Ned called to his friend Matthew to join him but Matt wasn't interested. He wanted to get as close to the wall as possible to see what was happening. Ned became insistent and Matt reluctantly joined him. "What is it Ned? I want to see what is happening." Ned quickly explained about the soldiers and how he wanted to help his new friend. This certainly brought Matt's attention away from what was happening outside the castle walls. Ned told Matt to help gather their friends and meet him at the back entrance to the castle. He saw Marion leave this way after she told Agatha to stall for time.
Ned was puzzling over just how he could help as he gathered his friends. When the children were gathered near the rear entrance, Ned explained about Sir William's capture and the Corporal's demands. He told them they needed to do something until Marion could find Robin Hood and bring him back. When asked what he thought they could do, Ned just shook his head. "I haven't figured that out yet." Just then Meggie came up holding her kitten. Ned didn't want her involved and told her so. "Meggie you shouldn't be here. Go back and stay with Mama."
"No! Fluffy and I want to help."
"You are too young. You may get hurt. Now go Meggie."
Meggie was angry. She wanted to help like the other children.
She planted her tiny feet in a firm stance and refused to go. Fluffy
wanted down and started to squirm. Meggie afraid to let him go, tightened
her hold. Fluffy let out a yowl and jumped from Meggie's arms straight
another young girl. Startled, the girl screamed which frightened several other children. Several of the children were trying to help catch Fluffy. One child was crying and many more were shouting. Ned was trying to settle everyone. All this confusion over a little kitten
he thought. Then he thought, hey that's the answer. Placing his fingers in his mouth, Ned whistled to try and get the others' attention. Soon everyone was looking at Ned. "I have it." Ned walked over and put his arm around his little sister. "Thanks to Meggie, I know how we can help." Drawing everyone into a circle, Ned began to tell them of his plan.
Meanwhile, Marion was urging her horse on, desperate to reach Robin.
She had lost precious time because she had to go out of her way in order
to circumvent the soldiers holding Will. This delay only added to her
concern. Would she reach Robin in time? She decided her best plan
would be to get back on the main route and head straight for the center of the village in the hope she would encounter Robin or his trail. She prayed Tuck and Agatha could think of a way to stall for more time.
At the castle, Agatha was trying to placate Corporal Thaddeus all the while praying that Sir Geoffrey would return. She didn't know how much longer she could keep up this pretense nor did she know how much longer she could keep Gilbert silent. His defiant outbursts did nothing to diminish Thaddeus' anger. Tuck, still crouched down behind the wall whispered to Agatha that they should offer drinks to the soldiers while they waited. Agatha informed the corporal that she would see what was keeping her master and left the wall.
Chloe could no longer stand idly by waiting for something to happen. Will was in trouble and he needed her help. She rushed down to the gate. Tuck hurried behind her. "Chloe what are you doing?"
"I must help Will."
"Chloe stop! You can't just rush out there. You could be hurt." Chloe was becoming impatient.
"I don't care about that."
Tuck took a sterner stance. "Well you should be. Think about Will's
should anything, no matter how slight, happen to you. Do you want to
risk endangering him even more?"
Chloe paused. She hadn't thought, just reacted. "You are right Friar. It is just so hard doing nothing."
Tuck put his arm around her shoulders. "Let's go back up and see what is happening. Robin should return soon." They returned to the wall to continue their watch.
A few minutes later the gates of the castle opened slightly and Agatha
came out bearing a tray loaded with a pitcher and mugs. Upon hearing
the creaking of the opening gate, Thaddeus jumped down from his horse and
headed toward it. As per her instructions, the gate was quickly
closed behind Agatha. "Corporal Thaddeus, Sir Geoffrey will be with you presently. May I offer you and your men some libation while you wait?"
Furious that Sir Geoffrey himself hadn't come out, Thaddeus swung out
and knocked the tray from Agatha's hands. He grabbed her roughly by
the arm and yelled, "This is not a social call, woman. And your attempts
at stalling will not work with me. Time is running out for this young
man. I suggest you get Sir Geoffrey now." A white-faced Agatha glanced at Will, her face a mixture of sorrow and determination. Will, who had been stunned when Agatha came out alone and unprotected, felt his heart lurch at the bravery of this woman he had treated so unfairly. She was willing to risk her life to try and help him. If he survived this, Will vowed to beg her forgiveness.
Marion was nearing the village when she spotted Robin and the others heading
in her direction.
She waited for Robin to catch up with her and quickly told him what was now taking place at the castle. As they hurried toward the castle, Robin told her what had transpired with Sir Hugh. The group, knowing time was of the essence, urged their mounts on to greater speed.
Thaddeus was pushing Agatha toward the gate when a loud braying sound
startled everyone. Around the corner came two donkeys, a goat and several
sheep. A young boy who was yelling for them to stop followed them.
If this wasn't enough, coming from the opposite direction were
two dogs chasing about forty chickens. They were headed straight for the soldiers' horses. Several children were chasing these dogs and very noisy chickens. All the noise and confusion had startled the horses and caused several soldiers to be unseated. Corporal Thaddeus quickly ran and mounted his horse, trying to keep him under control. He was yelling to his soldiers to hold firm all the while screaming for the children to get their animals and leave. Total chaos ensued. Children and animals continued to come from both directions. There were cows, pigs, ducks and geese. The noise was deafening.
Upon seeing Agatha approach Corporal Thaddeus, Chloe became frozen with fear. Tuck's words were echoing in her head. Her eyes locked on Will as if her concentrated stare could keep him still. The chaos created by Ned and the other children out there broke through the chains created by her fears. She couldn't believe the courage of this little boy. In the short time she had known him, he had become so dear to her heart. If they survived this, she planned on giving him a good scolding - after she embraced him soundly first! And where was Meggie? She searched the crowd but could not find her. She must be safe with her mother. Relief had Chloe moving.
Tuck, hearing Gilbert chuckle, took advantage of the chaos to get a quick
look at the situation outside. He couldn't help laughing at the scene
created by Ned and his friends. He was sure Helen would have some strong
words for her son for putting himself in danger, but he couldn't
help but admire the boy's tenacity. Well, he thought, why should they have all the fun? He quickly gathered the ladies together. Grabbing a large pot from a nearby table Tuck said, "Arm yourselves ladies. We must help the children."
While this pandemonium was happening at the front of the castle, Meggie was in the back entrance trying to get Fluffy to follow the other animals. Every time she put him down, however, he ran back into the castle and she had to go and bring him back out. She was becoming very frustrated and began to lecture her kitten about being good and helping like the other animals.
Outside the castle, Thaddeus was trying to regain control of the situation
when the gates of the castle opened. Out came a Friar and about fifty
women carrying various items used for cooking and cleaning. One woman
walked up to a soldier and smacked him on the back of his head
with a large ladle. "Don't you hurt my baby," she yelled.
The confusion was rampant. Children were screaming, animals were bawling, and soldiers were shouting in dismay. Will, still bound and mounted on his frightened horse, scanned the crowd for Ned, concerned for his safety. Meanwhile, Chloe, driven by her fear for Ned and Meggie and the other children, searched the frenzied crowd. Her eyes alit on Will, and consumed with the need to be near him, to help him in any way she could, she forced her way into the thick of the soldiers. Nearly trampled by several different horses, she nevertheless persisted in her quest to find Will. She eventually reached him. She grabbed a knife out of her belt, and called up to Will as she worked on the ropes which bound him. Will turned his head as much as he could to catch a glimpse of this fearless woman whom he loved, and whom he would scold soundly for her foolishness once this was over.
Before Chloe had completely severed Will’s bonds, she was suddenly hurled aside by a strong blow to her face. Corporal Thaddeus, seeing the attempted rescue of Will, had steered his mount and made the successful blow to the would-be rescuer. Will was furious. His rage at Thaddeus and his fear for Chloe’s safety melded and gave him added strength. He pulled his hands apart as the partially cut ropes shredded at last. He grabbed the reins of his horse and steered towards Chloe in a vain attempt to pick her up and guide her to safety. He was unfortunately detained by one of Thaddeus’ men. Weaponless, Will had to scramble to defend himself until he could procure a weapon. Just when all seemed lost, Robin Hood and his men along with Sir Geoffrey galloped onto the scene.
Thaddeus, seeing the passion in Will’s eyes for the woman, marked her as a possible shield for his own escape, if necessary. He rejoined the battle temporarily with vigor. Before too much time had passed though, Thaddeus remarked on the change in fortune. First the children and animals had been a nuisance. But he had had no qualms about dismissing them. And the battle was winnable even when the masses of villagers had swarmed out of the castle gates. But with the arrival of Robin Hood and his men, it was becoming increasingly clear that Thaddeus and his men were now hopelessly outmanned - both in numbers and in spirit.
Being keen at self-preservation, Thaddeus immediately surmised the updated situation and put his next plan into effect. Eyeing Chloe, who had managed to rise to her feet and dodge several horses while fleeing to safety, Thaddeus urged his mount to gallop in her direction. He leaned over at full gallop and grabbed Chloe by the waist, throwing her onto the front of his saddle. She landed with a thud and the wind was knocked out of her, incapacitating her for a moment. Thaddeus galloped away from the castle.
Will, having been thrown a sword by Robin some moments before, was heavily involved in the fighting. He might not have seen Chloe’s unfortunate situation if not for Ned, who shrieked as loudly as he could to garner Will’s attention, then pointed in the direction of the fleeing horse. Will, wiping sweat from his brow as it dripped into his eyes, at first did not understand Ned’s concern for the cowardly soldier retreating from the foray. And then he caught sight of Chloe’s skirt rippling in the wind of the galloping horse, and he kicked his own steed with a vengeance. Cursing at the corporal under his breath, Will thought nothing of the danger he rode through or to in those hellish moments. He only knew that he and Chloe had not yet begun. He would not allow Thaddeus to destroy his future happiness.
Under the added burden of another adult human to carry, Thaddeus’ mount lagged and Will was easily able to catch up to him. He called aloud to the soldier and appealed to his code of ethics, demanding that he release Chloe and fight one on one with him. Thaddeus, enraged at the audacity of this outlaw to demand anything of him, the prince’s man, carelessly dumped Chloe off the horse. She fell, and remembered nothing after hitting the ground and being rendered senseless.
Thaddeus turned and galloped toward Will, extending his sword up and out. Will did the same, and the clang of the two swords was deafening. The jolt from the clash nearly caused both men to fall off their horses, but they somehow held on, only to turn around and race at each other again. The second collision did cause them to fall, and each got to his feet with some difficulty. Their horses cantered off, away from the sounds of battle, as the men retrieved their swords and purposefully walked toward each other. They renewed their battle then on foot, and thrusted and parried until their arms ached and drooped in fatigue. Sweat poured off their brows and down their necks, soaking their tunics and often interfering with their vision. Eventually, Thaddeus seemed to be gaining the upper hand, and Will began to crumble under the fierce blows.
Suddenly, Will’s sword was knocked out of his hand, and he fell to his knees. He groped to retrieve it, and narrowly missed being beheaded by Thaddeus’ sword. The hilt of that sword made vicious contact with the Will’s temple and knocked him unconscious. But before Thaddeus could attempt a mortal thrust, an arrow sailed into his chest, imbedding itself with a thud. Thaddeus, in mid-swing, looked incredulously outwards for his attacker, and his eyes glazed over as he fell to the ground.
Chloe, rousing with an enduring fog clouding her thoughts, recovered her vision and saw all with awful clarity: Thaddeus slicing at Will, who was on the ground and now lying, dead as it seemed. Thaddeus raising his sword to finish Will’s life. Chloe let out a blood-curdling scream as she stumbled up off the ground and ran in Will’s direction. To her surprise, Thaddeus fell down just as she arrived at Will’s body. She watched in horror as the soldier crumpled and fell, victim to a deadly arrow, and then she looked in the direction of the origin of the arrow’s path. There was Robin, his face grim with resignation. He still regretted every death that he had to cause in order to save the innocent. It gave him no pleasure to see the powerful soldier now completely helpless in death. But he had been forced to kill him in order to save Will, a man he had grown to love.
Chloe rapidly turned her attention to Will, and crawled the remaining few feet to his side. He was very still, and she thought he was dead. His bruised cheek was swollen, and sweat still glistened on his face. A trickle of blood was running down his neck from the blow to his head, and his eyes were closed. She was unaware of her own wounds which matched his - her cheek still bruised from the blow by Hugh the day prior, and her head trickled blood as well from Thaddeus’ blow. She was covered in dirt and her own sweat mingled with the soot and filth, leaving odd flesh-colored paths on her cheeks. She moaned once, then leaned forward and gathered Will’s upper body to her chest. She rocked him like a child and softly cried as she looked heavenward.
Robin, after a backward glance assured him that the battle was all but won, walked slowly towards Chloe and Will. He himself was not sure if Will had survived, and he worried for Chloe’s sanity if Will should die. He heard her subdued cries and felt hopelessly awkward to comfort her in this loss.
Chloe, after a few moments of grief, stopped rocking and looked down at Will’s face. She lifted one hand to stroke his beloved, bedraggled hair as her grief blossomed into anger. He had somehow insinuated himself into her life, and now she needed him, and she needed him to need her. How dare he leave her at this time! She raged at the injustice of this untimely death, and began to yell at him, as if he were an errant child being scolded by an irate mother. “Will Scarlet, don’t you leave me! You can’t do this - not now. Now that I know that I love you!” She glared at him, willing him to open his eyes, then seeing that he still didn’t move, she looked upwards again, railing at God. “God! Oh, God!! Please don’t let him die! He is so good, and so many people need him. I need him! Oh, God...” Her sobs shook her and she was overcome.
Robin began to inch forward, intending to physically remove Chloe from this grief, when he suddenly stopped. A deep voice answered Chloe with, “You don’t have to yell so loud at me - I can hear you just fine!” Will opened his eyes, wincing once and then focusing on Chloe’s eyes as he smiled at her.
Chloe, at first incredulous that Will actually had spoken to her, felt washed in relief which was rapidly followed by anger. But before she could put words to her tumult of emotions, Will reached up with his free hand and pulled her face down to his and kissed her on her lips. Chloe pulled back, attempting to free herself, her instincts nearly overwhelming her desires. Then she pushed her instincts aside and lowered her head of her own free will and kissed him soundly on the lips right back. For both of them, it was the first true kiss that each had ever known, and it was sweet and rich and deep. Sweat and dirt and saliva mingled in their mouths and only the bruised cheeks and headaches prevented them from pursuing their passion further.
Robin stood a healthy distance away, and waited. When it was obvious that they had become aware once more of the world around them, he closed the gap and spoke aloud. “So, Will, I’d say we’re even now!” He grinned.
Will answered the grin with one of his own. “Aye, Robin, you could say that!”
End of Chapter 14
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