After putting some distance between them and the captured soldiers, Robin halted the group for a hasty meal and a brief rest for the horses. They all drank their fill from a nearby stream that Will remembered, and then the company of outlaws continued their journey to the village on Scatlocke manor. Will’s anticipation of happy reunions with some of those villagers he had come to know in the year after his mother’s death was only surpassed by the joy he expected at finally seeing his father after three months. Thus distracted, he did not notice the growing uneasiness in Chloe.
She rode beside him but her thoughts were of a far different nature than Will’s. Her anticipation was clouded by memories of misery and isolation. She continually reminded herself that they were not going onto the Beauforte lands. As she remembered the enmity that existed between the two lords, she convinced herself that it was unlikely that she would ever see Sir Hugh or any of his people at all over here. She chided herself for her cowardice, and tried to imagine what might lie ahead for their little group. But her face gave witness to the battles within, and the victors seemed to be dread and fear. Will, caught up in his own musings, saw nothing, but Tuck occasionally caught glimpses of Chloe’s face and he took note. He would speak with her later.
Little John rode next to Kemal, and they both intently searched the areas they rode through, smelling the air and looking for smoke and other signs of fire spreading. They were both relieved up to this point; so far, no signs of fire.
Robin and Marion rode out front, quietly talking over what they could do for the villagers once they arrived. Robin wanted to have a clear plan of action, and to get all the villagers, who were able, to help out. Marion smiled with pride at Robin’s forethought and leadership. No one could rally people like Robin. He noticed her grin and flashed back his own, dimples at full tilt. “Why are you smiling at me?” he asked her.
Marion just shook her head, and replied, “No reason. Can’t I just smile because I am happy?”
Robin looked at this woman at his side and beamed back at her. It wasn’t so long ago that they were bickering instead of collaborating. He would accept her every smile - even the ones that had no obvious reason - every chance he was given. Before he could come up with a playful retort, Will’s horse cantered up to meet them.
Will noted the look between Robin and Marion and for a fleeting moment, envied them. How he wanted a woman to look at him like that. Actually, he realized at that instant, he wanted Chloe to look at him like that. Not just any woman anymore. He realized that if he had never become an outlaw, he would never have met Chloe. And even if he had met her outside of his connection with Robin, while he was Sir William Scatlocke, heir to Sir Geoffrey, he and Chloe would never have been allowed to speak beyond him giving orders and her following them. But now they were equals. Odd, the twists and turns life had brought him, he thought. How much else would he have missed by staying in his former life?...
Robin interrupted Will’s reverie with a question. “Are we close, Will?”
Will snapped back to the present situation and responded, “Yes, Robin. Just beyond that curve ahead is the village.”
The outlaws all shifted their attention to the road ahead, and their horses picked up speed for the last leg of the journey. As they galloped into the village, they were met by a few of the local men. The eldest, a stooped man of about seventy years, holding himself up with a long cane, greeted them. His blue eyes flashed as he tried to assess who these strangers were, and what they wanted. Everyone in the village had become wary of any strange folks at all, because of the nearby fires.
“Hail, strangers! What come ye here for on this fine day?” The old men bellowed in his most menacing voice.
Robin halted his horse, and the others did the same. He smiled down at the old man and respectfully but firmly replied, “We come to help you. I am Robin Hood, and these people are with me. We heard of the fires, and wanted to assist you to fight them off.”
The old man squinted up at Robin suspiciously and paused. Two other men joined him and looked at the riders gathered before them. One of them stepped forward and shot back, “Fine words, man. But Robin Hood is known to live in Sherwood forest, and that is many leagues away from here. Why would he want anything to do with us?”
Robin dismounted, as did his friends. He walked towards the men of the village and held his arms open wide in a gesture of unarmed friendship. “Because he counts all the people of England as his friends, for the sake of their king, Richard. Will you not allow us to help you? What is your name?” Robin looked at the younger, more suspicious and vocal man in the group
The man, alarmed at the approach of the bold and notorious outlaw, backed up a step and drew his knife. “Listen here, whoever you are. We didn’t ask for your help and we don’t believe your lies. Now get out of this village, or else -” He flashed the knife back and forth to make his point clear. Robin kept his eyes on the man in front of him but spoke to his friends behind him. “Will? What’s the plan now?”
Will, behind Marion and next to Little John and Chloe, watched with a bemused smile. “Well, Robin, I’d say follow your instincts. You are usually right about how to handle a man.”
Robin, amused also at the unexpected frosty reception, decided to make his new “friend” more acquainted with his many talents. “Have it your way - what did you say your name was, friend?”
The man twisted the knife a bit and growled, “I didn’t say. Now, get -”
He never completed the sentence, as Robin, quicker than lightening, lunged forward, and grabbed the man’s arm and hit it against his knee, displacing the knife. Then he rolled backwards onto his back, pulling the surprised man forward and flipping him over his head. The stunned villager landed flat on his back on the road. Robin deftly sprung up onto his feet and turned to face the other two villagers, and flashed a smile. “I find it so much more welcoming when I know my host’s name. Now what did you say your names were?” He flashed a large and genuine smile, bowing and introducing himself. “Robin Hood, at your service.”
The old man opened his mouth but could not get words to flow. The other man merely stared first at Robin, then at his fellow villager, lying on his back, the wind knocked out of him. Will stepped forward, laughing under his breath. He approached the downed man and spoke to Robin as he extended his hand to the breathless man. “This one’s name is Roger. Roger Martin. And he has always been known for his temper, Robin, so don’t take it personally.” He smiled as Roger took his outstretched hand and looked quizzically at the face of the unknown helper.
Roger stood up, wiped the dust of the road off his clothing, and looked carefully at the face of Will Scarlet. He knew that face, yet it was somehow different than he remembered. “Do I know you? How do you know my name?’
Will laughed again, throwing his head back and holding his stomach. He relaxed and looked straight into Roger’s eyes and asked, “Am I so changed, Roger, that you don’t know me? It has only been three months since you last spoke to me - about the fence that needed mending on the east ridge.” His eyes pleaded with Roger’s to remember.
Roger turned his head to the side a bit and studied the face of the man who knew him. Suddenly, recognition dawned and he stood up straighter. “My lord! It’s Sir William, it is!”
With that, old Gilbert walked up to him and shook his arm in a grip of friendship and respect. “Aye, it is! Well, lad, you’re a bit changed, now! Where are all your fine clothes? And this beard is a new addition!” He teased Will and beamed. Meanwhile, the third man turned and ran to the remaining villagers who had gathered nearby, watching the events with interest. He joyfully announced the return of Sir WIlliam, and many people then converged on the party from Sherwood. The entire group was vocal and unanimous in their excitement to have their lord’s son visit them once again. Clearly, Will had made a favorable impression on them during the year after his mother’s death, when he had been their main supporter. Eventually, it was decided to gather the leaders of the village in the largest building available, and to discuss the current situation.
Robin stood next to Will, with his fingers stroking his chin, a bemused smile across his face. Here, it seemed, Will was the appointed leader, and though it was an honor to have Robin Hood and his band join them, it was Sir William they turned to for advice. Will, somewhat taken aback by this acceptance, often turned to Robin with an apologetic look on his face, and begged with a grimace for Robin’s input. When the plans had been adequately set, the group decided to enjoy a meal together and to commence work in earnest in the morning.
As they all made their way to various homes for food, Chloe lagged behind. She was a sea of emotion - pleased for Will and his warm reception, and simultaneously afraid that someone here might know her secrets and betray them. She knew it had been months since she had found her way out of Beauforte’s manor, yet she still felt she was a marked woman, damaged for life. What her father had done to her mother, and her sister, and even at times to her, was awful. But what Sir Hugh Beauforte had done was even worse, and she knew she was forever a changed woman. Staring at Will’s back as he strode towards Roger’s hut, she felt a physical pain in her chest. He was a man she would have been willing to trust. But she knew deep within herself that a man like that would never be willing to accept a woman like her - at least, not after he knew the truth. So she closed herself up again and reluctantly followed him. Friar Tuck, walking quickly to keep up with Little John and Kemal as they walked to one of the other villager’s homes, glanced over at Chloe as she gazed longingly after Will, then shifted her vision to the ground. He remained troubled for her, and made a mental note to find a way to speak with her the next day.
Robin and Marion walked with old Gilbert as he pontificated on the history of Scatlocke manor and their village. He amused them with stories well into the night, and Robin was careful to ask all about Will and his history. He had grown quite fond of Will, now called Scarlet, and was akin to him in the sacrifices they had both made for the people of England. He felt that he and Will would be even closer friends after this errand, and was grateful to old Gilbert for increasing his knowledge of this new outlaw and friend.
In Beauforte castle, Lady Madeleine sat in her bedroom. Her maid was brushing the long brown tresses, still thick and beautiful despite the years of hardship. She gazed at her reflection in the dull mirror, and ruefully thought of her youthful beauty, now replaced by a hardness which she recognized. It was like looking at her own mother. Yet she had vowed never to allow herself to become like her... How, then, had it happened? She tired of the endless stroking of the brush, and brusquely sent her maid away. She stared at herself for another moment, then pushed herself out of her chair and walked to the window. She peered up through the clouds at the cold stars, and found no solace there.
She shivered in the autumn night’s chill and wrapped a shawl closer around herself. Turning, she caught sight of her bed. She sneered at it, knowing there would be no comfort there, either. It had been weeks since Sir Hugh had joined her and she did not expect him again tonight. Thinking of him, she felt her heart grow colder. Really, it was his fault that she had become like this. After all, how much could a woman stand? He was handsome to look at, and she still felt a familiar longing whenever she glimpsed him without his knowing it. Then, he was unguarded, and the softness about his eyes and smile were intoxicating. But when he knew she was present, he was so cold to her. It was like a veil descended over his face, and he became remote and hard. And in self-defense, so did she. After they had lost the last of their children, he had despaired of ever having an heir, and she knew he had blamed her. And now her life was a living hell. He was free to go out, stay away for weeks, flirt and use any servant he pleased, but she was a prisoner within her own home, trapped in her unhappiness. Her mood blackened, and she turned her thoughts to revenge on this man who had been the author of her miserable existence.
Back in the Martin’s home, Will stood, and begged his leave. He could not wait a moment longer to visit his father, and so rushed out the door. Chloe watched him leave, and wished for him a reunion she knew she would never have. She turned her attention on the children in the home. The boy Edmund, whom they called Ned, was industrious and very responsible. Even now, he helped his mother clean up the dishes. They had refused to let Chloe lift a finger, as she was an honored guest, here with Sir William. Chloe found herself for the first time in months without a thing to do. So she sat and observed the harmony of the mother and son as they worked.
Roger sat at his table, smiling at a joke he had made with Sir William, and then pushed his stool back. Gruffly, he spoke to his wife, who startled at his voice. “I’m going to find old Gilbert, Helen. I’ll be late.” And with that, he left. Chloe noted the tension in Helen’s shoulders as Roger spoke to her, and then saw the muscles slowly relax as Helen gradually allowed herself to realize his absence.
Ned looked at his mother, and they exchanged a look that Chloe knew by heart. It spoke of temporary relief, but eventual misery. Chloe shuddered for them, and for herself as she was transported back to a time when her own father had held power over the family the way Roger obviously did here.
Chloe then looked at Meggie. Such a sweet child, but she never spoke a word. She sat in the corner, stroking her kitten, and smiling. She rarely looked up from her play, but when she did, it was never at her father. Several times, she stared at Chloe, and when Chloe smiled back at her, Meggie blushed and looked down again quickly. Chloe resolved to confirm her fears for this family and to do something - anything - she could to prevent a tragedy happening here like the one her own sister had experienced. Besides, it was easier to distract herself with other people’s problems than to face her own surfacing demons.
She knit her brow as she thought about Will’s connection to Roger. It was clear that they were on friendly terms. How would he feel if Chloe were to interfere in this little family, and raise suspicion about the man who Will called friend? She was troubled at the thought, closed her eyes, and rested her head against the wall. As she pondered, she suddenly felt a warmth at her side. Meggie had quietly come over to her and sat next to her, carrying the kitten. Then she had placed the kitten onto Chloe’s lap. Meggie’s enormous hazel eyes peered up at Chloe as if to say, “Don’t worry! I’ll be your friend.” Chloe pet the kitten, smiled at Meggie, then stroked her small head. She resolved again, to herself and in the name of her sister Eleanor, to save this darling child from any harm.
After touching base with Robin, Will made off to the horses. As he saddled his, he heard a commotion off to his left. Looking in that direction, he spied Robin beginning to saddle his own horse. “I’m coming with you, Will. We outlaws try to go in pairs. You never know when you’ll need a friend.” He smiled at his friend.
Will knew better than to argue with Robin, so smiled back and completed his task. The two men rode out under the cloudy sky, catching an occasional glimpse of the stars and appreciating the moment. Having told Robin all about his family during the two months at Sherwood, while Robin had convalesced and Will had accustomed himself to his new role, Will felt no need to tell Robin how he felt about this soon-to-be reunion. He knew that Robin understood.
When they arrived at the castle, Will took them to a back entrance. He knew the guard on duty, who recognized Will’s voice and let them pass. The two men dismounted and allowed their horses to be taken by one of Sir Geoffrey’s men. They entered the castle and made their way straight to the main hall. Will knew it was his father’s habit to spend his evenings in front of the fire, missing his dead wife, and eventually falling asleep. When he rounded the corner and smiled, anticipating his father’s surprise, he stopped short. Robin, right behind Will, stopped also, and looked with alarm at Will’s countenance, and then into the hall.
There, a large man of courtly stature, with golden red hair, graying gracefully, was holding a woman, a few years younger than himself. They had just kissed and were turning, arms around waists, to make their way out of the hall. They stopped short at the site of Will.
The woman spoke first, as she blushed and separated herself from the man. “Sir William? Is that you?”
Will’s only response was an icy glare at his father. Sir Geoffrey, somewhat chagrined at his son’s discovery, collected himself and strode towards his son, arms reaching out to embrace his son. “Will! My boy, how good it is to see you!” He held his son, who weakly returned the embrace. Sir Geoffrey patted Will’s back twice, firmly, and then released his son. “And who is your friend?”
Robin, looking at Will and seeing the tension mount, thought it best if he introduced himself. “My name is Robin - Robin Hood, Sir Geoffrey. Will has told me much about you and it is a pleasure to finally meet you.” Sir Geoffrey shook Robin’s arm in greeting, then looked back at his son. Agatha, meanwhile, had quietly exited the room to give Sir Geoffrey some privacy with his son.
The lord of the manor, remembering his duties as a host, beckoned the two men to sit, and moved toward the ale to pour them each a cup.
Will stopped his father and crisply replied, “Don’t bother. We won’t be staying. We just came to tell you that we were here, and are staying in the village.”
Sir Geoffrey, clearly hurt by the rebuff, nevertheless maintained his composure and turned softly around. “Will, please. Don’t put up a wall between us. Why don’t you stay here?”
Will retorted, “Oh, that’s out of the question, father. It seems you have quite enough to keep you busy as it is.” He looked at the door where Agatha had just exited. “Besides, we need to stay close to the villagers, to help them prevent their village from burning to the ground. I think we should be going now.” He turned to Robin, who pleaded with Will with his eyes to be more lenient with his father. But seeing no openness there, Robin turned back to Sir Geoffrey, made a slight bow, and begged his leave. “We will keep you informed as to our progress, Sir Geoffrey. Good night.” And with that, the two men left.
Will stormed out of the castle, Robin hurrying on his heels. Will bellowed, “I can’t believe he has stooped to this level - a servant woman! Robin, I apologize for my father’s behavior.”
Robin caught up to Will, took his arm and stopped him. “Will, my friend, don’t you think you are being a bit hard on the man? Your mother has been gone now for over a year...”
Will, with pained eyes, looked at Robin and said, “Robin, I can’t talk about this with you right now. Let’s go!” And with that, he mounted his horse and bolted out of the yard, leaving Robin in his dust.
End of Chapter Four
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