The FiresWithin
By Jeannie
 Chapter 8

The veil of smoke grew thinner as they neared the castle gates.  Each member of the small group was lost in thought, some were anxious to see their loved ones and know they were safe, others were worried about their homes and what they would do now.  Robin and the other outlaws
were wondering how they could stop this madness.

Will's thoughts were of his father and Chloe.  It had been months since he had seen his father and he had been anxious to see him again, only to arrive and find him in the arms of Agatha.  Why did it have to be her?  He had always thought her so good and kind.  She had seemed so helpful to his mother.  How could she do this to her memory?  How could his father behave this way?  Will had vowed never to return to the manor but here he was approaching the entrance.  He had to put aside his feelings for his father and Agatha for the good of the villagers and Chloe.

Will felt this urgent need to get inside the castle gates.  He must be sure that Chloe was safe.  He had this overwhelming need to speak with her.  Will found it easy to share his feelings with Chloe.  He was sure she would understand his anger towards his father and Agatha.  Will
mounted his horse and set off, surging ahead of the group.

Will entered the castle gates to controlled chaos.  People were wandering around the grounds searching for friends and loved ones.  As he dismounted, he heard Agatha's voice giving instructions in an attempt to organize and calm the villagers.  Will was filled with rage at the
effrontery of this woman acting like the lady of the castle, a position that belonged to his late mother.  Robin coming up beside Will at that moment rested his hand on Will's shoulder and said, "Now is not the time, Will.  You can deal with that matter later.  We must help these people."  Will took a deep breath and turned to Robin.  "You are right, of course.  Have you seen Chloe?"  "No I haven't.  Perhaps she is with Tuck."  They began searching through the crowd for their friends.

They spied Tuck consoling a distraught Helen Martin and her son Ned.  Roger was approaching his wife and son, a mixture of concern and anger distorting his features.  "Where is Meggie?"

"I don't know; she was walking behind Ned and me.  Chloe was taking care of her.  The smoke
was…"

Helen didn't have a chance to finish speaking.  Roger, his face a deep red and features tense, slapped Helen with the back of his hand splitting her lower lip and causing her to fall.  "I thought I warned you about trusting that woman with my children.  Do you have any idea where they are?"  Helen, cowering in fear, tears rolling down her face, could only shake her head.

A startled Tuck jumped to his feet when Roger attacked Helen.  "Roger!  That is no…."

"You stay out of this Friar.  This is between me and my wife."  Little John, approaching the group, jerked to a stop, so appalled was he at Roger's behavior.  He started toward Roger when Robin put a restraining hand on his arm.  He turned to Robin who shook his head at him in silent warning.  "Later," Robin whispered to Little John.

Robin asked Tuck if he knew where Chloe was.  "Chloe and Meggie were last seen walking to the castle.  They had fallen behind Helen and Ned but were within sight for a period of time.  The smoke became so thick it was hard to see.  Helen and Ned kept walking since neither Chloe or Meggie called out to them.  They assumed the two were following behind."

Will grabbed the sleeve of Tuck's robe.  "Do you mean no one knows where Chloe is?"

Tuck, shaking his head said, "I'm sorry Will.  I think they must have gotten lost while heading for the castle."

"Has anyone goneto look for them?"

"No, we just realized they did not arrive with the rest of the group."

Will turned and hurried off.  "Wait,Will," called Robin, "we will go with you."  Robin, Little John and Kemal quickly went to get their horses.

"I will stay with Tuck and see what I can do to help here", Marion told Robin.

"Good.  Hopefully we will be back with Chloe and Meggie very soon."

Roger called to the group to stop.  "I will go with you."  Robin tried to discourage Roger for he knew how his fellow outlaws felt about Roger's recent behavior towards his wife.  "Meggie is my daughter.  If you don't want me to go with you, then I will go on my own."

"No one is to venture out alone.  We already have two people missing; we don't want
to add to that number.  Will, please lend Roger a horse so he may help us look for his daughter and Chloe."  Will nodded and set off for the stables.

The group left the castle grounds heading toward the Martin's home.  The smoke-laden air slowed them down considerably.  Will, terribly anxious over Chloe's disappearance, wondered if they would ever reach their destination.  Robin asked Roger and Will if they had reached half the
distance to the Martin's home.  It was hard to tell their location with all the smoke, but they both felt that they were in the area where Ned said he had last seen Chloe and Meggie.

Little John dismounted to get a closer look at the ground.  He was hoping to find something that belonged to one of them.  He walked for a short distance finding no clues.  He again mounted his horse and the group proceeded to the Martin home.  The surrounding destruction caused
by the fires was a devastating sight.  The fire had raged through this area destroying everything in its path.

Suddenly, Roger emitted an anguished cry.  They had reached his home or what was once his home.  The fire had reached this far and everything was reduced to cinders.  Roger slid from his horse and approached the smoldering ashes, all that remained of his home.  Robin quickly
dismounted and hurried to Roger's side, placing one hand on each of Roger's arms.  He gently shook the man saying "Roger I know the pain of losing your home, but we will help you to rebuild.  Right now we must concentrate on finding your little girl."

Roger looked at Robin, slowly returning to the urgency of their quest.  "Meggie! What if she was
caught in the fire?  She may be dead now?"

"NO, they are not dead", cried Will.

"How can you be sure.  That woman was supposed to bring them to safety within the castle walls."

"That woman," retorted Will, "probably saved your daughter's life.  If something happened to her
because of -"

An angry Robin yelled for both men to stop placing blame.  "This is accomplishing nothing.  Let us assume that for whatever reason, they had to return this way.  I'm sure Chloe would have continued moving away from the fire.  I suggest we move on with that in mind."

The men remounted and continued searching.  Little John called for them to halt.  He quickly dismounted and bent down.  "What is it Little John?" asked Kemal.

"Fresh tracks, two horses heading in that direction", he said pointing.  Will informed them that the horses were headed toward Sir Hugh Beauforte's manor.  Robin called for them to proceed toward the manor in the hope that Chloe and Meggie had found shelter there.

"Great," thought Robin, just what we needed right now, a confrontation with Sir Hugh.  I pray we find Chloe and Meggie there and can depart without any trouble."

Robert, head guard to Sir Hugh, went to speak with him.  "Riders are approaching sir.  There are five of them.  One looks to be Sir William Scatlocke."

"That probably means Robin Hood is with him.  Take Chloe and the girl to the cellars and make sure they keep quiet.  It is on your head if either of them escapes."  Turning to Chloe he said, "If you wish no harm to come to this little girl, you will do as Robert instructs."

Robert led them away as Hugh made his way outside to greet his visitors.  Lady Madeleine had been standing outside the room and heard the entire conversation.  If these men had come for the woman and the girl, she must make them aware that Hugh was hiding them in the cellars, but how?  Madeleine followed Hugh outdoors and realized that any attempt to communicate with these men would lead to disaster.  Hugh's guards surrounded them.  If anyone attempted to find that woman, he would be instantly killed.  Madeleine retreated into her home, there to formulate
a plan to get word to Sir William.  She vowed to rid her home of this woman and make her husband suffer as he did her.

Sir Hugh greeted his visitors.  "What brings you to my home?"

Will, still seated upon his horse, tilted his head in Roger's direction.  "You know Roger Martin who lives in the village.  His daughter is missing along with a friend of ours.  Her name is Chloe.  We spotted horse tracks not far from the Martin's home and followed them to your manor.
We hoped they sought shelter here from the fires."

Sir Hugh shook his head.  "I'm sorry, but no one has sought shelter from me and my man, and I
saw no one on our return to the castle.  I am sorry about your missing daughter, Roger.  I will certainly keep watch for her and send word to you if she is found.  Now is there anything else I can do for you men?"

A defeated Will replied that no there was nothing more he could do and the party left.  Something about the visit puzzled Robin but he was too concerned about Chloe's disappearance to dwell on it now.  The group headed back to Scatlocke castle, hoping Chloe and Meggie would be there.

Sir Hugh went to his cellars.  He told Robert of the search and instructed him to post extra guards around the manor.  Robert left to do his bidding.  "I think this will be the perfect place for you to stay for the time being, my dear," Hugh said to Chloe.

A defiant Chloe, heartsick by the fact that Will was unable to rescue her said to Hugh,
"My friends will find me and you will pay for your treatment of Meggie."

Hugh grabbed her by the hair and yanked until her head was tilting back in a painful manner.  "You will be the one who pays for your insolence."  He then threw Chloe to the floor and left.

Meggie was sitting in the corner, trembling.  Chloe seeing her got up and went to comfort her.  "Do not worry, my sweet child, Will and Robin will come back for us.  They will not let anything happen to us."  Chloe prayed that these words were true.

Robin and the others returned to the castle.   Marion’s face told them what they wanted to know as she greeted them.  Chloe and the girl were not within.  For her part, Marion had hoped her friend would be with Robin.  "Robin?"  Robin quickly shook his head before
Marion could say more.  Marion understood and said, "Come and have
something to eat."

Robin, hoping to ease some of the tension in this group replied, "Ah, that's what I like, being greeted by a beautiful woman with a hot meal waiting for me.  I see everyone has been busy."

Will looked around and noticed everything was well organized.  Makeshift tents were set up along the yard, with each family having their own little area.   "You have done a wonderful job of organizing everyone, Marion,” he said.

"I cannot take credit for this transformation, Will.  It was Agatha's hard work that got everyone settled and fed."  Will had no response to this comment.  The men went to wash up while Marion went to help Agatha fix them plates.

Roger, after washing the soot from his face and hands, excused himself from the group.  He was going to find his wife and son.  Little John looked at Kemal who nodded in silent agreement and both followed Roger.  Wife or no wife, law or no law, neither man was going to allow Roger to
abuse his wife again.  "Where are you headed?" asked Roger.

"We thought to find Tuck with your family" responded Little John.  The three of them
headed toward the area where Helen was camped.

As Roger neared the makeshift shelter that would temporarily house his family, Helen asked if he had found Meggie.  Little John, not wanting Roger to act out again, answered that they had not found either Meggie or Chloe but they would continue to look.  "They must have found shelter somewhere from the fires.  The fires traveled all through the village."

Helen looked at Roger.  "Our home?"

"Gone" said a dejected Roger.

Little John put his hand on Roger's shoulder.  "We will find your daughter and then we will help you build a new home."  Tuck asked where he could find Robin.  Helen wanted Tuck, Little John and Kemal to join them for their meal.  Little John and Kemal agreed.  They were hungry and wanted to keep an eye on Roger.  Tuck thanked Helen but said he needed to speak with Robin.

Robin and Will were telling Marion about their search as they enjoyed their meal.  Marion mentioned seeing two men on horseback earlier in the day.  She assumed it was Sir Hugh.  Tuck came up and joined them.  "Did you discover any clues that will help us to find Chloe and Meggie?"  Robin replied that they had gone as far as Sir Hugh Beauforte's manor
with no sign of either of them.

Agatha was busy cleaning up with the help of Mary, a woman from the village.  Mary looked at Will and shyly asked, "Excuse me Sir William, are you speaking of the woman that was with you yesterday?"

"Yes we are.  Why do you ask?"

"I recognized her from the manor."

"What manor?" asked a baffled Will.

"The manor belonging to Sir Hugh Beauforte.  Did you check with Sir Hugh to see if the woman was there?"

Will, still confused, asked, "Why would she be at Beauforte Manor?"

"She used to work there.  I saw her when I went to help my sister prepare for a grand party."

Will was astounded at this news.  "You must be mistaken, madam."

Tuck spoke up.  "She is probably right, Will."

"What do you know of this, Tuck?”  Will paused, deep in thought.  “It is little wonder Chloe never wanted to discuss her past.  She had to know Sir Hugh and my father are old enemies.  Tell me, Tuck, have you known all along?"

Tuck shook his head.  "We need to talk privately, Will."

"You can speak in front of Marion and Robin."  Tuck looked at Agatha and Mary.  The ladies, understanding, excused themselves.

Tuck then told Will of the morning's events starting with Chloe bringing him a tray of food.  He kept nothing back.  He went on to tell Will that Chloe was troubled by what she heard and that no amount of reassurance on Tuck's part seemed to convince her that Will was speaking from hurt rather than his true feelings.

"Do you think Chloe kept her past a secret because she worried that I would think less of her?"

"Yes I do.  And what's more, I believe Chloe was even more upset by your comment
about the nature of the relationship between your father and Agatha."

"What comment?  I can't remember what I said in the heat of anger?"

"I believe it was something to do with Agatha being no better than the village whore."

"Surely Chloe doesn't think I would in any way compare her to Agatha?" asked an astounded Will.

"She did, Will."

Will put his head between his hands and mumbled, "What have I done?"

Marion had said nothing during this time.  She placed her hand on Robin's arm and with a movement of her head indicated that she wanted him to join her.  Robin taking one look at Marion's face quickly joined her.  When they were alone he asked, "Marion, what is it?"

Marion, stumbling on how to broach the matter, told Robin she had something to
tell him.

"What ever it is Marion, just say it."

"You remember how nervous and afraid Chloe was when she first came to camp and how she
refused to venture out for a long time?"  Robin said nothing just nodded.  "Well I finally got her to tell me a little about her past life.  She ran away from home because her father drank and abused them.  She ended up working at some manor.  As she grew older, the lord of the
manor took notice of her and began to bother her.  He ended up raping her."

"What? shouted Robin.

"Please keep your voice down, Robin.  Chloe made me promise to never speak of this to anyone.  I only betrayed her trust because I think Sir Hugh must be that lord.  We must get Chloe before he does anything more to her."

"You are right," Robin said.  "We must tell Will."

"No Robin" was Marion's emphatic reply.  "I broke my promise to Chloe by telling you.  No one else must know unless Chloe herself chooses to speak of this.  Promise me Robin."

"All right, Marion, I promise.  We must get the others though and plan how to rescue Chloe and Meggie for I fear they must be at Hugh's.  I was puzzled by something at Hugh's today and now I know what it was.  A kitten ran across the courtyard.  This kitten had a little pink bow around its
neck.  Now I remember seeing that kitten yesterday at the Martin's.  Roger must not have seen it and with my worry over Chloe, I didn't realize that it could be Meggie's kitten.  How many kitten's have pink bows on them?  I thought Sir Hugh was too accomodating - he was in a hurry for us to leave!  Come let us gather the others and make plans for a rescue."

"Robin what will you say when they ask how you can be sure Chloe and Meggie are at Sir Hugh's manor?"  "I will tell them about the kitten and how I just remembered.  Don't worry.  Chloe's secret is safe with me."  Robin went to join Will and Tuck while Marion went for Little John and Kemal.  Time was of the essence.  It would soon be dark.

End of Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

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