hope you'd hate me less, but I can think of only one person I'd enjoy arguing with more.”


“Well, perhaps two,” Robin amended. He gave his brother a final smile. “Go ahead and rest until we're done getting everything together. We'll get you to the wagon when everyone's ready.”

Will placed the blade beneath his pillow. “You do realize this is only one of them, right?”

“Yes, but even in your current state, I'd be a fool to let you have more than one of them. No, brother, do not fear. I have them all, and I will return them, but I want to make sure you're well first.”

“I should just have stabbed you,” Will muttered, shaking his head.

“How is the patient?” Marian asked as Robin rejoined them. She felt herself rather out of place here, with little to contribute. The Moor was needed everywhere, his skill in healing very much in demand with all the wounds from the battle and the other suffering the sheriff had inflicted on them. She knew too little about that herself, though she'd tried to help.

“I'm far from an expert, and I'd rather Azeem checked on him before we left,” Robin admitted. “I don't know. Will was rather determined to go back to sleep, and I know he didn't get much rest, so that's not so surprising. He was coherent, maybe more than he should have been.”

“You think he was trying to cover his condition?” Marian asked. “That he's worse than he appears?”

“Maybe. Or maybe I'm just fussing too much,” Robin admitted, looking a little sheepish. “It's the strangest thing, finding him. I found myself low and lost, thinking I'd gotten everyone killed or hurt, and then out of nowhere... I regained my family. I started this to avenge my father, but I finished it for my brother. I gained the most from this. No one else did. Everyone else suffered.”

“It is no crime to be grateful for what you have,” Marian told him, touching his cheek. “You did more than you think for everyone. I know it seems like you benefited the most—you have family again, you have me, and you will likely get your land back once my new letter reaches Richard, but I cannot believe you should blame yourself. You didn't know Will existed. You didn't know that I would come to love you. You saw a need, you saw oppression, and you acted against it. Yes, you were rewarded, but you weren't the only one.”

“I am unworthy of all of this.”

“Humility is a good quality in a man and a leader,” she told him, moving her hand down to take his. “And should you ever start to lose it, I think your brother would help you regain it, which is perhaps why you were meant to find him.”

“Meant to find him?”

She smiled. “Well, even if he had not told you, Duncan told me enough to where I thought I knew who he was, and I told you as soon as I could. I believe you would have known of your brother no matter what the circumstances, but I am glad he told you and that you are now able to be his brother instead of a stranger. I also hope that in time some of his bitterness will fade.”

“He's not looking forward to moving to your land.”

“I suppose not, but I think it best we not linger. Resting here due to injuries is forgivable, but if we stay, people will accuse you of killing Nottingham for your own gain.”

“I have no interest in his land. I just want to restore my home and that of everyone I have come to call my friend.”

“I know,” Marian told him, though another thought had just come to her head, and she thought she would have to add something to the letter she had been about to send.

“How're you feeling, laddie?”

“I'd feel a lot better if people would stop waking me every five minutes,” Will muttered, and John gave Azeem a look. The Moor shook his head, reaching over to touch the younger man's forehead. “Don't touch me.”

“I merely wished to see how your fever was progressing,” Azeem told him. “It is not about anything besides that.”

“Could have stabbed you. Robin gave me back this,” Will said, taking out a dagger. “Should have made him give them all back, but I was too tired.”

John shook his head. While the words sounded innocent enough, he knew the lad wasn't right by the way they came out. He was definitely feverish—he seemed to be near laughing, and nothing here was that amusing.

“I think you should put that away for now,” Azeem advised. “I am going to remove your shirt so that I may look at your wounds again.”

“Try it and die, Moor,” Will said, pointing the dagger at him. “You don't get me naked. No one gets me naked.”

“That was not my intention.”

Will snorted. “All men want one thing. Some confuse it with power or money, but it's all the same. And they take it when it's not freely given. Nobles and tradesmen and guards... all the same.”

Azeem shook his head. “I have known a love so strong I was willing to die for it, and I still would die for her. I would never harm her, nor would I think you would be capable of such an action, my friend.”

“Robin asked me if I had a girl,” Will said, laughing. “He has one, so of course I need to have one. John has one, but there aren't Fannys out there for everyone, and while she's pretty, I don't want a Marian, either.”

“I think you have time yet to find your Yasmina,” Azeem told him. “And your fever is worse, so you need to let me look at those wounds.”

Will shook his head. “No.”

“Why are you being so blasted stubborn?” John asked. “You know you need to heal. Don't be an idiot. You've got plenty to live for, even if you don't like your brother much.”

Will groaned, leaning back against the wall. “I should never have told him. Meant to die without ever saying anything.”

“You told him what he needed to hear to pull himself together and fight,” Azeem said. “We are all grateful to you. Now I will remove that shirt, and if you fight me, I'll have John hold you still.”

Will sighed. “That is unpleasantly familiar.”

John frowned. Azeem knelt in front of Will and faced him. “Young Christian, you are ill and you were beaten with a lash that cut into your skin. Those wounds need treatment. That is all that is happening here. Do you understand that?”

Will swallowed. “I may vomit.”

“I would not be surprised,” Azeem told him. “Can you remove the shirt for me?”

“Please don't.”

“Will, it's nothing. You've had the Moor treat you before, and you need to let him do it now. I know it's the only shirt you've got, but we can do something about that, too,” John told him. “Come on, laddie. Let him take it and get something on those wounds. You have to be hurting.”

Will looked at the two of them, and then for no reason John could see, he grabbed his dagger and ran toward the door, stumbling out into the hallway.

“Blooming cracked, he is,” John muttered. “Blasted fever. Guess we'd better get him back.”


“I don't understand,” Robin said, looking between John and Azeem. “He was fine earlier when I gave back one of his daggers. He made jokes, he seemed... well, like he didn't have a fever at all.”

“Perhaps that is what he wanted you to believe, or perhaps his fever has increased since then,” Azeem said. “He did not seem coherent when we spoke to him, and I fear he is mixing his past with the present and assuming we mean to harm him.”

Robin frowned. “Yet you said he knew you.”

“Only in part. And we seem to have lost him,” John said. “I don't know where the bloody hell he is or how he got there so quickly.”

“He has escaped from this place more than once in the past,” Azeem said. “He may have done so again. We may need to send someone into the woods for him.”

“In his condition?” Robin asked, shaking his head. “No, he would not go that far, not when there's nothing in Sherwood to go back to but graves.”

“Aye, maybe if he were in his right mind, but he's not, and he's stubborn as hell. You saw him when he went after Rosie's medicine,” John said. “That man can force himself past the kind of pain no one his age should have known. I saw him after Flavell, that night he got the name Scarlett for being bathed in blood, and he should have died then, make no mistake. He evaded the sheriff's men, made a bloody false trail, and lived. He had a bit of help from me, Fanny, and bribing the apothecary, but that doesn't mean he couldn't get plenty far if he wanted to.”

“Damn it,” Robin muttered. “All right. Send those that are able and willing on to Marian's. The rest of us will search the whole of this place again. And one of us has to go to the forest. Azeem, do you think that he—”

“It is more likely he will go somewhere he feels safe, and while he dislikes you, he may find you less of a threat under the circumstances than the rest of us, as he knows you share blood,” Azeem answered. “I fear the fever combined with a prolonged stay in this place, even in the upper chambers, did not have any good effect on his confused mind. The past and the present is blurring for him.”

“I'll go to the woods, then. If you find him before I do, send someone with word.”

“Of course, Christian. None of us want any further harm to come to young Will.”


“I think I'm lost,” Will admitted with some difficulty, looking up at the trees again. “I don't hear the chimes. I found my way by the chimes, but I don't hear them. I don't hear any of them.”

“Thank God I found you,” Robin said, kneeling next to him. “You gave us all a good scare.”

“Do you think I went into the wrong forest? Mistook one for Sherwood?” Will asked, starting to laugh. “That's ridiculous, right? The wrong forest. Stupid. So stupid.”

“Will, you're feverish, and no one would blame you for being lost, but you're not lost. This is Sherwood. I don't know what happened to the wood chimes here, because I'm used to hearing them myself. Maybe someone spotted them when they followed Duncan in. Maybe there was a bad wind storm, but you're not lost. You're just... delirious.”

“I feel like puking again.”

“I'm not surprised.”

“I don't want to puke,” Will said, feeling like a child and knowing he sounded like one. He just couldn't seem to keep himself upright. He was dizzy, and it was worse every time he moved his head. The trees didn't help, either. They made it worse, but he couldn't stop looking for the chimes.

“I know, and hopefully you won't have to, but you are sick. We need to get you back to Azeem so he can treat those wounds,” Robin said, touching his shoulder. “Come on, brother. Let's get you back where it's safe and warm.”

Will looked at him. “I don't understand how you think such a place exists.”

“It saddens me to know that you have never known such a place or that feeling,” Robin said, wincing. “And pains me to know it was my doing.”

“Oh, don't flatter your self-important self,” Will muttered, and then he frowned. What had he just said? He didn't know. Nothing made much sense right now.

“I won't, if you'll let me get you back to a shelter so you can be treated.”

“I don't want it. I want this done. I don't want to remember anymore, and I don't want to think. All I do is hurt.”

“You need treatment.”

“I don't want it.”

Robin sighed, wishing any of his interactions with his brother was easier than this. He did not know what to say, how he could calm Will and make him understand that he didn't have to keep running. He needed something to stop that fever before it stopped him.

“Please. You know you're feverish. You were yesterday. You were whipped, and your wounds are infected. You can't go on like this. You need treatment.”

“I don't want it,” Will repeated, shaking his head in what looked like panic. “The apothecary, he said he'd treat me if I could pay, and I'd stolen from Flavell, so I could pay, but I woke up and he was...”

Will shuddered. Robin wanted to wrap him up in the blanket he'd brought, but his brother did not seem willing to be touched, and a terrible fear had come into Robin's mind. He needed to be wrong about this. He did not want it to be true.

“What, Will?” Robin asked. “What did he do?”

“He was trying to take more than we'd agreed... trying to take it from me...”

“Oh, God.” Robin swallowed, feeling sick himself. Please let Will be confused about that. No one should suffer that, and the idea of his brother—no, please, let it be a mistake somehow.

How would he ever forgive himself for causing his brother to be in that position?

“I don't want treatment. It has too high a cost. I won't pay it,” Will said, trying to get up even though he couldn't really move. He fell back, and Robin caught him. Will curled up against him, shivering. “Won't go back to him. Can't, but... won't. He... he covered my mouth and said he'd turn me over to the guards if I didn't let him... I killed him. I did. I don't... I'm so confused. Where are we?”

“Sherwood, Will. You're here with me, with Robin of Locksley, your brother.”

“No, I'm not. I hate you.”

Robin laughed a little, still feeling ill himself. “You do, and I fear I deserve that. You should never have been in that place, never been anywhere a man like that could hurt you.”

Will looked up at him. “I don't—”

“Not a word about pity. That's not what this is, damn it.”

Chapter Text

Will shuddered again, and Robin wrapped the blanket tighter around him. He hated every whimper he heard his brother make. Will had suffered so much pain, and Robin knew he'd barely heard of any of it. Even just the past few months seemed like too much, and so much of it was Robin's own doing. He'd been the one to shoot Will's hand, after all.
Robin picked up the other man's hand, looking at the healed up scar.

“So much of this pain is my doing,” Robin whispered, though he knew it almost all was. Oh, sure, he could tell himself that many of the injuries and wrongs were because of Will's own life choices. He was a thief, and a thief's life had plenty of risks, but Will would never have been a thief if Robin hadn't forced his father to end his relationship with Anne Scarlocke.

Will shifted, pulling away from him, and Robin moved the blanket back over him. He needed to keep the younger man warm.

He looked down at his brother. What would it have been like if he'd not been such a foolish child? He would like to believe he would have been good and would have been there for his brother. He knew he'd been prideful and stupid, but maybe having a brother would have made him less so.

“I believe you have made me a better man,” Robin told him. “I will always be grateful for that—for you. I know you don't believe that, but you are not just all that remains of my blood. You are, as Azeem is, a part of my conscience. And you would laugh at that, but I sit here and I wonder... how much better would I have been as a boy and a man if you had grown up as my brother as you should have. While I might have been awful to you, I would like to believe that would have made both of us better.”

Will grunted, sounding like he was scoffing in his delirium, and Robin had to smile. “Should I tell you what I think it might have been like?”

Robin held onto his little brother, rocking the baby in his arms. He couldn't get over how small but how wonderful this was. Oh, sure, Will couldn't play with anyone yet, and he would seem to be rather useless, when he took Robin's finger and held it, Robin knew the baby was special.

“I'm going to teach you everything I know,” Robin told him. “I will show you the best places to hunt, how to ride, how to fight with a sword... everything. You're going to make everyone jealous with how much you know.”

The baby made a face, and Robin laughed. Sometimes he thought Will understood everything he said, even at his age, which everyone told him was impossible, but he swore Will gave him looks like he did. He'd even made a few noises, too.

“Why don't we start right now?”

“You should regret teaching him to walk,” his father observed, amused but full of pride as he watched Will scamper around quicker than Robin or anyone else could hope to catch him. He was fast for such a little thing.

“He'll be even more interesting now,” Robin disagreed. He liked doing things with his brother, and he thought Will was much better than Marian was, which was why Peter was jealous. Robin had gotten a brother, not just a stupid girl. All Marian was good for was a good prank. Will would be good at lots of stuff, just like them, soon as he was bigger.

“If you can catch him. He's quick as a fox, that one.”

Robin nodded, feeling absurdly proud of that somehow.

Will's little wooden blade caught Robin in the leg, and he swore. That hurt a lot more than it should have. Will looked up at him with a smirk, and Robin glared back at him. The boy shouldn't be able to fight him at all, and his father would just laugh and say he only had himself to blame, since he'd been training Will for this since he could walk.

He didn't know if Will would ever have to fight for real, like in a war or to defend their home, but Will would be able to do it better than any of the men around. He was a smart boy, and devious, too, as that last blow showed. Will was too damned good at this.

“You're only this good because I taught you.”

Will snorted. “If you were that good, I'd be better.”

“Ignore what Father said about students becoming greater than the master. He was only saying that to annoy me.”

“You're stupid,” Will said, and Robin lunged for him. He didn't tag him with the sword, instead using his larger size to pin his brother to the floor and tickle the spot on his side that got Will every time, much as he hated it.

“Do you yield?”

“Get off me.”

“Do you yield?”

“To you? Never,” Will said, and Robin found himself swearing in pain, curling up and trying to cope with the pain. His brother had kicked him right in the privates, and nothing hurt as bad as that, he swore it didn't. “Little bastard.”

“Robin,” their father called from across the room. “None of that now. It's not like you couldn't have seen that coming. You know your brother.”

He grunted. He did, and he should have known that Will would kick him. He almost always did when Robin was winning. It always worked, so why wouldn't he? And why did Robin always forget that his brother fought dirty?

Will smirked at him, and Robin almost started it all over again.

Will tossed in his sleep, flailing his arms as he did, and one of them got Robin good in the face as he moved to calm his brother. He almost laughed, but a joke about Will not liking his version of their possible childhood died on his lips as the younger man continued to struggle.

This was not a momentary thing brought on by the fever or trying to get comfortable. Will was in the middle of yet another nightmare.

Robin tried to touch him again, to wake him a little, stir him from the dream if not the fever, but Will screamed. Robin pulled back his hand. Touching was out. He would have to do this another way. He started talking, babbling on about everything and nothing, stories from his own childhood and the Crusades, anything he could think of, hoping his voice would be enough to settle Will's fears.

It seemed an eternity before Will stopped trying to fight his unseen enemy, but when he did stop, it was much worse. He curled up, like he wanted to make himself smaller, and wept, the sobs shaking him as much as the fight had.

Robin swore. To hell with that. He pulled his brother into his arms, careful as he could be with Will's injuries, and held him. “You're safe, Will. I promise you no one will ever harm you again. And if those that did are still alive, I'll make them pay. I swear it. Just know that I'm here. You're safe.”

He kept on repeating those last two words until his throat was too hoarse to get them out again.


Locksley stirred, bolting up from his sleep and almost knocking his brother off of him. Azeem grimaced. That was not his intention, though he had known that if he attempted to move either of them, he would wake at least one of them.

“Azeem,” the Christian said with relief. “Thank goodness you're here. I didn't want to leave him to find you, and it was dark enough last night I didn't dare, but he needs you.”

Azeem nodded. Even from here, he could tell that Will was worse than the day before. His color was far too pale, and he had not stirred when his brother almost injured him again. The pain of that act alone should have woken him, but he remained insensible.

He knelt down and lifted the blanket. “Help me with him. We must remove his shirt.”

Locksley helped his brother sit, and together they fought to get the shirt over Will's head. Locksley continued to hold him as Azeem removed some of the bandages.

“How is he?”

“I do not like the state of these wounds,” Azeem admitted. The marks were much worse than the last time he had seen them, and infection was clearly visible in most if not all of them. They had let Will do too much. Between Wulf's assault, the guards capturing him, and the near beheading, Will's body had been battered on top of the existing wounds. The fever had already taken hold of him when most of that occurred as well. “He should be in a proper bed with a warm fire. The dressings need to be changed often, and he will need medicine. I would like to be angry with you for not bringing him back sooner.”

The Christian grimaced. “I didn't think I dared move him in that darkness, and even had I woken before you arrived, I would not have risked moving him. Last night was... terrible.”

“The nightmares?” Azeem asked, concerned.

“I feel as though I have been wounded, watching him,” Locksley said. “I... My heart aches, knowing he has suffered so much, and I don't even know everything. I hate myself for having caused this.”

“Not all of his wounds were of your doing.”

“Aren't they? I forced my father to abandon his mother. Everything else comes from that moment. Even the best of life they could have would have left them in the same unfortunate position as John and Fanny, and he had no father. His mother would have struggled for work, and she was probably like that woman we sent to the south. She may have prostituted herself to provide for him, and even if she didn't—which I doubt is true—he would have suffered for being without a father. People punish bastards even if those children had no choice over how they came into this world. I know. I did it. I am not proud of it. I was a terrible person, thinking myself entitled to all I had and more, just by my birth. I denied that to my brother, and he was forced to become a thief to survive, and what of when he lost his mother? I know he ended up almost dead at Flavell's hands, but he would not have been there had I not driven that woman from my father.”

“Yet none of this was something you could have known when you forced them apart,” Azeem said. He could not say that the Christian was blameless in all of this, but he knew that they could not allow him to wallow in his guilt. He would not help his brother that way, and Nottingham was gone, he was far from the only threat in this world. They might call upon Robin Hood again. Even if they did not, the people still needed him as a leader while they attempted to rebuild their lives. “You saw only a woman exploiting your father's grief.”

“More like usurping my mother's place.”

Azeem had tried to give the action more honor, but the Christian's words were still true. “You did not know of the child.”

“I know I didn't, but I should have. Duncan did. He told Marian he burned the letters she sent my father. Anne told him when Will was born. My father could have known. I always thought he still loved her. He would have married her. Will would have been my brother all his life.”

“You are still brothers even if he was not raised in your home.”

“He hates me, and he has good reason to.”

“You must give him reason to forgive you, though you cannot and should not expect him to feel obligated to so,” Azeem said. “And we must get him to a better shelter. He should be indoors if possible, with a steady fire and a proper bed. We need clean bandages and more herbs. I fear it will be quite the fight against this fever.”

“Whatever it takes,” the Christian said. “I am not losing him now.”

Chapter Text

“You need rest as well, Christian.”

Robin nodded. He knew that, but he found it difficult to leave his brother. He'd gone to see Marian a few times, wanting to be sure she was well after all that had happened and that his people were not too great a burden on her, but he had gone back to Will soon after, afraid he would lose his brother if he did not stay by his side. He wasn't sure if he thought he was encouraging him to be stubborn or being that himself, trying to will his brother to recover.

“He will not fade the instant you close your eyes.”

Robin sighed. “I know that. I know I've been able to leave and talk to the others, but I feel so guilty for leaving him, even if Marian and the men need me. I failed him so many times, Azeem. I cannot change them. I did him great wrong, and I cannot undo that. I can do this, but if I leave...”

Azeem shook his head. “This is not the way to assuage your guilt, my friend.”

“I don't know how else to do it, and I can't stop myself from feeling I failed every time I leave,” Robin admitted. “I have other obligations, but I owe so much here it seems like they can't compare.”

“That is untrue, and were he awake, I think he'd tell you to do something rather profane with your opinion of that matter,” Azeem observed. Robin had to smile at that. “Remember, he does not want your pity. You know that is not what you feel, and you are not doing this because of that, but you cannot ignore the way he will perceive it, either. You must be careful, or he will push you away as he has others.”

“He did that with you?”

“Indeed. Every time I learned a painful part of his past or wanted to praise him, he found my words difficult to accept and would avoid me for days,” Azeem answered. “It was not an easy path to our almost friendship, and he told me that he did not believe any man would call himself friend to him and mean it.”

“You do, though. A man could ask for no better friend than you,” Robin told him. “I know I am undeserving of your loyalty, though I thank God daily that you chose that blood debt.”

“I did not choose it, but I would not have it otherwise. My place is here now.”

“What about your family?”

“I told you. There is nothing for me back there.”

“There is here. I will always need your counsel, and I fear my brother needs it as well.” Robin looked back at Will. “And he needs your healing even more.”

“He is strong yet. He should recover.”

“You heard him, Azeem. He didn't want to.”

“Were you not in the middle of great despair when he returned to the camp? Did you not consider abandoning your fight against Nottingham when it proved to have such a high cost?” Azeem asked. “He came and admitted the truth of your shared heritage, and that was enough to get you fighting again.”

“That is not the same. He always knew I was his brother. He did not gain back a family he thought completely lost. He did not want to acknowledge me, and I do not know that I blame him.”

“Not all of the guilt is yours. Your actions were that of a child, but you give no weight to those of the man. Your father may have loved you a great deal if he ended his relationship with this woman for you, but can you say his actions were right? He threw away one son, and while you may have influenced his decision, you did not make it for him. He could have chosen to ignore your anger and married her anyway.”

“I wish he had. I was a fool, and had I known my brother... I want to believe I would have been a good one to him, as I was friend to Peter. I want to believe it would have been better for both of us.” Robin shook his head. “I've even passed the time here telling him of that foolishness, of the moments I think we could have shared if he was always my brother.”

Azeem smiled. “I think you both might have enjoyed that.”

“I don't know that we will ever have that, though.”

“There is time yet, Christian. When your brother is well, you will have a chance to be the brother you want to be, even if he does not want that.” Azeem put his hand on Robin's shoulder. “You will need to rest if you are to be awake when he might be ready for it.”

Robin laughed. “I will go in a few minutes. I just had one more story to share.”

“It's nothing to be scared of,” Robin told his younger brother, picking Will up when he tried to duck behind his legs again. He had to force himself not to laugh. Will would hate him for it, since the boy wanted to be fearless, but he seemed genuinely spooked by the horse. “He won't hurt you.”

Will wrinkled his nose. “What about Peter?”

“Peter should have known better than to tease his horse like that,” Robin said, shaking his head. “And that mare of his is a temperamental one. This old boy here is a sweetheart, or so my mother used to say when she was alive.”

Will bit his lip. “Are you mad?”

Robin frowned. “Why would I be mad?”

“Sad?” Will asked. “I... My mother's still alive, but yours isn't. Are you... sad about that?”

Robin shook his head. “I was sad for a long time, but I'm not sad anymore. Your mother isn't the same person, and I don't think I'll ever see her as my mother, but she gave me you, and I'll always be glad about that.”

Will gave him a small smile, and Robin hugged him close for a moment until the younger boy started to squirm. “Let me down. You're squishing me.”

“I am not. You just don't seem to like hugs much, and of course as your older brother, I'm obligated to give you as many of them as possible.”

“I hate you.”

“No, you don't,” Robin said. He shifted his hold and lifted Will up onto the back of the horse. “There we go. You look like a natural rider.”

“No, I don't. I want down. This is... weird.”

“Just give it a minute. Stay calm. You don't want to upset him. The horse can feel what you feel, so you want to be nice and calm.”

“I'll be calm after I kick you.”

Robin ducked that one before pulling himself up behind his brother. “Let's go for a ride.”

“Am not... afraid of horses,” Will said, and Robin looked over at him. “Never was.”

“You never seemed inclined to spend much time around the ones we did have in camp,” Robin couldn't help observing, wondering if his brother was actually awake now or if this was another false start. Will talked sometimes in his sleep, as a part of a nightmare or memory, and Robin had been disappointed more than once to hear his brother's voice only to find Will was still deep in his fevered dreams.

“They smell, and they always want food I don't have,” Will muttered. “Doesn't make me scared of them.”

“Do you know how to ride?”

Will shook his head. “Never learned. She taught me... to swim... said they used to... swim together... was how... they started... but riding... no. That's for rich nobles.”

Robin smiled. “Not just for the rich, though I suppose you never really had access to one. Maybe I can share that with you, teach you to ride. If you'd like that.”

“Rather learn from the Moor.”

Robin wasn't surprised by that, though it did hurt a little all the same. “That's fine, so long as you agree to accompany on a ride once you've learned.”

“What for?” Will asked, and he tried to sit up then. He looked around in confusion. “Where the hell are we?”

“Marian's family home,” Robin answered. “She offered to give us shelter. None of us felt it wise to stay in Nottingham's castle, and Sherwood still needs to be rebuilt, though most of the men have gone home. John's been supervising getting their houses in the village built or repaired. I know I should be there helping, but I couldn't leave you.”

Will snorted. “More like you couldn't leave her.”

“I have spent most of the past week with you,” Robin said. “Though I suppose you might not believe that.”

“If that's true, you're a fool.” Will grimaced, putting a hand over his stomach. Robin reached over and grabbed the bowl, holding it out in case Will did vomit again.

“The infection was severe, Azeem said. You have been out for over a week since we stopped Nottingham. It didn't help you thought Azeem would act like that apothecary and hurt you when you were healing.”

Will stared at him. “How do you know about that?”

“You told me. You were feverish, and I knew you would not want me knowing, but I know,” Robin told him. “I wish I could have spared you that.”

Will snorted. “Oh, yes, because you sending me to the dungeons when I was thirteen was truly kind. Go away.”

Robin sighed. “I was a stupid, prideful idiot. Is there no hope you can forgive me for that?”

Will turned away from him. “I want you to leave.”

Robin should have known that the moments he'd created for them were only dreams, illusions of things that would never be. He had hoped that when his brother woke, he'd feel less of that hatred toward him, but he'd been fooling himself. “I also wanted to find that man and kill him myself.”

Will grunted. “He's already dead.”

“I know, but no child deserves what he tried to force on you, and I am not sorry he's dead. I'll never forgive myself for allowing you to be in that position at all. I should never have forced my father to send your mother away. Azeem says it was my father's choice, but I still blame myself.”

“I hate both of you.”

“That is fair.”

“Oh, do not talk of fair. You're annoying me. Go away.”

“I will go,” Robin agreed, “as I want to find Azeem and have him look at you again.”

Will didn't respond, and Robin almost thought he'd be unconscious again when he returned with Azeem.

“You seem to have improved, young Christian.”

Will groaned. “I do not feel like it. Why am I still alive?”

“I fear,” Azeem told him, “you are more stubborn than even you know, and you would not accept letting go or giving up and dying as much as you might have thought it was the easier solution. You are not the sort.”

“Guess I am an idiot, then,” Will muttered, and Azeem smiled, though he did not like to laugh at such a statement. “I thought he'd come back with you.”

“I had the lady waylay him, thinking she might coax him into resting. He has barely left your side since you were taken ill. I could not convince him that he would do himself harm and you no good in his own poor state.”

“Yeah, I know. He has to make everything up to me.” Will sighed. “I shouldn't have told him. I don't want his pity or this... farce of caring. I am nothing to him. I was nothing before, and I am nothing now. Calling me a brother does not change that.”

“It has, though it is you that refuse to see it,” Azeem said. “You do not want to let go of your anger.”

“He can't just apologize for the past and take all that pain away. The memories don't disappear because he says he's sorry. I still have to live with what happened to me and...”

“And there are times when you wish you did not,” Azeem finished for him. He sighed. “You did not live an easy life. It would seem like the Christian did. He had no troubles at all save losing his mother until he left for the Crusades. War is an unpleasant thing, and it changes us all in ways we cannot predict. He has changed. The boy who sent you off to that dungeon was not the man that returned from prison in Jerusalem.”

“He didn't give much proof of that by starting this damned war with Nottingham,” Will said. He winced, putting a hand on his stomach. “Damn it, that hurts.”

“It was infected,” Azeem said. “It will likely be tender for some time, even if the fever is now gone and you are once more with us.”

“What other stupid things did I say when I was feverish?”

“What do you mean?”

“I told Locksley something I've never told anyone,” Will said. “I don't know why I would have, even if it was a fever. I... I never admitted it, never spoke of it. They might know I killed the apothecary, but they just assume I didn't want to pay or that I ran out of money...”

“He wanted something else for his services.”

“Great. Now I've told you, too. Damn it.”

Azeem sighed. “It is not so dire a thing to share with others, even when those secrets we hold are painful or even seem shameful. None of us are perfect, though I would argue that the fault in these incidents lies not with you but with the men you encountered, for something truly great was wrong with them for them to desire such a thing from a child.”

Will grimaced. “That does not make it any easier. Or less... shameful.”

“You allow your own feelings too much weight here. No one is judging you for what they did except you. The rest of us understand the fault is with the man who perverted his own desires and not the child made the victim of them.”

“Don't call me that. Ever.”

Azeem should have guarded his words more carefully. He had upset the younger man by the use of the word friend, and this was much worse a choice. “I merely wanted you to understand that it is not you who is to blame, nor do we see you as that person. I cannot take that pain from you, though were it within my power or your brother's, we would gladly do so.”

Will turned to face the wall. “I'm tired. Leave me alone.”

“I hope someday you will see that it is not as devastating as you think to share with anyone and that people can still care about you despite these secrets you try to hide.”

“Go away.”

Marian slipped into the room, knowing that its occupant would not be the only one upset with her if they knew she was here. She did not know what else to do, though. Robin was greatly distressed, blaming himself for every wrong in his brother's life, and she had not thought he would rest at all. She wasn't sure her mother's old trick with the humming would work, but eventually he stopped pacing and managed to sit still long enough for the fatigue to catch up to him.

She had seen Azeem before his prayers, and he looked quite upset as well.

She hoped this did not mean that they were concealing something about Will's condition from her and that he was doing worse. He should be better, since Robin had said he was awake, but something was still wrong.

“You know your skirts make more noise than you think,” Will said, and she jumped, putting a hand on her chest and shaking her head at her foolishness. “I suppose I should be thanking you for my current lodgings.”

“I did not come for that.”

“If you wanted to know how I am, I think Robin or the Moor could have told you.”

“No, I didn't come because of that,” she said. “I do not know if you know this—”

“He never left my side. Yes, I know,” Will sat up, leaning against the wall for support. “I suppose you think I should be glad of it, but I'm not.”

“A rather selfish part of me is glad he has been so preoccupied with you,” she admitted, seeing him frown. “It was... rather unpleasant for me when Nottingham had me in that tower. He had the bishop perform a farce of a wedding ceremony and was quite intent on... having a wedding night then and there.”

Will stared at her. “I... I don't think you want to be telling me this.”

She shook her head. “I cannot go around denying it, for more than Robin and I know what happened there, but as I am both hopeful and dreading that your brother will ask me to marry him, I may yet become your sister, and you... you would know of it eventually.”

“You don't have to tell me. I'm not really his brother, not in a way that matters.”

“Don't say that. To Robin, you mean a great deal, and it would like to break him that he did so much harm to you without knowing it,” she said. She gestured to the bed by Will's legs. “May I?”

“It's your house.”

“And your bed. I could stand,” she said, though she took the place he'd offered her, needing it for a moment. “I cannot pretend that I do not feel... ashamed of what happened there, though I also had not meant to tell you that.”

“You didn't?”

She shook her head. “While I wanted to see your condition for myself as both Robin and Azeem seemed upset despite you waking, I had... Duncan told me something before he died, and I believe you were the one that demanded silence of him, a silence he could not keep, the guilt weighed upon him too much.”

Will frowned. “The idiot did ask me to forgive him, but I was too angry, and it didn't even matter. I just wanted to make sure he didn't say anything to Robin. I thought he had, that was why Robin apologized to me, but he hadn't.”

“I fear he may still have done you the same kind of harm Robin did,” Marian said. “He admitted to me he burned letters to your father, Lord Locksley. About your birth and later when you were ill and she asked for help. He believed your mother had lied and never let Lord Locksley see the letters.”

Will swore. “I think if he wasn't dead, I'd be tempted to make him that way. Bastard. If I hadn't been sick, she would never have—Damn it. The fever is gone. I don't know why I'm still talking like it isn't.”

Marian reached over and touched his hand. “I think, if what I just heard you say part of is true, she loved you a great deal, and that is probably what you should remember of her when you think about her. We are not all so fortunate.”

“I don't know that she did. If I were her, I would have hated me. Her life was hell because she had me, and it wasn't a secret.”

“Love seems worth the risk.”

“If you and my brother are... intimate, that is not something I wish to know.”

She flushed red. “No, that's not at all what I was saying. I just... your mother loved your father, and she did that knowing the possible outcomes and consequences. She felt that love was worth it. In the end, I suppose it wasn't, though Lord Locksley was one of the better men I knew, and I see many of his admirable qualities in his son now that he has grown and changed. I would like to see them in you as well.”

Will laughed. “I doubt that very much.”

“Nevertheless, I am glad you recovered and I also have a chance to know more of you than those bitter exchanges at the camp. Oh, and little Rosie has been asking everywhere for you. 'Up, up,' she says. I fear we all thought she'd be bad for your recovery, climbing on you as she does.”

He looked down at his front. “Azeem says they may take longer to heal because of the infection. They're still sore.”

“You sound much better than you did the last time I saw you, though,” she said. “You weren't truly awake then, though we thought for a time you were. You even insulted Robin, and he was so sure... but then you rolled over and his face fell. It was almost funny and yet... heartbreaking.”

“It would be better for him if he did not care. I don't know that I can ever be what he wants. I don't know how to forgive anyone.”

“Perhaps you will learn. You might try and start with yourself.”

“Excuse me?”

“I was standing next to Nottingham when he called you a turncoat,” she said. “I know, from what everyone has said, that was not true, but with your anger, you are likely confused about that and with the way that crowd turned against you... you must feel that he was right.”

“I have wanted to kill Robin several times.”

“You never did.”

“Don't make me a hero. You'll only disappoint yourself.”

She shook her head. “I am not looking for a hero, only the good man that child sees in you, and I think he exists and deserves your forgiveness. Now, I should go, and you should rest. Try not to get too irritated with your brother, as difficult a task as that seems to be sometimes.”

“You sure you want to marry him?”

She smiled. “You tempt me to tease you.”

“I think you flatter yourself now,” Will told her. “I'm not interested in you. You might have been one of the prettiest women there that night, and your dress was certainly the fanciest, but I don't exactly like nobles, so it would never have worked between us.”

“What a pity. I would so have enjoyed letting your brother think you might steal me away.”

He snorted. “I'm not sure if that's a cruel thing to say or a stupid one. For someone who claims to want us to reconcile, you would not be helping by causing a division between us, though... his reaction might be amusing all the same.”

“Well, perhaps when you've rested and thought it over, we may yet agree to tease him together. Until then, sleep well, Will Scarlett.”

Chapter Text

“When I was younger, I used to climb these walls and imagine being carried very far away from here,” Marian said, and Will looked over at her. She gave him a warm smile. “I think that thought is not far from your mind today.”

Will grimaced. Healing would take time, the Moor kept telling him, and Robin would come and try to talk to him, but if things were difficult before, when the man didn't know about their shared blood, they were ten times worse now, when he did. Will did not want pity or false words, and yet all his brother seemed to do when they were in the same room was attempt to apologize.

There were no apologies for the things Will had seen or done. He knew that. Not that he would have apologized for most of the men he'd killed—they'd deserved worse—but he knew he could not change their deaths or make up for the thefts. He supposed the one thing he could never atone for was how his mother had died, taking the blame for his actions.

“You would leave if they would let you.”

“It is stifling here, and he makes it worse,” Will said. “The few men from Sherwood that are left either tell me that I should be grateful. That I should accept his apologies and celebrate the fact that I'm a noble. It doesn't work like that.”

“No, it does not,” she said, and he frowned. “Tell me, are you unaware of the rumors that I am, in fact, King Richard's illegitimate daughter by his mistress?”

Will had been. He'd never heard anything like that, though it might do a lot to explain why Nottingham thought he could bypass the prince to take the throne from Richard. Except for one thing...

“Illegitimate children get nothing. We're just bastards.”

“Not quite how I would put it, but that remains the unfortunate truth of a great many things. Children born out of wedlock are seen to have no rights at all, and even those acknowledged by their parents are seldom seen as the same as those who are born within the bonds of marriage. Robin may acknowledge you as his brother and even intend to name you his heir, but to many others, that line would be broken, corrupted...”

“Thank you.”

She winced. “I do not see it that way, nor does Robin, but at court, it would be a different thing. You would find life there unpleasant, I would think, and I'm not so sure Robin understands how difficult it would be for either of you. Still, it is not like one must live at court, though some do, and here in the shire you and Robin are heroes.”

“No, he's the hero. I'm the turncoat.”

She drew in a breath and let it out. “Yes, I'm sure some will make their judgment based on what Nottingham said, but that man did not know you. He was a devil worshiper and a traitor himself. His word means nothing, and were you not whipped before that battle, I think all would know that.”

Will turned back to the distance, not wanting to think about that. The dungeons would always haunt his dreams, and he could barely face the memories when awake.

“Try to remember that Robin was still very much a spoiled boy when he went away to war, and while those those years did change him, he still sometimes sees the world as he did back then, unchanged and unspoiled, and it is when he fails to understand those changes that he is the most disappointed... and the most foolish. He still believes he can change everything with only his will, and he has not been entirely wrong, but while he is endlessly optimistic, you are so far from that you see only the bad. Both exist in this world. Neither of you is more right than the other—and perhaps that is the true advantage that you would share if only you'd let it. You would balance each other out.”

“Robin has Azeem to caution him.”

“Azeem is a mentor to you both,” Marian disagreed. “In some ways, I feel he fulfills the role of father figure rather than brother or friend. He is older, but that is not the only reason it seems so. I admit I do not know him as well as I do others, nor do I know any of them well at all, but I think he watches you with a father's sort of pride... and Robin with a father's exasperation.”

Will almost wanted to smile at that, but the idea of the Moor—or anyone—seeing him as some kind of son was unsettling, and he was tempted to jump down from the wall, as much as he knew that was stupid and would hurt like hell, especially since his body was still sore from his last injuries.

“I should get back,” she said, “A lady's duties are never done, even if they may seem so trifling. Still, someone must see to it that the evening meal is ready. It... I think we would all like it if you were to join us, but do not feel that you must for anyone else's sake.”

He nodded, letting her leave, grateful to be alone again.

“I do hope you are not avoiding the care these wounds need. Though healing has begun, it is nowhere near finished.”

Will shook his head. It wasn't that he wanted to be sick forever. He hadn't really wanted to live through that, but since he had, he just wanted to be over it. He wanted everything to stop hurting. He wanted to feel like he could breathe without a constant reminder of that dungeon.

“Are you able to remove your shirt on your own?”

Will grimaced. He was still struggling with that. The wounds might seem calm half the time, and then they'd flare up bad whenever he had to undress, and to his frustration and embarrassment, no one was willing to let him wear the same clothes past a day. That was the Moor's doing, he knew, since the bed linens and bandages were changed on his orders, too.

“I can assist you.”

Will nodded, lifting up his arms until he couldn't any more because of the pain. Azeem took the shirt off and set it to the side. He gave the wounds an appraising look, and from what Will could tell, the man was not happy with what he saw.

“Bad again?”

“I fear perhaps some of these needed more than I knew to do,” Azeem admitted. “If I had found a way to close them—perhaps if I had seared them with fire—”

“Are you insane? I'd never have let you do that, even if it supposedly would have helped.”

“It might have. I am not certain,” Azeem said. He shook his head. “These will scar. That I know you knew, but I fear they will look much as they do now for the rest of your life.”

“The color should fade,” Will said. That had happened with the ones Flavell made on his legs. They were still as hideous as when they were made, but they almost came close to the color of his own skin now instead of the deep red they'd been in the beginning. “And it's not like anyone needs see them.”

“Some will.”

“Not many, as I don't share Robin's fondness for bathing in public nor am I looking to marry soon, if ever.”

Azeem studied him. “You would not take a bride?”

“Don't look at me like that. I'm not the same as those men. I've no interest in... in bedding another man. I just... I haven't seen anything that interests me in the girls around there. They're either too young or too old, married or close to it, and I don't fancy finding one that pleases me for a few minutes when I know the consequences of that.”

“You mean a child.”

Will grimaced, though it was true. “Love isn't enough. My parents are proof of that, and if I did that with someone, I know it wouldn't be love motivating me. And why the hell am I telling you any of this? You're not my father. You're not...”

“Not what?”

“A friend,” Will finished, feeling a bit sick at his own words. He didn't want a father, never would, not after what his had done, and even if he did, he kind of had John for that. He didn't want a brother, and he didn't want friends.

“I would disagree with that, but as I know you have little experience with the concept, I'd like to think it is more your own prejudice talking. You fear an offer of friendship because those you have known most of your life did not behave honorably. Like the apothecary who tried to exploit your arrangement with him and your injuries for his own unwholesome pleasure. You do not know what it would be like were you to have genuine friends as you do not recognize them for what they are.”

Will sighed. “I don't want another lecture, Moor. I'm tired, these damned things hurt, and if one more person tells me what to feel, I'm going to stab them.”

“I am not telling you what to feel. I merely wish I could enlighten you as to what true friendship is. I like to consider myself your friend, as are John and Fanny and others as well. You have more than you know.”

Will didn't want to talk about this, either. “Isn't there something in your infinite bits of wisdom about the value of silence?”

“Indeed,” Azeem said with a smile.


Will forced a smile, though bending to pick up Rosie was not going to happen. He hurt too much for that. His whole body was aching. He knew he shouldn't hold her at all, since that would put her right against the parts of him that were still healing, but he'd never known Rosie to accept being denied what she wanted.

Wulf picked his sister up and handed her to him. Will stared at him for a second. The boy flushed red. “You're gonna take her, right? She wants you.”

“Aye, laddie, she's given us a bit of a time since you've been sick, and even taking her to the village with us while we were working didn't distract her much,” John told him. “Our village is getting back where it used to be.”

Will accepted Rosie, knowing that he'd have to put her down before too long. This would hurt. “You fixing to live there again?”

“Both Robin and Marian seem to think that with Nottingham's death, the prices on our head are as good as gone,” John said, and Will looked at him, shaking his head. They couldn't assume that, even if he'd told Robin that the other men might be able to go home.

“You have a plan if they're not?”

“Not as yet, but we'll have to see what happens and if someone will appoint a new sheriff to the area. Locksley's the biggest landholder around, assuming he can reclaim his father's lands, so it could be him, if he's pardoned himself. We don't know if it'll be him or someone else. Whoever it is will be deciding on that and if we're to be pardoned.”

Will reached up to stop Rosie from grabbing his hair. “Locksley will pardon you, that's true, but we don't know that he'll be sheriff. With our luck and the prince still out there, we'll get someone else in Nottingham's place who's just as bad if not worse.”

“Don't say that,” Fanny told him. “There's no call for it.”

“You'd have to ask Locksley or Marian if they can even do that or if they have to have an heir from Nottingham's family do it,” John said. “Could be some time before there's a new sheriff if that's the case.”

“I am not dragging that woman back here,” Will said. “We don't know if she was really pregnant, and even if she was, we can't prove it was Nottingham's son. Not to mention that bastards don't inherit anything.”

“Will,” Fanny said with a wince, and he shook his head.

“I don't want Locksley's land or money, so it's nothing to me. I never wanted it, and even if I did, Robin would have gotten it as the firstborn.”

“Still, we shouldn't have to worry about the sheriff or any prices on anyone's head for a while,” John said. “We'll rebuild here, we'll rebuild Sherwood, and we'll have both in case we need it.”

Will supposed that was as good an answer as any. At least they weren't all fooled into thinking that it was all over and life would be perfect now. They couldn't afford to believe that all their troubles were behind them, even if Nottingham was dead.

“Where do you think you'll go?” Wulf asked, and Will frowned at him. “Well, you never really settled in town before, but if the sheriff's dead, you could, right?”

“What is it to you?”

“Oh, I suspect someone would rather you were close to distract that one,” Fanny said with a smile. “Though he has been worried about you since you took sick.”

That did not sound like Wulf. “Oh, has he now?”

Wulf shrugged. “I just didn't want Rosie's favorite person to die. She's too young to understand it, and she'd make us all miserable looking for you.”

“And someone has been trying to find some way of apologizing to you for days now,” John said, and Will turned to stare at him that time. “Aye, he has. Been pestering me while we work. Doesn't know how to start or say it since he almost got you killed back there.”

“I didn't think you were at all sorry about that,” Will told him, seeing as Wulf had always hated him and still thought he was a traitor. “And if you're only sorry because I happen to share blood with the man you love so much—Locksley—then you can save it. That's no reason to care about anyone.”


“I don't want apologies because people think they have to give them, and certainly not because Locksley and I share a father. That doesn't mean half as much as everyone seems to think it does.”

“Only because it was kept a secret,” Robin said as he approached them. “I assure you, had I known sooner, things would have been much different.”

“You don't know that,” Will said, and despite the child in his arms, he left as soon as he said it. Robin swore, going after his brother. He couldn't help the frustration. He was tired of his brother avoiding him. They had barely had a civil word since Will woke, and he didn't like this at all.

“Don't do this,” Robin said as he rushed to catch up to him. “You're still hurting, and you're in no state to be running.”

“I am not running,” Will said. “I'm walking. I can leave, can't I? Unless you're going to lock me up next, I am free to go as I please.”

Robin shook his head. “I'm not trying to lock you up. I'm trying to have to a conversation, and I wish you would stop avoiding me every time that I try. We're not enemies. We never were, but we both fell into the trap of believing that. I've let go of all of that, and I didn't need you to tell me that you are my brother to do it. I wish you could once see past that to understand that I'm trying and I've changed and that to me, you do matter.”

“Why must we have this same conversation every time?” Will countered. “Isn't is as tiresome for you as it is for me?”

“It's only tiresome because neither of us is willing to concede our position,” Robin disagreed. “We're both stubborn men, and neither of us wants to admit we're wrong, but we both have been, and we both will be again. You say that the blood we share does not matter, but you have hated me for it almost all your life. Now you've added to that because I know things you would rather no one knows, painful things from the past I forced on you by my anger toward your mother. And I want to shake you, to make you understand that I have changed, that if I could only have known, I would have been different. If I could have stopped any of those moments, I would have. I know it's difficult to believe since I did hand you over because of my pride and I shot you to quell your rebellion, but had I known... No. I would not have done it. Even before I knew, I was chastised by Azeem for my actions, and he was right to do so. I have apologized, and I know that is not enough. Yet I cannot do more if you will not let me.”

“And what would you like me to do? Tell you I have forgotten it all and can feel as though none of it occurred? I have tried to find something that makes that possible, but it does not exist. At best, alcohol dulls it for a few hours and possibly a restful sleep, but in the morning it is back again.”

Robin winced. “I would like for you to give me a chance to prove that this is no mere display based on your revelation, to have the moments we might have shared were we not parted by my stupidity, and to let go of some of that hate. I do not deny I deserved it, and that at times I will again, but can you not try? If we were the same strangers we once were, and I had not come to start a war with Nottingham over our father's murder, could we have had any kind of chance?”

Will looked away, and the child in his arms put her hands on his face. “Up sad.”

“Stop it, Rosie.”

“Up feel better,” she said and gave him a kiss right on his nose that had Robin laughing despite everything else.

“I hope one day I am as good with children as you are with her,” Robin said, and Will turned back to him with a frown. “Oh, I can tease Wulf, but he's grown. I am... I may yet... that is... Marian and I...”

“You want to marry her, idiot. Spit it out,” Will said. “And it scares you, is that it?”

“Yes, actually. I never before considered a lifetime with a woman, or how I might be raising a family... If our relationship is any indication, I'll do very poorly indeed.”

Will sighed. “I am not here for you to practice when it comes to parenting. We're brothers, remember?”

“I know. You are my heir, though.”

“Oh, hell.”

Robin couldn't help the smile. “It's not just how these things work in primogeniture. I would like to have you there. I want so much to know the brother I lost due to my stupidity. I want to have a chance to rebuild not just our homes but our family. I want you to have so many of the things you were denied as a child. I want... I want my brother.”

Will shook his head. “It's not that simple. And these things you offer... they don't—I am not one for fancy dress or nobility. I don't know etiquette or even... I can't read. I don't go to church, and I can't hardly sleep in a bed it feels so strange. You offer things you don't understand. That is why we keep fighting. We are too different. Accept it and let us both go our own ways to spare more misunderstandings and pain, since everything I do seems to cause that for you.”

“No, not everything,” Robin disagreed. Almost to prove his point, Rosie snuggled herself up against Will's chest and started sucking her thumb as she closed her eyes. “I am not asking you to be a noble. I am asking you to give us both a chance to be something more than strangers. That is not too much, is it?”

“You make it sound simple.”

“Because you're making it more complicated than it has to be. Let me tell you some of my stories from childhood, and you can tell me how much of a fool I was and am. Let me tell you of my stupid fears about being a father and how I don't even know how to ask Marian despite all we have shared. Let us conspire together to irritate Azeem or John. You know Harold's back to being completely lazy. He's been ordering Marian's servants about. He was injured, but he always makes more of it than it is, so everyone thinks they have to be kind to him when he's unreasonable, but I have a feeling you'd know just how to get him to reveal to everyone that he's faking it, which Azeem knows but has been unable to prove.”

“That is what you want from me?”

No, if Robin was honest, he wanted a lot more, but those were the things he'd settle for, at least for now. “Yes.”

“Then let's give this back to her mother, as I know just what to do about Harold.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this?”

“You asked for my help,” Will muttered. “Stop doubting me already.”

Robin winced. He didn't want it to sound like that was what he was doing. He didn't want to seem ungrateful for Will's help or imply that he was doing the wrong thing. “I just want to be sure you're up to this. You know you're still healing.”

“You did the hard work. I just have to deliver on it, and that I am still quite capable of doing despite my injuries. I am also still the quieter of the two of us. I don't know what it is about your boots, but they scuff the floors so loudly I don't know how you don't wake the entire castle with your nightly pacing.”

Robin looked at him. “Clearly they woke you.”

Will shrugged. “You have been watching over me at night since I forced you away during the day, and I don't sleep well, as everyone now knows.”
Robin nodded, still uncomfortable.

“I'll be fine. I'll be back in less than a minute. Stop worrying. The window is better than the door. It's less likely to wake him, and we don't want him waking before his surprise is delivered. Just stay put. Trust me.”

“I do,” Robin assured him. Will looked at him in disbelief. “Worrying about you is not the same as thinking you incapable, nor is there anyone I should rather have at my side in battle.”

“Don't think I won't tell the Moor that,” Will said, smirking as he headed out the window. Robin refused to watch him on that precariously small ledge, knowing he'd hate every second of it. He would be sure Will would die, and he'd lose his brother, and he would panic. He could not do that.

So he waited, impatiently pacing the hall until Will returned, handing him the empty jar with a grin. Robin was so relieved he pulled his brother into his arms as Will grumbled about overaffectionate idiots.

“I kept thinking you'd fall. That you hadn't recovered enough, and that I'd let you do it so I could show you I trusted you but ended up getting you killed, and I couldn't live with that. I know it's hard for you to believe, but I could not accept your loss, not now, brother.”

Will grimaced. “Stop being so... you.”

Robin stared at him, in the end having no recourse but to laugh. Will hit him on the arm.

“Shh. You'll wake the whole castle, and we're counting on Harold for that.”

Robin frowned, not sure how to react to that, but then he heard a scream he would almost have mistaken for a woman's had it not come from the door before them. More screams followed as doors all along the hall opened, bewildered occupants looking around for the source of distress. Several of them came towards Will and Robin as his brother leaned into his shoulder, shaking hard with laughter.

A moment later, everyone had their explanation as Harold's door opened and he danced out into the hallway, screaming and hitting himself all over as he jumped about.

“Get them off me. Get them off.”

“There's nothing on you, you daft bugger,” John said. “What business have you waking the whole house like this?”

Harold stopped, looking at them all in turn. “There were... spiders. I know there were. I felt them. I...”

“Oh, dear,” Robin said, fighting laughter as he saw the man return to dusting himself off. “It would seem that you had rather a poor dream, Harold, but there is hope yet. For just today that leg pained you so much you could not get out of bed. Now it would seem you can not only stand and walk but also dance.”

“Aye, 'twas a fine bit of a jig,” John agreed, smiling at Fanny, who was already laughing, holding onto Wulf. Marian seemed a little less than amused, but Azeem was grinning, so Robin took it as a true victory.

Harold looked around at them. “No, I tell you. I'm hurt. I am so very hurt I can't stand. It was just the dream that made me think I could—Ahh!”

Will had tossed another spider onto the man's doublet, and his dance began anew, with him shrieking and rushing down the hallway.

Marian put her hands on her hips. “I take it this was all your doing?”

Robin pointed to his brother. “He was the one who delivered the spiders.”

“Yeah, but you were the one to gather them into the jar.”

“It was your idea.”

“You wanted to prove he was lying about his injuries.”

“You were the one who chose a way that would wake the whole castle.”

“You almost did it yourself before Harold did.”

“Enough,” Marian called out, holding up her hands. “We are all tired, we all have much to do, and while it is somewhat amusing to see Harold get his due as well as somewhat pleasing to see you two almost getting along, most of us were sleeping.”

“I'll drink to that,” Robin said, and Will nodded, letting him lead him down the hall.

“I think anyone should fear the two of you actually getting along,” Fanny observed at breakfast. “'Tis a dangerous thing indeed.”

Will shook his head. “We're not getting along.”

Fanny laughed at that, since they'd all seen the proof of that not just in Harold's comeuppance but also in the time since, when Robin and his brother were often to be found deep in their own private counsel with few harsh words exchanged between the two of them. Will even seemed to smile at some things his brother said and tolerated Robin's affectionate gestures much better than before.

She supposed it helped that they were no longer idle, as Azeem had decreed Will fit to aid in the reconstruction work, albeit in a limited way, as he was supposed to rest often. She knew he wasn't, but at least here he was not trapped in a castle he felt uncomfortable in and Robin could watch over him while not forcing them to be in the same space.

“You were joking with each other but two minutes past.”

“Rosie gives me kisses. Would you say I was to marry her now?”

Fanny choked, not sure how to respond to that. Oh, she knew that it was not so uncommon for an older man to marry a much younger woman, and she also knew her daughter had a blind adoration for Will, but the idea of her wee one wedding this man was hard to swallow.

“Maybe we should go back to stopping people on the roads,” Wulf suggested. “We could find Will a bride that way, since he doesn't like the women around here.”

Will frowned. “Who the hell told you that?”

“She did,” Wulf said, betraying Fanny before taking off laughing, running to his father's side. Oh, that boy would be in for it later.

“You told him that, did you?”

“Love, it's not much of a secret you've not found someone here. There's been a few interested before the truth was known, and more since then, but you've not given them more than a civil greeting, if that.”

“I'm not interested in any woman who sees me only as a way into a noble house,” Will muttered, shaking his head. “Even if Robin carries through with his current foolish notion of naming me his heir, that won't last. Soon as he marries and has a child of his own, I'm nothing more than a poor relation. Again.”

Fanny nodded. She could see that. She would not want to see Will with anyone who was only after him for his brother. Many a woman in the camp had set her eye on Robin only to find herself disappointed when Marian showed them all where his affections lay, and to have them turn that to Will because he was now known as Locksley's brother and heir was wrong and showed their intentions far from pure. True, few women could expect affection to be the reason they wed instead of money, but Will had been harmed enough in his short life to where he would never allow anyone to use him again, even if it was for the relatively understandable reason of survival.

“I hope someday you'll be as happy as me and John,” Fanny told him, and Will snorted, laughing. “Oi. None of that now. I'm very pleased with my man and he with me.”

“I am never having eight children, that's for damned sure,” Will said. He pushed his plate aside. “I'd better get started on that house. We have too many left here in the village.”

“You think we'll have to retreat to Sherwood?”

“I hope not, but if we do, I'd rather have somewhere to go, and right now, there is nothing left in the forest.”

Fanny nodded. “Perhaps you should suggest to your brother that you move on. He won't like it, as you'll be far from Marian and no longer in a proper bed at night, but you are healing, and you may yet need Sherwood.”

Will nodded. “I'll talk to him.”

“There you are,” Robin said, coming away from the hut to join his brother. “I wasn't going to interrupt you as nothing is finer than Fanny's food, but I would have your counsel. Azeem has more than once observed that we have very little left to build here, twice this morning alone, and I think he feels we should be focusing on another village.”

“Fanny said Sherwood, and I don't think I disagree,” Will said, surprising Robin as he did. “We still have no guarantee of pardon. It is nice to think that we are free, but we assume too much in that, and you know it.”

Robin nodded. “Agreed. We cannot afford to think that everything is done with Nottingham. We do not know that I will get a pardon or that the Locksley lands will be restored. We do not know who the next sheriff will be. We have not had any word from King Richard or any loyal to him, and we would be fools to think that another in Nottingham's place might not do the same to us with those charges against us.”

“Then you will move to Sherwood?”


Will frowned. “Soon? Why not... now? The building here is well in hand, and you have several capable men you could leave in charge in your absence.”

“I know, but...” Robin sighed, feeling foolish and knowing that would only increase if he spoke to his brother of the things on his mind. “Come, walk with me. I would have your counsel.”

“I think you'd be better off with the Moor.”

“He's had his say,” Robin said, still discomforted by the man's words. He made it seem so simple, and that knowing smile vexed Robin. He'd barely gotten any work done since his conversation with Azeem. “I'd like to know your thoughts. And if we are to work in Sherwood, I think we might consider lessons on riding. That will make the journey there and back less difficult, as I still think we should make sure you sleep in a proper bed.”

Will shook his head. “I know I told you I find that strange. I have barely known one in all my years, and if we are to go into the forest with enough men to work on the shelters, we'd be taking a wagon anyway. There's no need for me to ride besides your fantasies.”

“It's not just about my fantasies. You'd be even more dangerous with skill in riding.”

Will took out one of his knives. “I'm plenty dangerous, but mostly within close range, and that does not include riding.”

“It could counter that weakness.”

“You just want to do it because you have dreams of teaching me to ride.”

“I'd let Azeem do it if that is your objection.”

Will sighed. “I think you're doing this now to avoid what's really bothering you, and I don't want to be forced into agreeing to ride a damned horse because you're being a coward. What is it you're having trouble saying?”

Robin drew in a breath and let it out. “It's this business with the pardons.”

“I thought that would be settled with us rebuilding Sherwood in case it's needed.”

“If that were the only part of the problem, it would be fine,” Robin said. “It's... it's Marian.”

Will stared at him. “What, you think she won't accept you with a price on your head? She was willing to visit you when you were wanted. She has given you and all your men shelter. I don't think she cares about that.”

Robin shook his head. “How do I ask her to marry me with such a price still upon my head? It would be one thing to coax her into my bed as I might have done other women in the past—”

“Might have done? I heard plenty of tales from the servants at her hall of your antics with her brother,” Will said. “Some even thought that I would feel the same and want to join them in their beds. That is supposedly a trait of being a Locksley.”

“Is it now?” Robin asked, not liking that part of his reputation, though he could hardly deny that he had managed some seductions with the aid of mistletoe as he'd told Azeem.

Will shrugged. “I'm not a Locksley, though, as I reminded them all.”


“I was born a Scarlocke, have become a Scarlett,” Will said. “I am not interested in adding a third name, even if I should have been that once.”

“You are still my brother.”

“That is not dependent on a name.”

Robin nodded. Of course not. He had thought Peter as good as one despite their different parents, and there was Azeem, who would be disqualified on the basis of his skin alone.

“It is one thing to spend a night with a woman,” Robin said. “It was... the impulse of a young boy who wanted nothing more than the physical comfort such an interlude brings. I did not love them, nor did they love me, but for that time we spent, our mutual attraction was enough.”

“Not for me. I think I will be sick if you keep on like this.”

“Very funny.”

“I've no interest in hearing of your exploits. Brother or not, I should rather never picture you naked for any reason.”

Robin supposed that was fair. He didn't want to see his brother naked, either. “Marian is not like that. Not like the foolish things I did in my youth. I am no longer that man. I would do this right.”

Will nodded, and Robin hoped that wasn't just his brother humoring him. “And this is why you don't want to ask her for her hand?”

“It is. I have never been anything more to a woman than a night's pleasure, if that, for while I know I ensured my own, I'm not so sure about hers—”

“Again, I don't need to hear that about you, ever.”

“—but more than that, I wish to know that I am not going to cause her more harm. I do not think it was just because of her relation to Richard that Nottingham chose her, or even her beauty. I do not doubt or discount either of those things, but if he knew of our affection, as I believe he did, then it was also revenge against me.”

“You flatter yourself too much, as usual.”

“That may be, but were she to marry me, and there was to be any kind of reprisal, it would come at her, especially if we were to retreat to Sherwood.”

“Robin, if she's willing to marry you at all, it is not for money or comfort,” Will told him, sounding very amused. “Just ask her to come with you if anything happens.”

“It's not that simple.”

“If it isn't, then perhaps your love for each other is not what you think it is,” Will said. “A woman who can't accept your lifestyle and live as you must live as Fanny did John's does not love you as much as she thinks she does. And if you doubt that she will so much, you do not love her as much as you think you do.”

Robin frowned. “You sound almost like Azeem.”

“Is that what he said?”

“No, he told me to stop being a fool and ask. Sounded a lot like you when he did.”

Will laughed.

Chapter Text

“I see why you wanted his help so badly the last time,” Robin observed to John, looking up at his brother in the trees. Will seemed almost at home in them, moving about with more ease than many of the men. He didn't seem bothered when he wasn't climbing by the ropes or ladders, either.

“He's light on his feet in more than once sense of the word, but I suspect he had to climb many a tree to survive in the past,” John agreed. “And he was the one to hang many of those wind chimes to ward off the guards.”

“I think things are progressing well here,” Robin said. He was pleased by how well rebuilding was going everywhere. The village once ruined and abandoned by everyone in Sherwood stood proud and tall again, and once more, they were turning the forest into a home.

“Aye, they are,” John said. He sounded proud as well, though part of that had to do with his own son bounding about the trees as though he had never been strung up, never suffered a day. “It helps we know what didn't work last time.”

“We'll still be vulnerable to fire,” Robin said. “Though I don't know what we can do about that. Any stone structure here would be noticed, and we have not the resources for such a building anyway.”

John nodded. “This place is not meant to last, though it is a good shelter when we need it. Hopefully it won't be necessary again, but we won't know until the king returns or a new sheriff is appointed.”

Robin looked up at his brother, who seemed to be teasing Wulf as he climbed. “I do not want to fail again.”

John put a hand on his shoulder. “One thing you learn as all men do—we all fail. As husbands, fathers, farmers... These things happen. We can't always avoid them. We just have to learn from them. I've got Fanny to tell me when I'm being bull-headed and wrong, and I can see it sometimes when I'm with my children. And let me tell you, the first time I tried growing things, it was not a fine sight. Tales of my first mead are still sources of great laughter.”

“Yes, but did you get men killed?”

John looked at his hands. “You think that I always knew my own strength? No, laddie. I didn't. And I did harm. I won't deny that. I did learn, though. I learned now not to cause that same pain. You didn't kill those men, the armies did, and while some might tell you that they'd never have come if not for that, don't think we'd all have survived the winter anyway. We had little food, little way of getting money. Few of us dared show our faces in town. Our lives were looking to be short even as good a hiding place as this has been for us.”

“I hope you are not just telling me that for my own benefit.”

“No, I am telling you because it's true. Believe me, if I'd blamed you for this, I'd have beaten you worse than I did Will when he came back from the dungeons.”

Robin grimaced. “I still regret that. I fear I will always be trying to make up for the foolish boy I was, the one that sent away my brother.”

“Perhaps that is what you need to do. Still, you've reached something with him, something few of us have, and you best not lose it. Worry about that more than anything else. What you did before was past. What you do now will decide what the rest of your relationship will be, and mistakes you make now will have even greater weight than those of before. Anyone who abuses a trust he's placed in them... Well, that person will be lucky not to lose something to one of his blades. It's not an easy path, but I know we both think it's worth it.”

Robin nodded. He did, though sometimes he worried it was only because he knew Will was his brother. He'd been encouraged to make peace before, to not appear a tyrant in his dealings with the younger man, but why had Will not mattered enough as a person for Robin to consider him before shooting him?

Pride, most likely. Robin was so sure he knew what was right for these people, and he would not let anyone tell him otherwise. Will had done that. It made him wonder, again, if he would have been a more balanced person if he had known his brother all along.

“We're all blessed, laddie,” John told him. “We lived through this. We gained things we might not have had—I don't know that I'd still have Fanny or my son if not for the Moor—and we rebuilt. You have your brother and Marian. You can restore your father's home and you have his honor back. We should never forget what we paid for it, but we have won nothing if we bury ourselves in guilt and fear now.”

“You're a wise man, John Little. Very wise.”

“How goes the building?” Marian asked, and Will looked over at her with a frown. “That poorly? Did something happen while you were out there today?”

Will shook his head. “No, it was fine.”

“Then why do you look at me in such a way? Have I done something or said something to offend you?” Marian asked. She wondered if he now judged her in some way over the actions of the sheriff. She had not meant to tell him of that moment, but she had, and it was true he would learn of it from someone, but now she felt deeply ashamed, and she did not like it.

“I was just wondering why you chose to speak to me instead of to my brother,” he told her. “Robin and John are supervising the building. I help, but they've limited what I'm supposed to do, and once I've been up a tree or two, I'm not supposed to do a damned thing. They send me off with the children, and while Wulf tries to pretend he doesn't find it funny, he laughs every time.”

Marian wanted to laugh herself, though she knew she should not. “Your brother takes the idea of protection quite seriously. He was determined to fulfill his promise to my brother Peter even though he had found his home burned and a price on his head.”

“I do not need such protection.”

“I did not think I did, either,” Marian said. She had fought well against Robin then, though he had been unarmed. She'd defended herself again when her home was invaded, but she had lost to overwhelming numbers and nearly ended up violated after a farce of a wedding ceremony.

“Would you say you need it now?” Will asked, and she frowned. “That is my point. While I know we need to be prepared for the possibility that we won't be pardoned, that we can't assume all the fighting is over and we are truly free, Nottingham is dead and no great threat has risen in his place. I am someone who has fought for himself all my life. I do not need to be coddled, and if I am to fall or to become ill again, it is my own body to worry over.”

Marian agreed with some of those sentiments, as any woman might, since men so often failed to see them as their own person and capable of tending to their own needs. Still, she did not think it was only that blocking Robin or any of the others from leaving Will in peace. “I wonder if they do not fear your spirits are still low.”

Will stared at her. “What?”

“Robin lamented multiple times that you had stated you no longer wished to live after revealing to him your shared parentage as well as enduring the torture of Nottingham's dungeons. He feared for you. While you now have improved in your physical health... is the same true of all of you?”

He gave her a dark look. “If you wanted to ask if Robin was done building the village in Sherwood so he'd stop being an ass and just ask you to marry him already, you should go and find him. I don't know why he's still dragging his feet. I told him and Azeem told him and I'm sure Fanny and John did, too, that he was being an idiot and should at least ask you. Leave me out of the middle of this nonsense. I want no part of it just because I'm his brother.”

“Will, that's not what I said at all, and it's not—”

“I don't need you fussing over me, either, and I'm not in the mood for games. You speak to Robin. I have nothing to say to any of you.”

She watched him go and winced, shaking her head. She had handled that poorly, thinking she was helping when she was not. She did not know his mind, though she'd felt his temper more than once in their short acquaintance. Perhaps it was best not to speak of the darkness that seemed to linger on his spirits. She knew she felt them sometimes herself, as though Nottingham had tainted her forever even if he had not actually succeeded in his attempt.

She did not want to see Will harmed, nor did she want to cause division between him and Robin. She had only tried to have a conversation with the man who, it did seem, would become her brother-in-law, and she seemed to have failed miserably.

“Oh, damn,” she muttered to herself, going to find Sarah.

“You seem agitated,” Azeem observed, and Will gave him a look when he did. He ignored the younger man's ire. Yes, his mood was rather obvious, and it was not altogether surprising, seeing as he still felt a bit confined. This rich man's house, while something he arguably should have been born to, was not the life he'd known, and he must feel it a constant reminder of things lost and not any comfort. They had not yet rebuilt Sherwood, and while Will had mostly recovered from his wounds, his health seemed to be keeping him from going far.

Or perhaps there was some other reason for that, and it was not about his body but his spirit. Could it even be that in honoring the request his brother had made, he felt he was obligated to stay and it was chafing at this wild spirit the young man possessed?

“It irritates me that everyone knows, and I am already tired of being the one they would send to intercede with him. I have heard all Robin's reasons for his hesitation in asking for the woman's hand, and it would seem that rebuilding Sherwood is his new excuse. That doesn't mean I can make it better. And who the hell cares about my spirits? That's none of their affair.”

Azeem knew it would do little good to convince the man that they cared about his well-being in all sense of the world. He was not ready or willing to hear that. “I think you have been idle for too long, my friend.”

Will snorted. “I spent all day up in the trees, and when I was not doing that, I was minding John and Fanny's brood, which is no idle task.”

“I mean you have yet to have a true outlet for this seemingly endless frustration you feel,” Azeem said. He turned behind him, looking for another man who was no doubt nearby. “Christian, I believe it is time you give your brother that which you held for a later time.”

Will frowned, pulling out his knives. “I have all of these back, even if he did think he could hide a few of them.”

“Not those,” Azeem said, turning to watch for Locksley. He came forward from John and the others, and when he did, Azeem gestured to his brother.

“Oh, please. Like this is going to help,” Will muttered, shaking his head. “I didn't want to—”

“I had thought you'd rather have some distance today, but Azeem is right that I meant to give this to you sooner,” Robin said, pulling the sword from its sheath. “This was our father's. Nottingham took it from him when he murdered him, and he nearly killed me with it. It is one of few things we have left of him. I have his medallion, and you should have this.”

Will stared at him. “I... You... No.”

“Please, Will. I cannot give you much, nor can I atone for the wrongs done by those carrying or loyal to the Locksley name, but this should be yours. I know you, with your skill at daggers, would seem to have little use for it, but then I also must admit I've seen you practice with Azeem, and you've got skill for this as well.”

“If you are to spar with me again, young Christian, you should have a proper weapon,” Azeem said, and Will shook his head again, though he took the sword from Locksley and the inevitable embrace as well. “Good. Now we can begin.”

“I hate you, Moor.”

“Good. Use that anger.”

“I fear I misspoke with your brother earlier.”

Robin did not look away from the spectacle that was his brother training with Azeem. The Moor was the more experienced fighter, and he was not recovering from a lingering infection, so it should have been a quick fight, but Will was still fast on his feet and devious, leaving the match a fine one to behold.

Azeem was right, as he had been when Robin first mentioned the idea of giving his brother his father's sword—it would be in the right hands. Robin had thought perhaps to claim it himself and give Will the medallion, but he knew how little Will cared for religion, and he was not entirely sure he could make Marian part with her access to his trinket, either.

“I fear that is too easy to do with Will. I am constantly saying the wrong thing.”

“This was the right thing,” Marian said, wrapping her arm around his and leaning her head against him. “He needed this. Not just because he has been so angry, but because it is one thing for you to claim him—it is another for all to see it in the weapon he wields.”

“That is what Azeem said.”

“He is a smart man,” Marian said. “A pity you do not listen more to his counsel.”

Robin laughed. “I suppose it is. He and Will do their best to temper me from my more impulsive nature, but too often I ignore them both and go my own way.”

“I agree.”

Robin looked back at his brother. “Do you think that, with as much wrong as I have done, I can ever do right? The sword must seem a poor trinket, and had Azeem not prodded him, I think he would have refused it as a paltry show of something that is not genuine in his eyes.”

“Only time can prove whether an emotion is genuine or not,” Marian said. “I fear too often us women learn that it is not.”

“I would not have that be true of us.”

“Is that why you hesitate?”

“It is not the only reason, though I was never much for settling before, or for any lasting attachment. Will is worse, since he won't let anyone close for any reason save those few that won't stop trying, and I fear any woman to claim his heart would have a very difficult time with him indeed.” Robin sighed, turning toward her. “I feel something for you, Marian. I would die for you, and I have almost done so. And yet when I think of asking you to give up all of this for a possible life in the woods, I cannot do it.”

“You assume you know my mind.”

“I don't. I just fear for what would happen if you did come with me.”

“If you are willing to die for me, I could not be safer than by your side, and if that is my choice to make, I would make it,” she told him. “Let us not delay out of fear. Or am I to believe that the man willing to die for me is unwilling to marry me?”

Robin shook his head. “There is nothing I want more.”

“That is not true. I think you would rather have your brother's forgiveness than my hand.”

Robin smiled. “Are you jealous?”

“Don't be absurd. I just happen to know your brother means a great deal to you, perhaps more than I ever could,” she said. “I can accept your brother's place in your life, What I want to know is if you can accept mine.”

“Gladly,” he told her, kissing her. Behind them, he heard cheering, and they broke apart to see the others clapping and smiling at them.

Marian flushed, embarrassed.

“About damned time, laddie,” John said. “Now when's the wedding?”

Chapter Text


The other woman looked up, and Fanny shifted the newest baby in her arms, trying to ease the weight of him again. She knew the lady was likely quite busy, between her usual duties, the extra guests—even if that number was much less now that many had gone to their own homes in the village or were working on Sherwood—but she did have a request all the same. She hoped that it wouldn't seem too much or anything, but she felt it was important all the same, and she kind of thought the lady herself would as well.

“Yes, Fanny? How can I help?”

“I was hoping you might have a bit of fabric, actually,” Fanny said, and the lady frowned. “You see, you've got your wedding coming as soon as the village in Sherwood is done and ready for a proper celebration.” Fanny didn't mention how John and Will kept saying it was for Robin's up and coming wedding night. “And I know you'll have a fine dress, and so Robin will also be dressed as well as a man ought, but I was thinking of Will.”


Fanny nodded. “I'd like to make him something new in the first place because he's been wearing borrowed garments since Sherwood burned and he was set free by Nottingham, but as he's Robin's brother, he should have something equally fine to go with the rest of you.”

“Of course,” Marian said. “And you are right that he should have had something sooner. I'm afraid everyone has been so distracted by the work on the homes that little thought has been given to much else besides food.”

Well, plenty thought was given to the business between Will and Robin and Robin and Marian, but Fanny chose not to say that. “I'd like to do him up in red, if you know where any is, for he is not likely to give up his scarlet, and I want to remake his doublet as well. He's had that ratty thing forever, and it's past time he replaced it.”

“I quite agree,” Marian said. “Would you mind if—that is, my lady-in-waiting Sarah is a most accomplished embroiderer. Would you be willing to have her assistance in this noble project?”

Fanny didn't know that she'd call it noble herself, but she nodded all the same. “Aye, that'd be just fine, my lady, if she's willing. I could use the help, and I want Will to have something truly special this time around.”

“As do I,” Marian said. “It is past time he had something that reflected both sides of him—the scarlet one, as you mentioned, but also the Locksley one. Those red animals adorning his doublet are not enough.”

“I've never seen the Locksely crest or coat of arms, only those that are a part of the sword and medallion that were Robin's father's.”

“Oh, dear,” Marian said. “I believe we should have something. Robin and Peter made drawings of their shields when they were younger. Now if I could only remember where they were put...”

Marian started walking away, muttering to herself, and Fanny just shook her head. She supposed everyone was a fool when they were in love, and nobles were no exception. She just had to make sure she got Will's new doublet done in time.

They couldn't have the brother of the groom showing up in rags, now could they?

“That is the third time today,” Will said, turning back to Robin with a frown. He did not like this. He didn't know what was wrong with the women, but he knew something was up, and he wanted it to stop.

“What's the third time?”

“Haven't you been listening?” Will asked, frustrated. Not as much as he might have been with his brother a few weeks ago, because back then he was sure Robin never heard a word he said, so blindly focused on his war as he was, but more recently that had seemed to change.

At least before Robin got to asking Marian to marry him. Since then, everything seemed to be about the wedding, with Robin forgetting what he was doing in the building and trying to do it twice or missing a step and nearly falling off the bridges between the houses in the trees. He was getting to be worse than Harold as distracted as he was.

“I'm sorry,” Robin said. “You asked me something before the women started giggling, and I got lost in a memory again. What was the problem?”

“The women are the problem,” Will said, not sure how his brother had missed that. “Every time you or I get near them, they start laughing.”

“Not in a malicious way. Listen to them. They're giggling. It's a fine thing to hear the women in good spirits. Everyone seems to be, and after so long of hard times and despair, I am glad they have found some happiness now. Things seem to really be improving. They have found the bright future they were hoping for. We all have.”

Will shook his head. “They're laughing at us, Robin. That giggling is about us.”

“Nonsense. Why would they be laughing about us? We have been busy at work for days now, getting Sherwood as ready as we can, and you still refuse to learn to ride, even from Azeem. I know you were impressive the other night, your skill with sword is impressive already thanks to your knowledge of daggers, but that is no laughing matter.”

“I know it's not and stop trying to flatter me,” Will said. He didn't see why they always had to talk about him as some great fighter when he wasn't. He had never done anything special or notable, had no distinction in battle. “That doesn't change anything. They are laughing at us.”

Robin frowned, looking like he didn't believe him, but when he turned back to look at the women, they smiled and waved at him before falling into more giggles. “Well, that is a bit... different. It reminds me of that night at the banquet for—”

“No. Remember, no stories about your past conquests with women,” Will said, cutting him off before he could start. He did not want to hear any of that. He wasn't sure why other men seemed to enjoy discussing their exploits with women, but he didn't. Not that he had that much to talk about at all, and he certainly wouldn't speak of the other times, the ones that came back to him in nightmares. “Save those for Bull.”

“Oh, come now. You must understand that my tales are in a league so far from Bull's,” Robin said, nudging him. “His are all about one particular thing—”

“And that is more than ever needs be said about that,” Will said. He didn't want to think about Bull or why he supposedly had his name. “I don't like this. Why are they whispering about us and giggling?”

“You could ask.”

Will glared at him. “Is it something you did, brother? Because if it is, I think I shall have to demonstrate some of that improved skill of mine, and won't Marian be disappointed when she learns she is to marry a eunuch?”

Robin shook his head. “You need not sharpen your blades just yet, Will. I have not done anything deserving of such a fate. Should I ever disappoint Marian, however, I would expect you to act swiftly.”

Will snorted. “Don't think I won't. I've been waiting for an excuse for a long time now, brother.”

“Have you now?”

“Are you two back to fighting again?” John asked, coming up to them. “Fanny'll be disappointed, and I daresay she won't be the only one. Seems that as much as everyone was waiting for this wedding to be announced, they've also been waiting for you two laddies to reconcile.”

“Robin thinks it's nothing that the women are laughing at us,” Will said, giving them another glance. Again came the giggles and the waves, and he shook his head in disgust.

John gave a booming laugh. “Is that what bothers you, laddie?”

Will eyed him with suspicion. “What do you know?”

John put a hand on his shoulder, turning him to face the women. “You know what happens as soon as a wedding gets announced? Aye, yes, it's then that other fair maidens begin their plans and schemes. You're their next target, laddie.”


“The womenfolk are the ones hunting now, and you are the fine stag they hope to catch.”

Will looked at Robin. He started laughing, and Will glared at him. That bastard had known all along what that giggling was about, and he hadn't said a word.

“I hate you all.”

“Well, that's done it now, hasn't it?”

“What are you grumping about now, woman?” John asked, shaking his head at his wife. He didn't know what was upsetting Fanny so bloody much. She'd asked for this, hadn't she? “You said that you wanted this work of yours to be a surprise, didn't you? And how can anyone hide anything from Will Scarlett, I'd like to know? He's the most suspicious bastard in the camp, and he would know if anyone tried to hide something from him, or did you miss his reaction to a few giggles?”

“No one did,” Fanny said, her lips fighting to turn up into a smile.

“And weren't you one of the ones that went about spreading the idea that perhaps as soon as his brother was good and settled, Will himself might go looking for a bride?” John pressed, knowing full well that she had. It wasn't like the women had taken him or any of the other men into their confidence about their hopes, even if it was obvious to everyone but Will, who'd only seen it as a source of irritation rather than knowing its true nature.

“I might have done, but on your recommendation, you big ox,” Fanny said. “You told me nothing would get him avoiding us like a few whispering women.”

John grunted. It wasn't quite fair, that was true, but Will was overwhelmed by the company of most females outside of Fanny, Rosie, and Marian, and it was not hard to think that more attention would make him nervous and more likely to be distant. That was what Fanny wanted while she worked on his new doublet. He would have known something was up the moment Fanny started spending her time at Marian's castle instead of accompanying them to Sherwood.

“It worked, didn't it?”

“Too well,” Fanny said. “Now no one knows where he is. He's gone and disappeared on us, and we don't even know if he'll be back by the bloody wedding.”

John nodded. He supposed that was also true. Will had always come and gone as he pleased, and he could hide for days if that was what he wanted. They'd never know where he was or where he'd been. The only consolation they had was that he wasn't likely to see Fanny's work before it was done and try to sabotage it.

“There you are, my friend.”

Trust the Moor to find him when no one else could, Will thought with contempt, not sure why he'd bothered to leave at all. He had wanted peace, since the wedding planning was irritating at best, and random people kept asking his opinions on things he knew nothing about and cared about even less. And then that business with the women...

He was not getting married just because Robin had. Will had years yet before he needed do that, and he didn't want any of those giggling idiots back at Marian's.

“You have been missed in your absence,” Azeem went on. “And not only for your skills at climbing or your ability to move in ways others seem incapable of that has been so indispensable to our efforts at rebuilding.”

“Oh? Is that so?”

“It is indeed,” Azeem said, smiling with a bit of amusement. “Your brother grows more and more agitated as the day of his nuptials draws near. It both excites and frightens him, and it is a shame you are missing the spectacle, for I fear you would enjoy it greatly.”

Will shook his head. “I've no desire to be around all that foolishness. Why must everyone lose their heads about a wedding anyhow?”

“It is, I think, a sign that our troubles are truly over, or so I believe many have come to see it,” Azeem said. “They believe no one will ever threaten what Nottingham has, not if Marian is Robin's bride and any future heir would be his. They believe the throne safe. Some also believe that Robin will be made the next sheriff.”

“He will be Lord Locksley if the land's restored,” Will said, not sure how to feel about that. It still made him bitter at times, though perhaps less than before. “And that will make him the next largest landholder with Nottingham dead.”

“Indeed. And perhaps that, too, weighs upon your brother's mind at this time.”

“As long as he hasn't stopped the rebuilding and run off from his bride, I see no reason to fret or to involve me.”

“You are still distressed by the idea that women may desire you?”

Will glared at him. “I am not a coward, if that is what you mean. I do not want a woman who wants me only because I am his brother, and I know of no woman who sees me as anything else or likes me for the man I in fact am. Fanny accepts me, and so does Marian, but those girls who supposedly wish to marry me? They are after the Locksley fortune, not me.”

“You are certain of this?”

Will nodded. “Tell me, Azeem, when you met Yasmina, did she giggle at you? Did she watch you with your brother rather than speaking to you herself? Did she once before pursue him before he chose another? Why should I find any of that appealing?”

“I would not.”

“What was Yasmina like?”

Azeem gave him a sort of sad smile. “Everything. She was the sole thought and desire of my mind and body, all I could think of, and all I lament.”

“Then she died?”

Azeem nodded. “Were she still alive, there would be something to return to, but as she passed, along with our child, there is nothing. I fear her loss left me... unstable. I could think of nothing else but to kill the man who had caused her death, albeit indirectly. I could not bring them back. I could not use my faith to halt my anger or lessen my grief. Time did that, time and prison.”

Will frowned. “Have you told anyone else this?”

“Your brother knows that I was imprisoned because of Yasmina, but not why. He assumed that she was another man's wife. I felt no need to share the truth with anyone else.”

“Why me?”

“In all you have suffered, young Christian, I believe you understand my feelings more so than many others.”

Will had never lost a wife. He'd never been close to a woman like that, his deepest feelings for any woman remaining those for his mother, but in some ways, he feared the Moor was right. Will's grief at losing his mother had led him to many rash acts, including going to Locksley hall when he knew much better than that. Everything after that could still trace back to his mother's death.

“My mother died for something I did,” Will said, not looking at the Moor as he said it. He didn't say this sort of thing, and he didn't know why he was doing so now. “A man refused to accept her no when she refused to whore herself to him, and I tried to help her. I killed him. She... she took my knife. She took the blame. And they sit there and make jokes of me wedding someone. Robin calls me his heir. Marian insists she wants me at that wedding. Everyone believes my place is there. Yet... I know that all I have ever been is death.”

“You are life was well,” Azeem told him. “You gave Robin back his will to fight, something he needed for the battle that freed our men and saved Marian from Nottingham, the one that ended this war. And you were life to that young girl who needed the medicine. There are other instances. You just do not know how to see them or the good within you.”

“I can't do this,” Will said. “I don't know how to stand at that wedding and be happy for them.”

“That will come, young Christian,” Azeem said. “For you no longer hate the man as you once did, and you bear the woman no lasting ill will. You do not wish all in the world pain because you have suffered, and their happiness does not hurt you. You are a good man, and you want what is best for others. Trust me, it will come.”

Chapter Text

“There you are,” Fanny said, taking hold of Will the moment he walked into the room. He frowned, not sure where her strength came from as she pulled him along. He swore she'd tripled it since he last saw her, as she was practically dragging him along the halls. “Do you have any idea how worried we've been about you? Where have you been? Why didn't you come back sooner?”

“I was actually thinking of not coming back before the wedding was over,” Will told her, getting a glare for that one. He shook his head. “That's about them, not me, and who the hell cares if I'm even there besides those damned females who now see me as the man to bed and hope to seduce into marriage?”

“Oh, come now,” Fanny said. “A few women giggling is not a portent of the end of the world.”

“You think I left only because they giggled and those two laughed at me for not seeing why it happened?” Will asked, gesturing to Robin and John, who were watching again with amusement, the bastards. “There was at least one of them in my room at all times. I'd rid the place of one, and another would appear. There was no peace and nowhere to sleep. Of course I left.”

Fanny frowned. “Well, you leave that to me, then. For you, it's the bath.”


“I need you clean before you go touching my work, and that's final,” Fanny said, pushing him toward the bedchamber that Marian had given him.

“No. I'm not going in there, and I'm not bathing.”

“You have to anyway,” Robin said, “Marian gave orders for all of us men to do so before the wedding—which is in the morning, brother, and you wound me by your desire to avoid it.”

Will shook his head. “I rather think you'd avoid it if you had any chance. Oh, you want her, but marrying her? In some great ceremony? That you don't want, and we all know it. No man wants the fuss and the foolishness. You'd marry her in private and take her back to your rooms and if you did, you'd spare the lot of us a bunch of trouble.”

“The wedding ceremony's not just for him, love,” Fanny said. “It's about sharing that with the people you love and who care about you, and for Robin Hood to marry without sharing it with all he saved, that would just be an insult. It would be him acting like a lord of the manor, which he's not, and you know it. Now into the bath with you.”

“I'm not going.”

“I'll have John put you in, then,” Fanny insisted, pushing his door open. “Oi, what's all this? Why are there five of you in here?”

“I told you,” Will said, refusing to look at the women standing either with rags to dry him or next to nothing on.

“Hold on, laddie. Fanny'll see to this, but she's not wrong about you needing a bath,” John said, and Will found the door blocked by his brother. Unable to avoid the big man, Will found himself lifted into the air in protest while the women giggled.

“Out, out, the lot of you,” Fanny chided. “I'll take a switch to the lot of you, don't think I won't. Come on, now. Out. I'm not done with you yet. We'll have words, too.”

“Sure you are.”

“Oi, I'm as close to a mother as you've got these days, Will Scarlett, and if you think I was planning on letting you have a harem in your bath, you're a bloody fool. No, I'd have seen to it myself.”

“And there you go making me jealous,” John said, laughing heartily as she gave him a rude gesture in response.

Will struggled in John's hold, feeling completely humiliated. “I can bathe on my own.”

“I do not think it is your capability they doubt,” Azeem told him, “but rather your willingness to do so if left to your own counsel.”

Will glared at them. “What, I'm such a child I won't bathe out of spite?”

“That sounds about right,” John agreed, dumping him in the tub.

“What is this?” Will demanded. “It's not enough to humiliate me in dragging me into a bath, you must now all witness me getting out of it? Did I somehow fail to clean myself to your high standards, then? Go away.”

“We're supposed to make sure you don't go before Fanny gets a look at you,” John told him, and Will eyed him with suspicion, wondering just how cowed the bigger man was by his wife. “And none of us got any pleasure out of watching you bathe, trust me.”

“Some of us had more cause for concern,” Robin said, and Will winced. He'd almost forgotten—he shouldn't have, it should have been impossible to do so—but while they had all been aware of the scars marking his chest and back, not all of them knew of the designs marked deep into his legs.

He sighed. “If I say Flavell, is that enough?”

“That monster did this to you?” Robin demanded, and Will nodded, reaching for a discarded rag to dry at least part of himself with as the water was getting cold.

The door opened again, and Fanny came in, bundles of cloth in her hands. “Lord's sake. I think you'll need to build a new wall about your castle to keep out that lot.”

“Very funny,” Robin muttered, smiling.

“Oh, it amuses you, but I assure you, your brother feels no humor in it,” Azeem said, looking over at Will. He grabbed another rag, one of the larger ones. “Here, young Christian. You need to get dry before you become ill again.”

“I really do hate all of you right now,” Will told him, and he nodded, passing over the towel while the rest of his conspirators found other places to look.

He dried off the lower half of his body, feeling cold and still humiliated by those who claimed to care about him. He hated this, and if someone hadn't made off with his still wet clothes, he'd already have run for it.

He wasn't running through this place naked. That would be told in tales for years, and the giggling was bad enough without that.

“Start with these,” Fanny said, holding out a new set of breeches, dark colored and made of the kind of finery that made Will wonder if they'd been Nottingham's once. “Marian found me fabric, and I made them for you, but I need to know now if they fit so I can fix them before tomorrow.”

Will accepted them awkwardly, trying to keep himself covered before pulling the breeches on. He got them to his waist and tied them up, still feeling uncomfortable, but no longer because he was naked. Fanny held out a hand, and he passed her the towel.

“I'd say it's a good fit,” Robin observed. “You have the height right, and while they might be a bit loose in the waist, you never know... he could get fat.”

“And again, what a shame it would be if Marian ended up marrying a eunuch,” Will said, getting a smile out of Robin. He thought Will was only teasing. Will wasn't so sure he was.

“I wasn't so worried about those as this, though,” Fanny said, holding up another garment. “This needs to fit, or we'll have put a lot of work into it for nothing.”

Will eyed the doublet and swallowed, feeling a bit sick. “I... I can't wear that, Fanny.”

“Nonsense. 'Course you can. I made it for you, didn't I?” she asked, and before he could find words to explain how he didn't dare, she was lifting his arm to slide it into the sleeve. She did it with a breath of relief, as apparently she had that size right. “Come on. Let's get it all the way on.”

“This is ridiculous,” Will muttered. “I'm not the one who's getting married.”

“I know you're not, but I'd not have you in rags, either. You deserve better, and if I had been able to do this before, I would have. You know that.”

“You made me a new shirt once,” he agreed, feeling unsettled and wishing he was alone as she started doing up the buttons in front. “This is different.”

“It is a fine creation, Fanny,” Azeem said. He looked at Will. “Wear it with pride.”

Will frowned. “Isn't pride a sin in both your religions?”

That only seemed to amuse the Moor. Fanny was smiling her pride out, looking so happy that it fit. Will had to admit, it was comfortable, made of fine fabric, but if people had stared before, they would do so even more now with his arms covered in golden embroidery.

“It's a fine look,” Robin said, touching the stitching on the sleeve. “And the inclusion of the Locksley arms is a nice touch, Fanny.”

“Marian showed me the drawing you made of your shield as a boy. I thought it would do Will some good to have a piece of that along side his scarlet.”

“Oh, get this off of me,” Will said. Fanny gasped, looking hurt, and he winced. “I... I'll get it dirty or something, and it's too fine for the likes of me.”

“Not anymore, laddie,” John disagreed. “It's about time you had something that shows the true sort of man you are.”

“Father did say nobility wasn't a birthright,” Robin said. “And he was right. It wasn't, but you have shown yours. You think it doesn't exist, but it does. In your concern for the others, in your care for Rosie, and everything else you do for us—it is there.”

Will shook his head, but Robin pulled him in for another hug, and Will decided not to argue. He knew that illusion would fade in time, and he just had to wear this thing for the wedding.

It almost felt comfortable enough to sleep in, but no, this was just for the wedding. He'd be done with this and the rest of them after that.

Marian knew that a wedding in the forest must seem strange to anyone in her usual social circle, but she had not wanted anyone to think that Robin had gone back to the life of a mere noble as soon as Nottingham died, and while his efforts to rebuild alone should be proof of that, if he were to marry in an exclusive ceremony that not all could attend or feel welcome at, it would surely snub those that he had worked with for so long, those he called friend... and brother.

She thought of Will much during her decision, not in the sense that she did all this to please him, for she didn't, but she did worry that tensions within their new family would increase when Robin was married, as much as Will seemed to favor their marriage. Then again, his disappearance shortly before the ceremony was to take place was not an encouraging sign.

Despite being told by many that it was just his way, Marian found herself troubled by it, for she had no desire to be a division between the brothers, not when they struggled to find the common ground they now shared.

“Oh, you look lovely, my lady,” Sarah said, fixing the flowers and veil upon Marian's head. She'd waited until they came to Sherwood for the final preparations, using one of the empty homes to change, as had others among them. Fanny said she'd not have anyone ruining their finery, so she'd had the children wear their worst on the journey to the forest but was now yelling at them to change across the whole village.

“Thank you, Sarah,” Marian said, taking her hand. “I hope that all will go right today.”

“How can it not?” the other woman teased, but Marian could see too many ways of that, so she said nothing.

“It is not just for me or for Robin,” Marian said. “This wedding... it is for so much more than us, and I fear it will disappoint. I do not need so much ceremony—I could have wed Robin the night he asked me with only a single vow or perhaps an act, but I knew that more was needed.”

“I think you should enjoy your wedding and not think so much of what others believe or need just now. This is still your time, even if it is held before the others to share and enjoy, to take as a sign that the worst truly is over.”

Marian nodded. “I know. I must sound a fool, mustn’t I?”

“All women do on their wedding day, or so I am told.”

“Why, Sarah,” Marian said, looking back at her. “How remiss I've been. We've not found you a man to lecture as you do me. We should remedy that today. All Sherwood will be there, and you may yet find a perfect one.”

“Oh, fie,” Sarah said. “I've no need of a man, though I feel some pity for your brother-in-law. With that new doublet of his, he'll outshine your man today, and those girls have their desires set upon him, make no mistake.”

Marian shook her head. “'Twould be a special woman indeed who found a way to get past that man's defenses, and she'd have to have Fanny's help to do it, which that woman's not going to give easily. She doesn't approve of any of them, as she's made very clear.”

“I know she hasn't,” Sarah said. “She's still hopeful, though, that someone will come along that's deserving of him.”

Marian nodded. She hoped so as well, for she wanted to see her brother-in-law truly happy, not just pretending for someone else's sake. She did not fool herself that marriage was the only source of that, but she'd like to think that Will had a great deal of love to give, if someone could ever help him see that it was safe to do so.

“I wonder how much it would bother Robin to know that most talk is of his brother these days.”

Marian felt the pointed nature of her lady-in-waiting's words. “I think he finds it amusing, but he doesn't understand the difficulty it causes Will. And I am not marrying the wrong brother or worried that I am. I love Robin, but Will is also family now, and family worries over its own.”

Sarah nodded. “That it does.”

Azeem was not familiar with Christian weddings, but he thought them not entirely dissimilar to those that he had observed in his own country. He could not compare this to his own, for his mind had one thought, one purpose, during that time, and Allah forgive him, his thoughts had solely been with Yasmina and the life they were to share.

That life now gone, Azeem found the proceedings bittersweet with memory. He had loved Yasmina with a devotion that surpassed death, and he knew he would carry her with him always. He would ache with her loss daily.

He did not doubt that should either party now before the holy man fall, the other would feel the same. Azeem drew in a breath and frowned to see the man next to him fidgeting as he was. He put a hand on Will's shoulder.

“Peace,” Azeem said. “Fanny made sure those women were at the far end of the procession. They can hardly see you from here.”

Will gave him a glare, pulling on his cloak as though he wanted to disappear underneath it. Azeem would rather leave as well, preferring to be alone with his memories of Yasmina, but now was not the time for that.

Soon, though. Very soon.

“With the power vested in me of God's holy church,” Friar Tuck began, smiling warmly out at the crowd. “I say let any man who has reason why these two should not be joined, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”

He didn't give much of anyone a chance to speak, even as Azeem became aware of horses and men approaching them.

“Then, I now pronounce you—”

“Hold,” a commanding voice said, coming up into their midst. “I speak.”

“It's the king,” many whispered, and around Azeem everyone began to kneel. He frowned, confused, but all save Marian did, and she looked too shocked to be reacting properly, even as she greeted the man before her.

“Richard,” she said, happy and yet as though she had thought this man were perhaps dead.

The man in armor looked around, nodding to all who had bowed to him, and continued on with the same commanding tone. “I will not allow this wedding to proceed—”

“My lord,” Locksley began, rising to protest.

“Unless,” the king said, holding up a hand. “I'm allowed to give the bride away.”

The relief going through the others was palpable through the air, and it amused Azeem as the laughter went through them. This did look as though not just a blessing on the wedding was being given but also an unspoken pardon, one that had been discussed and hoped for but not yet given.

“You look radiant, cousin,” the king told Marian, kissing both of her cheeks.

“Oh, Richard,” she whispered, and Azeem wondered again if she had believed him dead.

“I'm deeply honored, your majesty,” Locksley told the king, relief evident in his features as well. This was, of course, the last part of peace, the acceptance and pardon that all wanted, the true reward for all their efforts.

Sherwood village might not be needed after all.

“It is I who am honored, Lord Locksley,” the king told him, and there it was, a more verbal pardon and assurance that the things taken by Nottingham were to be returned. Locksley was not just Robin any longer. He was the lord, as he would have been following his father's death. “Thanks to you, I still have a throne.”

Locksley gave him a smile, though Azeem did not know if Nottingham could have succeeded in that enterprise or not.

“Friar, proceed,” the king ordered.

Tuck nodded. “Now, where was I...? Oh... Husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

Locksley looked a bit annoyed to be given permission for it. “I know that.”

He turned to kiss Marian, giving her one that was perhaps not meant for an audience, though Azeem thought the crowd was quite pleased. Around him, he could hear clapping and cheering, and then to his surprise, Will embraced him.

Azeem smiled at the younger man, though he did not think that hug meant what others assumed it did. He was not doing it because he was pleased his brother was married—though he was not jealous and displeased as some might also assume.

“Now, get out of it,” Tuck told them, leaning in, “We're wasting good celebration time.”

Azeem shook his head. Robin and Marian ignored Tuck to kiss again, and Azeem was not surprised at all when Will chose that moment to slip away from the crowd.

“I would not have thought these meager celebrations worthy of someone of your stature,” Will observed, tugging at the cloak around his neck and wishing it were not so damned bright. Fanny had outdone herself, but he felt like a fool, and he was sure he could not come and go unnoticed like this.

“And I would have thought you less bold than to approach a royal in so informal and perhaps threatening a manner,” King Richard observed, though his eyes crinkled a bit and his lips curved into what Will thought was a smile of amusement.

“I'm known to come and go as I please,” Will said, refusing to cower even if he should show deference to the king.

“So I have heard,” the king said. “As I have heard much of you, Will Scarlett.”

Will frowned. “You have?”

“My cousin wrote me a great deal concerning the events here. This surprises you?”

Will shook his head. He should have thought of that, and yet he had overlooked it as he made his way back to the gathering and to the king's side, past the guards meant to watch him. “I just find it hard to believe she had much of anything to say about me, and certainly not anything good.”

“Then perhaps I should not tell you what she did say of you.”

Will allowed himself a smile. “My lord, if you mean to tease me into asking for that, I can assure you, I will not. I do not care what Marian or anyone else thinks of me. I only wanted to know if your presence here means what everyone thinks it does.”

“Oh? And what is that?”

“They all believe you have come to pardon them for the crimes Nottingham accused them of,” Will said. “And make no mistake, we're not innocent—we stole and we poached and we did not pay taxes.”

The king nodded. “I am aware of that as well as aware of the impossibly high taxes that he demanded of these people. I believe you are also aware of a great deal that is said about me.”

“That all you care about is war? That you'd rather be French than English, that you could care less what happens to any of us here so long as you can keep fighting?” Will shrugged. “Who hasn't heard that? Robin and others follow you blindly. He has loyalty from the Crusades. Marian is your cousin—or perhaps your daughter—and she has to believe in you.”

“And you?”

“I believe I have always had to see to my own safety, and that has not changed based on which king was ruling, where he was, or even who my brother is,” Will said. “I see to my own needs, and I don't care what you do as long as it doesn't threaten what I need to survive.”

“A very honest answer. Yes, I believe this is the place.”

Will frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Some believe my younger brother intends to overthrow me, and that Nottingham's actions were part of his plan,” the king said. “While I believe most would like me to turn the position of sheriff over to your brother, I believe it is not yet time for such a measure.”

“You want to let your brother appoint someone and see what that man does.”

“Yes. Should it prove true that John's actions are treasonous or that his envoy is less than trustworthy, your brother will be here to stop him,” the king said. “The question is... will you be there as well?”

“I dislike having nobles force my hand,” Will told the king, taking out a dagger. “And were you any other man, I might have used one of these against you, for I know the threat in your words.”

“And were I any other man, I could not make such a threat.”

Will nodded. “Still, that doesn't mean I like this idea of yours much. The people here have already suffered, and they do not need another war.”

“No, they do not, but they alone are equipped to fight it should it come,” the king said, putting his hand on Will's shoulder. “As are you, Will Scarlett, and you alone know the truth of what may yet pass. I hope Marian's faith in you is not misplaced.”

“In me?” Will asked, staring at him. “Why not in Robin?”

“Because your brother, while an admirable and brave man, is impulsive and reckless. You are cautious and deceptive. You stand on the outside as an observer and take action when necessary rather than before you know the full facts. Had it been you who confronted Gisborne over the child that day, would a war against Nottingham have been necessary? Perhaps not.”

“Just because I wasn't stupid enough to go provoking Nottingham and letting everyone know my face doesn't mean I want any part in this.”

“And that as well recommends you as the better choice. You will act only if it is needed, whereas your brother will feel the outsider as a threat from the beginning. He will not give the man time to prove himself if I tell him that John may be moving against me. He will see every action as that of a traitor even if they are not. I need someone with a more cautious approach to watch and tell me what the truth is.”

Will snorted. “You picked the wrong person. I can't read or write, so how would I get word to you even were I willing to do this?”

“You will learn,” the king said. “I have great faith in you.”

“Again—why me? I'm a thief and a killer.”

“Both crimes you've been pardoned for.”

“I'd do them both again.”

“And that is part of why you are the one I would task with this,” the king told him. “As is your youth and the reputation you've gained despite it.”

Will sighed. “I killed Flavell by cutting his throat. There was a lot of blood on him and me after that. It's not the story they think it is.”

“Nevertheless, hearing the sort of man he was, you should never have escaped him alive, especially not at your age,” the king said. “And yes, I know admitting to knowing such things about him when he was alive makes it seem like those rumors of me are true—that I cared nothing for these people at all.”

“You don't, do you?”

The king shook his head. “Waging war is simple. Caring for the needs of everyone is not. Battle is direct. Balancing the scales is difficult and frequently biased. I would rather leave those tasks to those better suited for it, and I had believed John to be one of those people. If he is not, we shall all suffer. If he is... then why should he not do it?”

“And yet he could be plotting against you.”

“You see the need to test and be sure he is not.”

“I was about to leave.”

“You would have returned eventually,” the king said. “All I am doing is giving you a reason to delay that trip. Should you still feel the need to go, you will, but until then, it would be my hope you would remain here.”

“I'm considered a traitor myself,” Will said, feeling a bit desperate with that protest. He still didn't know if he would have killed Robin or not, but he'd had to get out of that prison and he'd taken the only escape possible in his position. “Why trust me?”

The king smiled. “Do you know what a spy looks like?”

“Is that a trick question? Spies aren't meant to be seen. They work in secret. If they don't, they die. That's why they pretend to be one of you or like you or...”

“An outcast?”

Will swore. “I am not going to do this just because you order me to.”

“I am not ordering you to do anything. I believe the man you are will choose to stay and see it through instead.”

“You don't know me.”

“No, but these people do, Will Scarlett, and I think they have their reasons for trusting you,” the king told him. “Now if you will excuse me, I do believe it's my turn to dance with the bride.”

Will watched him go, shaking his head. He wasn't listening to any of that.

He wasn't staying. He'd come back, he'd attended Robin's wedding, but he was done.

Only as he watched the king take hold of Marian's hand and Robin smiling reluctantly as he stepped away from her, he knew he wasn't.

Damn it.