The FiresWithin
By Kathy B.

Chapter 10

Marion interrupted the two men as they attempted to leave the dungeon.  “Not so fast, Robin.”  He stopped in his tracks, lifting one side of his expressive mouth in a chagrined smile.  He didn’t turn to face her, but had an idea of what she was about to say.  “First of all, you aren’t going anywhere without me,” she began.  Before Robin could answer, she continued, “And secondly, there is blood on your sleeve, and you aren’t going anywhere until I get a look at the wound underneath!”

Robin tried to protest, but Will reluctantly agreed with Marion, saying “Robin, she’s right.  What good would it do us to find Chloe, probably heavily guarded, and have you unable to fight?”

Robin acquiesced.  He submitted to Marion’s removal of his tunic, and winced as the wound, thankfully superficial, was inspected.  Marion tore off a piece of cloth from one of the discarded articles of clothing in the room, and bound the wound as best as she could. The extra tenderness of her touch was not lost to Robin, and he placed his hand on hers for a brief moment as their eyes met in a mutual glance of both love and respect.  He winked at her and the moment was over, replaced by the urgency of rescuing Chloe and little Meggie.

Meanwhile, just above the unsuspecting outlaws, Chloe sat in the cellar, her back against the cold stone wall.  Meggie lay with her head in Chloe’s lap and slept soundly, despite the desperate circumstances.  Chloe marveled at the child’s peace and longed for a measure of it.  She could not sleep as she worried that Sir Hugh would barge into the room at any moment, demanding from her what she would not give willingly.  And she feared for Meggie.  What would Hugh do to the child if Chloe protested his advances?  Or worse, what would it do to the child to see Hugh attack Chloe and rape her?  Chloe shuddered involuntarily.  All the horrific memories of Hugh’s prior attacks forced their way into her mind, and blanketed her in fear and disgust.  She blamed herself for allowing the advances, and hated herself for the filth which she felt now tainted her soul.  She hated Hugh, and knew the hate was strangling her, so prayed for help from the God who Tuck said loved her.  She stared at the bucket of water and wash rag that lay next to it, brought by a servant earlier who insisted Chloe make herself presentable for the lord.  The bucket sat, untouched, as did the change of clothes that was brought with it.  “If he wants me so badly, let him take me as I am,” she thought in silent defiance.  “If I stink, then maybe he’ll leave me alone.”  So she thanked heaven for the soot, the sweat, and the smell of burnt wood that permeated her hair and clothes, as she absentmindedly stroked Meggie.  And the night seemed to go on interminably.

When Marion had finished bandaging Robin, the chief outlaw gave orders.  “Now, we’ll split up.  Little John, you, Kemal and Roger search the main floors of the castle.  Maybe they put Chloe in a bedchamber.”  He paused here, knowing that the significance of Hugh’s intentions for Chloe was sinking into Will’s mind.  Will clenched his jaw tightly, but remained silent.  “Marion, Will and I will search the lower levels.  Expect trouble.”  So saying, he checked his weapons, and the others did the same.  Will grabbed a sword from a fallen guard and the two groups departed in different directions.

Little John led his small group up the dank stairs from the dungeon.  Since none of them was familiar with the castle, they paused often and reoriented themselves.  They didn’t encounter any guards until they reached the main floor.  There, two of Hugh’s men were conversing with their backs to the outlaws and Roger.  Quietly, Little John and Kemal approached them from behind as Roger looked for trouble from other directions.  Simultaneously, they knocked the two guards unconscious.  They quickly bound them, disarmed them, and continued their search.  They did not get far when they were surprised by a group of three more guards, who had evidently been alerted to their presence.  The fighting commenced immediately, and the outlaws were evenly matched.  But Roger, a farmer, was not trained in the sword-fighting arts, and was hastily knocked to the ground.  This was not going to be easy, Little John thought to himself with displeasure.  Raising his staff to fend off the clanging swords, Little John made his way to Roger, to fight both his battle and the farmer’s.  Despite his dislike for Roger, he could not leave him to die at the hands of Hugh’s guard.

Lady Madeleine couldn’t sleep that night, knowing that the wench Chloe was back in the castle.  She fumed in a jealous rage and tossed and turned in her bed.  Giving up the idea of any rest, she rose and dressed herself.  She would find out if Hugh intended to have this pitiful girl for himself again, and if he did, he would pay for it - dearly!  She left her bedchamber and headed towards the cellar, where she had heard Hugh tell his guards to take the captives.  On her way down, she heard the telltale sounds of swordplay, and instincts told her that the castle had been invaded.  She did not fear for herself.  She was past caring for anything except revenge on her foul husband.  So as she descended the main stairwell, she watched with interest the fighting.  These were some of the same men who had been there earlier that night, looking for the wench Chloe.  This was good; now she could help them retrieve that accursed woman and the little girl and have her revenge on Hugh.  She would no longer need to summon help.  Help had come to her!  Sure that the large, dark outlaw had seen her, she made her way to the cellar.

Kemal had his hands full as well, and while exchanging thrusts and parries with the large guard opposite him, he glanced out of the corner of his eye at a woman, stealthily climbing down the main stairwell.  She seemed at home in the castle, and was evidently watching the fight before her with some interest.  But it was clear that she was heading somewhere with purpose.  Kemal took mental note of the direction of her disappearance, and continued his private battle.

Out in the courtyard, Sir Hugh checked in with Robert.  “Any signs of Scatlocke and his friends?”

“None, my lord.”  Robert looked up and down the rows of stationed guards, satisfied that all was quiet.  “Why don’t you get some rest, my lord?  I will contact you if there is any trouble.”

Hugh smiled, as much to himself as at Robert.  “Yes, I think I will turn in.  But first, I will check on my guest.  I am ready for bed, but not ready to sleep just yet!”  He laughed under his breath, contemplating the conquest ahead of him.  Robert laughed, too, and the men parted.

Hugh made his way into the castle.  He descended a back stairwell into the area of the cellar, bypassing the main hall and stairway.  He never heard Little John, Kemal and Roger battling his men there.  When he reached the cellar, he nodded to his guards posted there, and motioned with his head for them to open the door.  One of the men came forward, keys jingling in his hands, and unlocked the door.  Hugh entered and closed the door behind him.

Chloe looked up, miserable with fatigue and already knowing who it would be.  Her eyes pled with the lord of this castle to leave her be, and to have mercy on this child in her lap.  But Hugh never saw anything but a woman to be taken for his pleasure and at his whim.  He began to unstrap his belt and remove his sword when he heard a commotion behind him, outside the door.  Chloe looked past him toward the door, hoping against reason that her friends were there.  Instead, a guard opened the door and called to his lord that he was needed urgently.  Hugh glared at Chloe as he refastened his swordbelt, and menaced, “I will be back.  And you had best be ready for me, or the girl will suffer for your defiance!”

Robin, Marion and Will made their way through the bowels of the castle.  They were oppressed by the moist chill and Will especially felt an urgency bordering on panic.  He steeled himself with the resolve of a trained knight, and followed Robin.  Before long, they turned a corner and found a gathering of guards in front of what looked like a storage room.  The door behind the guards was large and bolted shut.  The outlaws tried to back up behind the corner, before they were seen, but it was too late!  One of the guards shouted and the others rallied behind him as four of the five raced towards Robin, Marion and Will.  With swords at the ready, the outlaws re-emerged into the path of the guards and the conflict began.

Marion pulled out her whip first, and caught one of Hugh’s men around the ankle.  Snapping the whip back abruptly, Marion pulled the man down forcibly. Hitting his head, he became unconscious.  This improved the odds, and Will and Robin surged ahead, swords flashing.  The loud clang when they met their opponents was stunning, and the fighting was intense.  Marion attempted to whip another guard, but he was ready for her and grabbed it before it caught him.  He then yanked on it, surprising Marion and pulling her off balance.  She stumbled, and fell.  Will was cornered by one of the other guards, and Robin was furiously battling an excellent swordsman in the area between Will and Marion.  Then, the fifth guard emerged from the storage room with Sir Hugh right behind him.

In the haste to meet the outlaw intruders, Hugh and his man neglected to lock the door behind them.  Chloe, hoping despite her innate pessimism honed by years of abuse, resolved to check out the situation.  She gently placed Meggie’s head down on the floor, and raised herself quietly.  She stiffly walked to the door, and grabbed the handle.  To her amazement, it opened!  She peered out and saw Marion slowly rising from the ground, and then her view was blocked by Robin and another guard clashing swords.  She quietly closed the door and turned to rouse Meggie.  This was the opportunity for them to escape, while Hugh was distracted!  She would be sure to alert Robin or Marion that she had gotten out, and then she and Meggie would fly up the stairs.  She knew this castle well, and could easily find her way out to the stable where she planned to steal a horse and gallop into the night with her small charge, as fast and as far away as possible.

Lady Madeleine had made her way to the cellar area just as Hugh had exited the room.  She knew why he had been in there, and saw him finish buckling his belt.  Her rage swelled, and she desired to kill her faithless husband herself.  But the outlaws were running in his direction and she secretly rooted for them to be successful in their aim.  She watched with rising emotions as first Hugh’s men seemed to have the upper hand.  But then she saw Marion recover, and grabbing a sword, stab one of the guards.  Robin Hood was struggling a bit against another of the guards, but then he seemed to get a second wind and pushed the man back.  Will Scatlocke was furiously battling two guards and appeared to be overtaken by the battle rage she had heard stories about from the days of King Arthur.  He was undaunted, though outnumbered, and she marveled at his ferocity.  Hugh, meantime, observed the foray calmly, standing by the door.  He was confident in his men’s ability to control the situation, and he looked arrogant and handsome, as usual.  Madeleine felt only disgust as she gazed at him now.

Then, the door opened slowly, and Chloe and Meggie began to scurry out of the cellar.  Hugh caught Chloe by the hair, and pulled her back to his chest, holding her firmly.  He drew his dagger and held it to her neck.  Marion, looking up from her conquest, saw the danger first and yelled at Robin.  He knocked his man down, and looked at Marion, then at Hugh.  Will, having felled one man, and wounding the other, was barely aware of his surroundings, and only through tremendous concentration, did he find himself able to focus on Robin, who was calling Will’s name.

Chloe, covered in soot, eyes bulging in fear, was held fast to Hugh’s chest.  She wimpered in spite of herself, and tried to see where Meggie had run off.  The cold, sharp metal of the dagger against her neck was pulsing with her every breath, and her heart was racing.  She cursed her weakness as she felt her legs buckling and trembling.  Her eyes darted to and fro, then rested on Will, who had finally come out of his battle rage.  He was exhausted but keenly aware of the danger that Chloe was in.  And he seethed with anger at the man who was the cause of so much pain.

Meggie, adrift without Chloe’s hand, and shocked by the chaos of the fighting and the sights of the dying guards, stopped running and began to cry.  The outlaws had fallen silent, holding their weapons at their sides, waiting for Hugh to make his demands.  Marion called out to Meggie, and the child ran to her and hid behind her back.  Little John, Kemal and Roger pounded down the steps and joined the others as the tension built in the room.  Robin was the first to speak.  “What do you want, Hugh?  Surely you can see that you have lost.  Just give us Chloe, and we’ll leave you.”

Hugh backed towards the stairs as he replied, “No. Take the wretched child - I have no use for her.  But Chloe is mine, and has been for some time.  She ran off, but now she’s back.  And you have no right to take her from me.  Now get out of my castle!” he thundered.

Will, seething, stepped forward and challenged Hugh.  “Let her go!  Fight me instead, and prove yourself.  Quit hiding behind a woman!”

Hugh laughed - the arrogant, sickening chuckle of a man who always gets what he wants, and sees too well what others want.  “In love with her, now, are you Will?  How ironic!  Funny, how life comes around full circle.  Your father took from me the only woman I ever loved, and now I get to return the favor and do it to you!”  He laughed fully, and the cellar rang with the hollow sound.

Suddenly, Madeleine’s voice wafted into the arena.  “You are a coward, Hugh Beauforte.”  She stood and entered the space where all the others were.  Her eyes shone with hatred and jealousy.  Hugh, taken aback at this development, dropped his guard, and Chloe fell out of his arms and rolled on the floor.  Will ran to her and helped her up, and she clung to him.  Hugh had lost the upper hand, and with all his men dead or wounded, he knew he had no grounds for bargaining any longer.

Robin quickly seized the moment, and ordered the outlaws to make their escape, heading for the way they had entered.  Roger, Marion and Meggie left first, followed by Little John and Kemal.  Will guided Chloe, and Robin walked by his side as they made for the stairs.  Hugh, recovering himself, pushed Madeleine out of his way, and she stumbled, hitting her head on the wall.  She slumped to the ground.  He never looked back, but instead called after Will, mocking him, “Even though you think you have won, Will Scatlocke,” he spat the words, “you have not!  Every time you lie with her, you will think of me having been there first!  She will never be truly yours, you fool!”

Will tensed at the last remarks.  He ignored Robin’s pleas to pay no attention to Hugh’s comments, and he abruptly turned around.  Without looking at Chloe or Robin, Will spoke to them, “Robin, take Chloe home.  Chloe, go with Robin.”  And he marched back towards Hugh, fire in his belly.

Hugh was waiting for him, pleased that his baiting had accomplished what he desired.  If he could not avenge himself on the senior Scatlocke for the loss of Lady Sarah all those years ago, he would find it here, with the son of that union.  Upon slaying the only remaining male progeny of Sir Geoffrey Scatlocke, Hugh would savor the victory of the one who laughs last.  The irony of seeing Geoffrey both without Sarah and without a living son was delicious.  He would finally know what Hugh had been feeling all these miserable years in that same condition.  His eyes glowed with evil intent, and he brandished his sword with relish.

Will, for his part, was past reasoning, and only knew that he hated this man and what he had done to Chloe.  Her helplessness at the hands of a ruthless lord, and the pain of her shame burned in Will’s heart and mind and fueled his resolve.  He was vaguely aware of the old feud between Hugh and his own father, but that did not matter to him now.  All he could see and taste was vengeance for his lady’s tarnished honor.

The two men met with swords smashing against each other.   Again and again, they clashed and pushed each other to the limits of their strength.  Sweat poured down their brows, and the conflict raged on for what seemed like an eternity.  Will managed to effect a gash in Hugh’s upper left arm after spinning in a direction opposite to what Hugh had expected.  Then Hugh, bleeding from the fresh wound, fatigued, and older than Will by a quarter century, faltered.  It was all that Will needed.  He knocked the sword from his opponent’s hand and pushed Hugh to the ground.  As he stood over the enraged lord of Beauforte manor, Will thought only of killing him, and sparing Chloe from any more nightmares.  He raised his sword above Hugh’s heaving chest, and as he was about to lower it to end the life of this miserable lord, a tiny voice reached his ears.

“No!”  Meggie stood, panting and wringing her hands.  She had remembered that her kitten was on the loose, and had managed once again to elude her caretakers.  Running back to the cellar, the last place she remembered seeing the treasured pet, was all she could think of doing.  She had arrived in time to see Hugh knocked to the ground by Chloe’s friend Will, and she knew that what she was witnessing now was not good.  The look on Will’s face was almost evil, and she had seen it on her father’s face every time he had come home late and hit her mother.  She did not want Will to turn into that kind of man, for Chloe’s sake, though had she tried to explain all of this, she could not have put words to it.  She did not like the man on the floor, but she did not want to see anymore fighting.  Once again, she cried out. louder than the first, “No!”  It was the first time in years that she had vocalized anything at all.

Will, with dawning realization that Meggie was in the room watching his every move, slowly lowered his sword and breathed out a long sigh.  He gave up his vengeful quest, and thanked God for sending this little angel to stop him from this shameful act of killing a wounded and unarmed man.  He dropped the sword onto the floor with a clang, and turned to Meggie.  With heavy, tired steps but a lighter heart, he began to walk towards the girl.  In the distance, he heard Chloe and Robin calling for him and Meggie.  Meggie reached up her hand and took Will’s sweaty one in hers and they started to walk towards the stairs.

Hugh, incredulous that Will would give up when he could have finished the job so easily, could not give up his fight.  Spying a dagger on the floor near him, he reached over and grabbed it.  As he raised it and took aim to throw it into the back of Will Scatlocke, suddenly Madeleine roused herself and thrust her body over to his, slapping her hand against Hugh’s throwing arm.  The blade was haphazardly sent into the air with a backwards spin and it hit Hugh square on the cheek, leaving a long gash.  Hugh screamed out in pain, while Madeleine fell forward, landing on her hands.  She looked up and saw the blood flowing down her husband’s face, and at first thought that Will had turned around and inflicted it.  Then she scanned the area, and noted that none of the outlaws remained.  She then saw the fresh blood on the blade she had just knocked away from Hugh, and realized that it was she who had inflicted the wound.  A lonely, cold satisfaction filled her breast and she laughed aloud, first quietly and then with vigor.  “The handsome Sir Hugh, now scarred for life!  It is too good!”  She raised herself and, still laughing, walked to the stairs.  “Good night, darling,” she quipped, icily, and left Hugh to himself.  And she made her way to her lonely bedroom, emptiness reigning in her hardened heart.

Hugh merely lifted his hand to his bleeding face and wiped the blood onto his fingertips.  he stared at them, incredulous that the blood was his.  He seethed with anger and vowed to see Will Scatlocke pay for this some day.  But first, he had to find his surgeon and attempt to minimize his scar.  And then he had to find a way to punish his gloating wife.

End of Chapter Ten
 


Chapter Eleven

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