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lost in the woods

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Let’s talk about the times Robin survives Marian, when she is the fair memory who haunts him all his days, the wild eyes he learns to live without, the part of his heart he teaches to heal;

And the times Marian survives Robin, when she stands at the firelight’s edge and looks over these brave men, these few and merry men, and says with the even, carrying voice that she did not learn from Robin, this is not the end of us.

There are a hundred ways to fall in love and Marian and Robin have fallen into each of them. A shepherdess and a yeoman, a feisty noble daughter and an estranged noble son—she has fallen for his wit, his bravery, his chin; he for her skill, her beauty, her kindnesses. No matter how many arrows she loses or witticisms she drops at the audience’s feet, Marian will always be a lover.

Marian the shepherdess, with her loyal sheep dog and her loyal Robin, a Marian who understands being hungry, who understands patience and how to find a lost ewe, who knows the hills of Nottingham better than the sheriff or the outlaw and delights in outwitting them both.

Marian the archer, the way she held competition between her teeth til it begged for mercy; or the single daughter of a destitute house, who took up poaching in the king’s wood and knows the meaning of silence but somehow, despite it all, falls for a brash youth with a big mouth and a bigger heart. 

A Marian who fights; or a Marian who sews and listens and whispers and smuggles out who and what Robin needs; a Marian who gets lost in the woods, who gets held up on the road or who gets suspicious in the market when rough men trade silver for bread and cloth; a Marian who is the heart of their cause and the head of their crimes.

They call her a lover so let’s call her a lover.

Let’s tell stories about the first time Marian falls asleep on hard ground beside the wheezy snores of Sherwood’s outlaws and feels safe, feels wanted, feels like she’s come home. They build something out in those woods with deer hides that are theirs only by right of aim and speed and skill, with the gold of fat rich men, and with the thanks of poor farmers whose children will eat decently five days a week instead of two.

Let’s talk about her love. Let’s talk about how she falls in love with this.

The runaway daughters, the girls hidden in boys’ clothing, in boys’ names, in boys’ bodies—Marian takes them aside when she can and whittles them bows to suit each of their strengths.

When a youth with skinned knees and tightly bound breasts weeps with rage when she can’t keep up with Robin’s combat practices, Marian tells her here’s how you fight when your center lives in your belly and not under your breastbone. Trust your legs, child. Trust your center. Yours is a different strength, not a lesser one.

Soon enough the girl is flipping boys over her hip while she stands with slightly bent knees, and Marian is making money hand over fist, betting against her opponents.

Let’s talk about how many ways there are to fall in love. Let’s talk about how the love of one man as a life’s calling is not a story I am interested in telling.

The outlaws were her children, her flock, her brothers and her right-hand men. They held each others’ secrets and each others’ lives in their callused palms and kept them safe.

Let’s talk about getting lost in the woods: Marian the shopkeeper’s daughter getting lost at fifteen, the first time she ran away from home, getting lost in the dark, the creep and tangle of it, and making it back long after moonrise by way of her aunt’s old nursery rhyme about how moss grows on the north side of trees. (At the next full moon she runs away to the woods again. She is not afraid, or, if she is, it doesn’t matter; she is in love).

Lost: Marian, dyemaker’s daughter, walking out to the woods with all the men who came before Robin, not for them but for the woods: the trees snarling overhead, the way they make her feel like life is more than this, that there is mystery, there is depth, and there is distance.

Let’s talk about how she loved Robin, yes, the quiet ways she traced his jawbone with shaking fingers, the hard way they both looked at each other across the fire and knew neither of them could long survive this. Let’s talk about how she loved. Let’s call it being lost.

Robin saw her first in a market, a smithy, a crossroads, and she was beautiful, but it wasn’t until she raised her chin that he loved her (til she smiled, til she shot, til she vanished—there are a hundred ways they fell in love). 

Let’s talk about how she fell in love with herself. 

Because she did: arrows and whispers, cold nights and good liars, Robin’s hand and the men who made Sherwood their own— she fell for it all. She fell for herself most of all. 

Maybe your name is not Marian and my name is not Marian and sometimes hers is not either.

But we are all sometimes lost in the woods. We all sometimes find ourselves there, and open our eyes, open our lungs, fall in love.