The FiresWithin
By Jeanne


Chapter 5

The rising sun cast an amber hue on the Scatlocke lands, painting a picture of peace and serenity.  This picture, however, was discredited by the gently blowing breeze, which carried the scent of recent fires - fires that only hours before destroyed homes and crops.  The outlaws were gathering to make plans for the day while they enjoyed their morning meal.  Little John was anxious to scout the burned areas for any clues as to the origins of the fires.  The others were of a like mind.  They hoped to find some proof that Prince John was behind these fires as suspected.

Will was absent from this meal which concerned Robin given the events of the previous evening.  Robin planned to go and speak with him.  The rest of the party was not aware of what happened when Will went to speak with his father, so Robin did not volunteer any information, stating only that he had something he needed to check out and would catch up with them shortly.

Marion gave Robin a quizzical look but said nothing.  Turning to Chloe she asked, "Are you going to join us this morning?"

"No, I thought I would go with Friar Tuck to offer help to the women here."

"Well then, let's go guys.  Robin, we will see you shortly."

Robin headed for Will's tent hoping to find him there.  He was in luck.  Will was lying on his makeshift bed, hands locked behind his head, staring at nothing in particular.  "Good morning Will," said Robin as he entered the tent.  He walked to a nearby stool and sat down.  Will
muttered a response while continuing to stare straight ahead.  Neither man spoke again.

The tension in Will increased in the ensuing moments until he could tolerate it no longer.  Jumping up from his bed he exclaimed "Robin, I know you have come to discuss what we witnessed at my father's home last night.  I cannot discuss this, you would not
understand."

"How can you be so sure, Will, unless you give me a chance?  You have told me much about your family over the last few months.  Your mother was a wonderful person and your father loved her very much.  You have expressed your concern for your father since your mother's death.  Your father has suffered greatly with the loss of both your mother and brother.  Your sister Claire is married and lives a good distance from here and due to the events of the last few months, you are in many ways lost to him too.  Your father must be a very lonely man, Will.  I'm sure Sir Geoffrey turned to this woman due to his overwhelming sense of loneliness, not because he thought to replace your mother."

Will, who had been pacing back and forth, stopped to face Robin.  "This woman could never replace my mother.  She is nothing but a lowly servant and to let her employer use her in this manner makes her no better than the village whore."

Outside Will's tent, Chloe stood, clutching a tray of food and frozen in shock at Will's last statement.  She had not meant to eavesdrop, but found it impossible not to overhear his last outburst.  In great dismay, she quietly but quickly fled, still clutching the tray.  She absentmindedly returned it to the eating area, and hurried to her tent as tears began to overwhelm her eyes.  In the privacy of her shelter, she let her tears flow unhampered.

Friar Tuck saw Chloe approach Will's tent with a loaded tray of food.  He couldn't help smiling as he thought of the recent changes in Chloe.  She had been tense and reserved when she first joined them.  She soon seemed comfortable with Marion and some of the other ladies but was
still rather reserved in her interactions with the other members of the camp, especially the men - until Will.  Chloe was different when in his presence.  There was a tangible chemistry between these two.  Tuck hoped for something good to come of this relationship.

Chloe had expressed her gratitude to Robin and the others for allowing her to live at the camp.  This gratitude was expressed most often through her willingness to help others.  Chloe helped with the cooking, washing and care of the children.  She was also interested in learning about healing and spent any free time she had watching and questioning him on the different herbs and their uses.  He tried to use this time to get to know Chloe better.  However, when questioned about her past she became very uncomfortable and usually found a reason to leave.  He had
learned little from her, only that she had left home at an early age to work in a great manor.  Something in her past was too upsetting for her to speak of but he hoped she would eventually trust him, one of the ladies, or Will enough to be able to open up about her former life.

Tuck was about to call a greeting to Chloe when she suddenly stopped, her face frozen in shock.  Before he could react, Chloe turned and headed toward her tent stopping only to leave the forgotten tray of food.  Tuck was unaware of the cause of her distress but realized it had
something to do with Will.  He hurried to Chloe's tent determined to get her to speak of the problem.

In Will's tent, Robin was startled by the explosive tone of Will's reply but not really surprised.  He needed to soothe this man in order for his words to reach him.  "Will listen to me.  This woman seemed to know you well.  Has she been with your family long?"

"Since before I was born.  She pretended to care about all of us, especially my mother.  Oh how she cried when my mother died.  They were probably tears of joy because my father was now free."

"You don't really believe that?"

"I do.  Well she is welcome to my father.  As far as I'm concerned he died with my mother."

Robin just shook his head.  "Will, don't say or do anything you will later regret.  You need to talk to your father and let him tell you his side of the story."

"There is nothing to tell.  My mother has only been gone for little more than a year.  It didn't take him long to get over his grief."

Robin was beginning to get angry.  He knew how hurt Will must feel seeing someone else with his father while he wished more than anything it was his mother.  But didn't he realize how lucky he was to have his father.  Robin told him just that.  "Will, instead of being angry with your father, you should be rejoicing in his company for the little time we have here.  I would give anything to have one more moment with my father.  Unfortunately, that can never happen for me."

"Robin, I know you lost your father and I'm more sorry than I can say, but our circumstances are entirely different."

"No Will they are not.  My father remarried after my mother died and my stepmother was a wonderful woman."

"I'm sure she was, but was she his servant all her life and did she sleep with him without the benefit of marriage?"  Before Robin could think of an appropriate response, Will said, "I thought not."

Will was becoming more than a little upset with Robin.  He was sure Robin was trying to help but defending his father and Agatha was not the way to do it.  Will gave Robin a rather stern look, thanked him for trying to help and then in a rather cold voice told him he was going to
investigate the fire sites.

"As I promised Marion to join them, I will ride with you."

"Fine."

Robin followed Will out of the tent, shaking his head all the while.  What was he to do?  He had no idea how to help this man.  Maybe Tuck would know what to do.  Robin vowed to talk to
Tuck as soon as he returned from the fire areas.

Tuck entered Chloe's tent and found her sitting on her cot, tears rolling down her cheeks, a look of total despair upon her face.  "Chloe, what has happened?" Tuck asked as he handed her a cloth to wipe her face.  Chloe accepted the cloth but found she was unable to speak.  She
saw such concern and compassion in Tuck's face that her crying increased rather than stopping.  "Please tell me what is wrong, my child.  Let me see if I can help you."

"There is nothing you can do Friar" she tearfully responded.

"Let me be the judge of that.  Now please, what has happened?  Is it Will?"  Chloe had been looking at her hands, watching the cloth she was twisting tighter and tighter.  She raised
startled eyes to Tuck.  "I saw you heading toward Will's tent with a tray of food and I also saw you leave just as quickly.  Come now, tell me what has happened and maybe together we can find a solution to the problem."

Chloe drew a steadying breath and tried to find a way to tell the Friar.  This proved to be a most difficult task.  Tuck realizing her difficulty in speaking of her feelings began to question her. "Chloe do you have special feelings for Will?"

A faint "yes" was her only reply.

"Have you discussed these feelings with Will?"

"NO!" was her horrified reaction to this question.  "I could never let him know how I feel."

"Why ever not, my child?"

"Will is so above me in station.  He is the heir to a great manor and all this land.  I am nothing but a common servant."

"Chloe, Will gave all this up to live the life of an outlaw, that very same life you live.  Besides, I don't think your having been a servant at one time would carry any weight with Will."

A hard look came into Chloe's eyes.  "There you are wrong Friar.  I just heard Will ranting about his father taking up with a lowly servant.  It was not just her station in life that has him upset.  It is the also the nature of her relationship with his father, a relationship that should only exist within the boundaries of marriage.  His contempt for this servant woman was very evident in his voice."

"Don't worry about that, Chloe!  I can officially marry you two.  You won't be living in sin."

Chloe was exasperated over Tuck's lack of insight into the problem.  On the other hand, she didn't really want him or anyone else to know of her lurid past.  She did not directly respond to Tuck's promise to marry her and Will but said, "Tuck, a woman's reputation is so important, and so fragile - so easily ruined, for life…"

"Chloe, my child, it will be alright.  Perhaps we can persuade Sir Geoffrey to marry this woman."

Chloe just shook her head.  "Don't worry about it Tuck.  It doesn't really matter.  Will would never want a woman like me…"

Tuck thought about the feelings Chloe overheard Will express.  This did not seem like the man that he had come to know the last two months.  He had often spoken with Will and found him to be a fair and unbiased person.  He also had learned how much Will loved and missed his mother.
That must be the root of this problem.  "Chloe, you know how much Will loved his mother.  I'm sure he is feeling overwhelmed with many emotions right now. This woman's station in life is not the real problem here.  Nor do I think the nature of her relationship with his father is the
entire problem.  I believe Will finds it difficult to accept that his father cares about another woman.  Give him time, he will come around to accepting this woman when he sees how good she is for his father.  Now dry your tears and let us go to the Martin's and see if we can offer
some assistance."

Oh Tuck, Chloe thought, if only that was true.  But you don't know the whole of it.  Chloe believed that Will would not be happy with her status as a former servant, but he may have been able to overlook it.  However, she was sure if he ever learned that she had been with Sir Hugh, no matter that it had been rape, he would turn away from her in disgust.   She had deluded herself into thinking Will could care about her.  The reality of this situation was just so very painful.  Chloe went to the small pail of water she had and wet the rag to wipe her face.  When she had done this and fixed her hair, she turned to Tuck.  "Thank you for your kindness.  You were right, I do feel better and am ready to go to the Martin's."

As Tuck made to leave, Chloe detained him saying, "Friar, promise me you will not speak of this to Will."

"Chloe,...”

"Promise me."

"I promise not to speak of this to Will."

"Thank you."

But, thought Tuck, that doesn't mean I cannot speak of this to Robin.

Helen Martin and her children were busy cleaning up from their morning meal when Friar Tuck and Chloe arrived.  Roger was nowhere to be seen.  Helen was honored to have these guest but nervous and shy.  The possibility that Roger would return home inebriated was a very real concern.

Tuck noticed her wariness but assumed it was from having strangers in her home.  He soon drew her out of her shyness and they were comfortably seated at the table exchanging cooking tips and the various uses of herbs.  Chloe was helping Ned finish his chores.  She tried to draw Meggie into their conversation but the little girl said nothing.  Ned spoke up.  "She don't talk anymore.  Just quit talking.  Mum thinks she's too afraid that Papa will get mad and hurt her."

Chloe hesitated then asked, "Does your papa get mad a lot, Ned?"

"Only when he drinks.   Then he gets real mad and mean too."  As Chloe continued to draw Ned
out, Meggie inched her way closer and closer to Chloe.   Chloe continued
to look and speak to Ned but opened her arms to the little girl who slowly came into them.  Chloe was so very careful not to say or do anything to frighten this child.

Ned more than made up for Meggie's silence.  He told Chloe about the village and his friends. He spoke of the recent fires and how his mother worried that the fires would reach their home. He spoke lovingly of his mother and how he tried to help her, but when he talked of his father, his voice took on an angry tone.  Chloe thought Ned was unusually mature for his age.  If her suspicions were correct and Roger was abusing Helen and these lovely children, then the reason for his early maturity became evident.  Chloe resolved to do what she could to help this family.

When Ned had finished his chores, he asked his mother for permission to go into the village.  He offered to take Meggie with him and promised to watch her closely.  Helen gave her permission but told Ned to make sure he took good care of his sister and they were to be back in time for
their afternoon meal.  Ned asked Chloe if she would like to accompany them and she agreed.  Meggie shyly placed her hand in Chloe's and the three headed for the village.

Sir Hugh Beauforte was in his stables preparing to go and examine the sites of the recent fires.  He wanted to see for himself just how much damage had been done and if any of his holdings were involved.  Sir Hugh had struck up a deal with Prince John wherein he would be reimbursed for any damages to his holdings.  Hugh wasn't about to trust anyone and that included the Prince.  He would assess the damages himself to make sure he wasn't cheated.  He mounted his horse and signaling to his guards, headed toward the fire sites.

End of Chapter Five

Chapter Six

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