By early morning Robin's temperature had shot up to staggering heights. Soaking the bed linens with sweat, his slender body shook as he mumbled incoherently of magic and Sherwood, and Mortiana. His father's physician prepared Robin for the trip he faced ahead of him instructing Andrew of an herbal concoction he should soak the compress in before applying it to his forehead, but other than that, could offer no other assistance.
"Milord" the doctor said to the Earl, "I find nothing wrong with your son yet
I know not how he continues to live with such a high fever".
"This is as a result of my greed in trying to manipulate my son's life to bring me a profit. God, himself, is punishing me" the Earl said hanging his head in shame. Andrew looked at his long time friend experiencing similar guilt in his original need to deceive him. Yet he found it so confusing that the story Robin and he had "invented" actually came to transpire almost as if they had written a story and were now living it out.
"Fear not my friend, I'll be findin a way to save the lad"
The Earl looked up warmly at Andrew and grasped him by the shoulders with a weak smile "Andrew, I don’t know how Robin and I could ever do without you. Thank you" and as he glanced over at his son's trembling body on the bed, he turned hurrying from the room as if he could bear no more.
Andrew ordered the servants to gently move Robin from the bed to the litter and as they gently lifted the young man he cried out in pain bringing Andrew to his side. He weakly opened his eyes and looked up at his teacher as if he had something that he must share.
"Andrew" he gasped, "I don't have long. I must get to Mortiana before sun down or I will die."
"How do ya know this lad" Andrew beseeched eyes filling with tears. "My illness...its...its..." he fought off another convulsion "Its born of magic. Mortiana is a... sorceress" He cried out again clutching at his chest then passed out, skin as ashen white as death itself.
"Robin..." Andrew whispered touching the young mans shoulder but his body was totally still "Robin"! Andrews fear was apparent, he believed the man to be dead. He threw his head down on his chest listening hard and sighed when he detected a faint heart beat.
It was apparent Robin knew of which he spoke, he was clinging to life by a single thread. "Hurry" he instructed the servants "Get him to the coach" and grabbing a few extra blankets and the herbal potion the physician had given him, followed along behind the litter.
The Earl watched Andrew from the tower window, noting how white his son had become. "My God, he's going to die and its all my fault . I've killed his mother forcing her to bear me a male child, and now I've killed my son" and with this he sunk to his knees leaning against the cold stone wall sobbing uncontrollably all of the tears he had kept inside all these years. Andrew looked up at the coach driver "Time is of the essence, go to the entrance to Sherwood and do not spare the horseflesh" he shouted leaping into the coach along side Robin.
The coach lurched forward almost sending Andrew to the floor , but the older man sat beside his ward bathing his fevered flesh in cool herbal waters. Robin slowly came conscious much to Andrews relief and faced his teacher with a smile. "Andrew, no matter what happens do not blame yourself. I've had a good life" Robin whispered weakly.
"I'll not be havin’ ya talk like that laddie. You'll not be dyin until I say you can and I'll not be givin you my permission yet" Andrew said taking Robins shaking hand, "We'll be to The Hollow Oak soon lad" and with this Robin smiled and closed his eyes his hand going limp. Andrew continued to shout directions to the driver as the horses galloped deep into the depths of Sherwood Forest. The servants were becoming a bit skittish about the trip as they believed the only ones who lived in Sherwood were witches and demons.
It wasn’t until dusk that they approached The Hollow Oak and as the carriage slowly came up the knoll, a silver mist began seeping out of the ground engulfing the carriage and the horses.
"Magic! It be the work of the devil himself" one of the servants gasped jumping from the upper seat of the coach running into the forest followed by the others including the driver.
"What goes on here" bellowed Andrew hoping down from the now still coach and looking at his surroundings eyes wide. He was surrounded by dwarf like creatures all slowly moving towards the coach laughing and giggling amongst themselves. Andrew looked back at the open door to the coach and the unconscious Robin lying within. "You'll not be touching my boy" Andrew said diving for the door and grabbing his sword off of the seat. He unsheathed the sword and leaped back outside preparing himself to battle off all of these demons.
"You'll be an easy kill" hissed one of the creatures.
"And our mistress will sup on your flesh tonight" croaked another.
"I'll not be lettin ya get to Robin" Andrew returned.
"Andrew, it is not necessary" he heard a weak voice behind him and turned to see Robin standing in the door grasping the doorframe, "Be gone" the young man commanded waving his hand and the demons all vanished in clouds of smoke. Then Robin looked back at Andrew "Get me to the Oak" he beseeched and fell from the door to the ground with a thud again unconscious.
"Laddie" he turned running to his side. He scooped the young outlaw in his arms and carried him through the thick underbrush towards the huge base of the oak tree. As he approached with Robins limp form cradled in his arms, there was a huge explosion of sparks and a mist of silver light before him. Andrew experienced no fear, however, having that emotion over rode with concern for his charge.
"Who is there?" came a echoing voice.
"It is I, Andrew MacGregor, under instruction from Merlin, the greatest sorcerer of all time"
"What instruction did the almighty Merlin offer?"
"To bring this man, Robin Hood, to you" Andrew continued.
"I understand" the voice echoed, and then an older woman with totally white face and a black robe and hood with a high color materialized before him "It is as it was prophesied"
"You can help him?" Andrew pleaded.
"I can" she allowed, "But for a price".
"And that be?" Andrew was not afraid of this woman but could see that her magic was not white magic, but that of the underworld. He knew Merlin had Robin's best interest at heart, but this creature of darkness that stood before him he was not so sure about.
"He must be willing to do me one service upon his recovery" she said casually turning her back to the couple and walking toward the tree. She waved her hand and a huge door in base of the tree appeared. "I didn’t agree witch" Andrew said defiantly.
"But you will" and she opened the door leaving it open and disappearing within.
"I hope you know what your talkin’ about lad" Andrew said looking down at the pale face lying against his shoulder and walked through the door.
He gasped turning around in circles looking at his surroundings. It was if he entered a castle, richly decorated and ornately furnished. How all of this could exist within a tree was beyond him.
"What is the favor you wish him to do witch?" Andrew went on not looking at
Mortiana but continuing to look at his surroundings.
"He must kill one of my enemies that I am unable to destroy" she casually returned with a wave of her long boney fingers.
"And does this enemy have a name?" he inquired not believing what he heard.
He noticed a long bench against one wall and slowly went lying Robin down on the bench his arms limply falling to the floor. He reached up to feel his forehead and realized to his horror that his fever had shot up even higher "You ARE a witch from the underworld! Your intentions are to kill Robin"! he exclaimed lunging at the sorceress.
She waved her hand and Andrews feet became adhered to the place in which he stood. He looked up in exasperation fighting to free himself before realizing that he could not battle magic. As his body relaxed, he looked up with tear filled eyes at the black witch and pleaded "He will die by sundown if you do not do something"
"The prophecy calls for him to live, and so he shall. Provided as his mentor, you agree for him to my wishes".
Andrews head dropped in defeat "As you wish. Who does Robin have to kill"?
She smiled at the older man in triumph "His name is Olwyn".
By Shelly Quinn
MacGregor glared at the witch. "I never heard of this Olwyn!" he hissed. "Why do you wish for Robin to kill him?"
Mortiana sighed. Mortals seldom listened. "I told you...he is my enemy. Now...be quiet!" she snapped. "The time has come." That said, Mortiana moved to Robin's side. She pressed one hand to his forehead and nearly gasped as the heat of his skin burned her flesh. But Mortiana kept her hand in place, and moved the other over Robin's heart. Then she whispered an incantation.
A silvery shimmer appeared, forming a shield like layer that surrounded Robin from head to toe. MacGregor watched this bit of magic, wide-eyed. He was afraid for Robin, yet could see with his own eyes the changes that were happening. Pale skin was becoming golden again and MacGregor swore he could almost hear the young man's heart beating louder and stronger in the lean chest.
Robin was coming to awareness as Mortiana worked her spell. Dark magic had dimmed the light of his spirit. His life force. But the darkness was ebbing away and Robin's strength was returning. The light inside him sparked into flame and he could feel it burn deep within. He inhaled deeply and released a sigh as the pain that had nearly crippled him eased.
"It is done!" Mortiana whispered, as the shimmer faded and she stepped back, dropping her hands away from Robin. She watched as the young man sat up, stretching his long and supple limbs to ease the kinks out of them. She smiled when he turned his dark gaze upon her. "How do you feel, Robin Hood?" she asked.
"Well and strong again," he replied, rising to his feet. Robin saw Andrew standing beyond Mortiana and he ran forward to embrace his teacher. "Thank you!" Robin exclaimed as he felt MacGregor's arms wrap around him. The older man nearly crushed him but Robin didn't mind. He was happy to be alive to feel the pain.
As MacGregor hugged Robin, he realized that he had been released from the spell that had immobilized him. "Are you sure you're all right, lad?" Andrew questioned, as he pushed Robin back so he could study him. One hand pressed against Robin's cheek and MacGregor was relieved to feel cool skin.
Robin smiled and dimples appeared. "I'm fine, Andrew," he promised. But the smile soon faded as he turned from his teacher to face Mortiana. Robin was no fool. He knew that his recovery came with a price. "What do you want from me?" Robin demanded, as he folded his arms across his chest.
"You will perform one task," Mortiana replied, glancing over at MacGregor as she spoke. "Your friend will tell you all about it," she drawled, amusement glinting in her eyes.
"Witch!" Andrew hissed, taking a step towards her, only to find Robin blocking his way. Knew it was foolish to think he could strangle her. Mortiana could kill him with a waggle of one finger. But MacGregor's hands still clenched into fists at his side as he fought the urge.
Robin touched a hand to MacGregor's shoulder. Whatever it was he must do, Robin knew it was bad. "Tell me, Andrew," he beseeched.
MacGregor sighed and hung his head. He could not face Robin. "You must kill her enemy," he whispered.
"Which enemy?" Robin prompted. He was certain that Mortiana had many.
"Olwyn!" Andrew hissed.
Robin was stunned. "What?" he exclaimed, whirling around to glare at Mortiana. "You can't be serious."
She smiled at him, a cold curving of her thin lips. "Oh...but I am serious, Robin Hood," Mortiana drawled.
"I won't do it!" he snarled. "Never!" Robin shuddered at the mere thought of killing the magician who was his mentor and friend. Who had become a father figure to Robin.
"Then you pay the forfeit," Mortiana replied.
Robin eye's flashed gold sparks. "What forfeit?" he challenged.
Mortiana pointed to MacGregor. "His life," she whispered. "You have a choice, Robin Hood. MacGregor gave his word as your proxy. In exchange for my saving your life, you would kill Olwyn. If you refuse, then I claim MacGregor's life as forfeit. So who will it be, Robin Hood? Olwyn....or MacGregor?"
Robin shook his head as he listened to Mortiana's words. He felt his knees buckle as comprehension sank in. There was no turning back from this course. Robin had changed history and now he would pay the price for his vanity. He would play god again and take the life of a friend. "I can't..." Robin whispered, feeling as if a giant hand had closed about his heart and was ripping it from his chest.
"Choose now, Robin Hood," Mortiana hissed. "Or I will choose for you."
"I will choose," Robin conceded, his eyes suddenly shading to black as an idea formed. "But since my consent was given by MacGregor, I ask to be allowed one condition."
Mortiana considered refusing out right, but was curious as to what Robin wanted. So she was willing to listen. "Tell me what it is first," she countered.
Robin swallowed a sigh of relief. "I will kill Olwyn for you," he allowed. "But not until my eighteenth birthday. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Mortiana replied, without hesitation. Better to have Robin willing to do the deed, and she knew that his word was his bond. Besides which, it would make him suffer more when the time came, for he had over a year in which to bond with Olwyn. Mortiana found the thought amusing. "So be it, Robin Hood," she drawled. "You are free to go. You and your friend. But I shall return in fourteen months, and you will kill Olwyn or MacGregor...and your father...will die!" That said, Mortiana waved one hand and disappeared.
"Father!" Robin whispered, feeling as if he had been slapped. He hadn't expected the Witch to threaten him with his father's death.
MacGregor took Robin by the shoulders. "Come, lad," he bid. "Let's away from this evil place."
Robin nodded and led the way out. For the moment there was nothing more
Six months passed, which left only eight to go before Robin turned eighteen. During the six months he had changed greatly. Already assuming the persona of the man he would become. The man he had already become.
MacGregor had left Robin in Sherwood after he had been healed by Mortiana. He returned to the Earl of Huntingdon, to let his friend know that Robin was alive and well. Then he had played go between for father and son. Until today. Today Robin had agreed to see his father again.
The Earl was impatient, pacing around his horse as he waited for Robin to show. His son had asked to meet him in the heart of Sherwood.
"Robin!" The Earl turned, then gasped. Gone was the boy who had left him six months ago. In his place was a man. His eyes roamed over Robin, taking in the brown, suede pants and dark green tunic. It was sleeveless and revealed arms that were slim yet becoming sculptured with muscle. Slung across broad shoulders was a quiver of arrows, the bow being gripped in a strong hand. A sword was sheathed on Robin's belt, along with a dagger. The Earl noted that Robin's hair was longer and the shadow of a beard and mustache darkened the golden skin of his son's beautiful face. "Robin....Hood....I presume?" the Earl drawled.
Robin offered an elegant bow. "Yes, father," he replied, a smile curving his lips and revealing dimples. "I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. "Little John."
The Earl gasped as a young man, a good head taller than his son, stepped out from behind a tree to greet him. "Nice to meet you, Little John," he said.
"Nice to meet you too....uh...sir," the giant answered. Then he looked at Robin. "Meet you by the stream?" He knew that his friend needed some time alone.
"Yes, John," Robin replied. And the stream they referred to was the one where they had met, just four months ago. "I'll be there soon." He waited for the giant to mount up and ride off, then faced his father once more. "Will you forgive me?" Robin beseeched, tears shimmering in his dark eyes.
The Earl couldn't speak, but answered just the same when he stepped forward and gathered his son in his arms.
End of Part 70
Part 67 & 68 / Part 69 & 70 / Part 71 & 72 / Part 73, 74 & 75
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