By Kathy B.

Part 18

The first night back in Sherwood found Robin happy to be home, but a little unsettled yet. Despite Tuck’s ministrations, Robin was still uncomfortable physically, his leg throbbing after the long ride. A tooth was loose and his face ached where Guy had kneed him. But most unsettled was his heart, where no visible wound could be seen with the human eye.

He knew that he and Marion had a bond that was not easily explained, but it had suffered a blow in her decision to marry Guy, regardless of her motives. Their reunion was sweet, and the kiss was still fresh on his lips even a day later. Yet some doubts remained in Robin’s mind about the nature of Marion’s feelings toward Guy, and even towards himself. And her words reverberated through his mind.

‘I thought I could free us from this bond we have, because it seemed to be causing us only pain.’ What did she mean, only pain? He felt a lot of things from his relationship with Marion - joy, frustration, hope, anger, and yes, love.

But he never thought of Marion and felt pain at the same time, except at the thought of losing her. Did he cause her pain? Is that what she was saying? Robin, unaccustomed to being so perplexed, struggled to make sense of the confused fragments parading through his mind.

‘There is more pain in the severing of our bond than in the living it out.’ "She feels pain, because of me," Robin concluded. "I will talk with her tomorrow, first thing, and straighten this out." And with that, he fell into a restless and dream-tossed sleep.

Marion, for her part, collapsed onto her pallet and fell fast asleep before her head had been down a few seconds. Her peace was born from the forgiveness she had sought and found from Robin. And the kiss he had given her sealed it. When she tried to explain all her actions and motivations with Guy to Chloe, she had finally embraced her destiny – she would love this man Robin Hood regardless of the cost to herself.

And she would learn to love him and help him in the ways he found loving and helpful, not in the ways she thought best. When she thought of Guy, she felt anger at his duplicity, and pity for his hopeless obsession with her. But she felt no compunction to fulfill the promise of marriage to him. He had effectively broken any vow when he betrayed her by giving up Robin to Prince John. And now that they were all back in Sherwood, safe for the moment, she resolved to savor each day with Robin, whatever it brought. The night passed quietly for Marion.

With the sunrise, a light mist covered the land. It was a cool, crisp day, and Marion found her old familiar clothes a welcome relief after days in the gown she had been given by Guy. She tossed it carelessly onto the floor as she dressed, and then headed out to check on Robin. When she arrived at his hut, she found Tuck already there, assessing his handiwork from the night before. Robin was wincing and had his eyes pinched shut until Marion spoke aloud, "How is the patient?" There was a smile in the timber of her voice. It was music to him.

Tuck looked up briefly, and then frowned. "He is, as usual, difficult, stubborn and -"

"- and grateful for all your care, Tuck!" Robin finished the sentence and smiled, both dimples blazing. Marion thought she would melt, so charming was this man when he tried to be!

"Robin, I hope you plan on recuperating fully. That means you have to listen to the friar and do what he says!" Her eyes sparkled with playful warning, and she smiled broadly, matching Robin’s own grin.

Tuck stood upright and mumbled aloud, "I’ll have to go and get a different poultice. I’ll be back in awhile. Marion, keep him in his bed, please. Absolutely no walking today!" And with that, he whisked out through the door.

Marion pulled the only stool up to Robin’s pallet, and sat by his side. He reached out and grabbed her hand and brought it to his chest. He held it firmly as his eyes, like magnets, pulled her gaze to his.

"Marion, I need to ask you something." The grin was replaced by a sober expression, and she noticed the dark circles under his eyes.

"Go ahead, Robin." She waited for his question, aware that he was disquieted. She felt ready for anything this morning.

He clenched his jaws once, then again, struggling for the words to ask what his heart needed to know.

"Marion, you know I don’t like flowery language, and I don’t often tell you how much I need you." He paused, finding it more difficult than he had anticipated to ask about her feelings out loud. Marion sat still, waiting. He continued. "But I need to know if I drove you into Guy’s arms somehow."

Marion bent her brows in consternation. It was true, to a small degree, that Robin’s stubborn independence and harsh words had been hurtful to her. But she also now believed that she had responsibility in the altercations. After all, she had never honored his requests for a cessation of the overprotection, and she had hounded him to the point of near suffocation.

And it was she herself who allowed thoughts of an easier life - one of the comfort of a roof, a fire, fresh clothing, and prepared food - to enter into her thoughts. And she was the one who had deluded herself that if she was no longer around to see the danger and the wounds inflicted on Robin, that she would be free of the pain associated with them. The answer came after all these thoughts had passed through her mind.

"No, Robin. I cannot let you blame yourself for my poor judgment. I walked into his arms all by myself."

This had quite the opposite effect on him than she had anticipated. His face became more hardened, and he clenched his jaws again. He determined to ask her more, for he had to be completely clear about her link to Guy. "Do you love him?"

"No!" Her response was emphatic. She was now troubled, as she had thought that they had resolved all of this back in Guy’s castle, before Robin had kissed her. "Robin, I told you back at the castle that you and I share a bond that I will never break."

"The bond that you say causes you so much pain?" His face was still hard, and his eyes blazed with emotion.

Marion, becoming defensive, pulled her hand from his and retorted, "Yes.

Our bond does cause me pain - I feel every wound you receive. And every threat against your life is like a knife in my heart."

Robin, now floundering, unable to counter this emotional argument, looked deeply in her eyes.

"Then why do you stay? Marion, I would not cause you pain if I knew how to stop it! But I don’t know how, and it isn’t over. Not the danger, and not the wounds. This life we live in Sherwood will always be uncertain." His eyes pleaded now with hers, begging her for affirmation, fearing she would see the sense in this retort and agree with him.

Marion relaxed, as she saw now that he was arriving at the same conclusion that she had the day prior. "I know, Robin. But I realize now that there are moments rich in joy within the uncertainty, and a life filled with love despite the pain! And I would rather live here with you, uncertain and in pain, than with anyone else, anywhere else - even in the finest and best circumstances. Almost losing you forever taught me that much. If I have any say in the matter, I will never walk away from you again. Do you believe me?" She reached back and took his hand, brought it to her lips and kissed it.

Robin, moved by her profound confession of loyalty and love, at great cost to herself, found tears welling up in his eyes. He lifted his torso off the pallet. He looked steadily into her eyes and whispered.

"You are a great lady, Marion Fitzwalter. I owe you my life." He pulled her head gently towards his and in a soft voice, murmured, "I love you, Marion." Then he kissed her. The moment was once again sweet, but shortened by a throat clearing in the background.

"Sorry, you two. I have got to stop interrupting you like this. But Robin, can I have a word with you?" Will apologized, and looked off to the side trying to avoid the blush he knew would be on Marion’s face.

"Sure, my friend. Come on in." Robin smiled at Marion, lifted his left eyebrow and whispered, "And the next wedding you plan had better include me, my lady. Agreed?" The dimples blossomed.

Marion smiled back, "Agreed." Will made his way towards Robin’s bed, and Marion stood and moved away from her stool, making room for him. As she attempted to leave, Will beckoned her to remain.

"Marion? Would you stay and help me, too?"

Marion looked at Will, then at Robin who motioned for her to sit beside him. "Sure, Will. I’ll stay if you’d like." She glided gracefully over to Robin and sat beside him.

Will sat on the stool. He resolved himself, sighed and launched into his dilemma. "I have a problem, and I need your advice."

Robin nodded, "Go ahead, Will. I’m in your debt, friend, so if I can be of help, I’d like to do that for you."

Will smiled. "No, Robin, it is I who am in debt - to you, and to you, too, Marion. I don’t know if I could have pulled myself out of the life I had been living without knowing you both." He paused, with a faraway look in his eyes, and then pressed on. "I have taken a stand for you Robin, and I do not regret it. But I know the ones I have offended, and I fear for the consequences."

Robin replied quickly, "Will, you are safe with us, and will always have a home here in Sherwood."

"No, that isn’t what I fear -" Will stumbled over his words, then collected himself. "I mean, thank you. I do want to stay here and fight alongside you and your companions. A better group of people I have never known. But I do not fear for my own safety. What I fear is the retribution that Prince John may exact against my father and his serfs. I must find a way to shield them from the consequences of my actions. And Guy, too, is capable of great anger and revenge."

Marion and Robin looked sidelong at each other in mutual agreement. Robin turned back to Will and grabbed his arm in camaraderie. "Whatever we can do, Will, we will do. Just say the word."

Will exhaled in relief. It was good to be understood by such worthy friends. He had known them only shortly more than a week, and felt unworthy of their kindness, yet his concerns were not frivolous, and to be supported like this was a gift.

"Thank you, Robin. I have an idea, and need you to tell me if it has a chance of distracting our mutual enemies from what I fear has become their purpose."

Marion and Robin regarded the new outlaw intently. Marion urged him on, "Tell us your plan, Will."

Will stood up and paced. "I want to send Dirk, my squire, back to my father with two letters. I have discussed the first of these with Chloe -"

Here, Marion and Robin each lifted an eyebrow, and glanced at each other with a knowing smile. Unaware, Will paced and talked on.

" – and she thinks it best if I release Dirk with this task. Anyway, the first letter will tell my father of the true nature of my new status as an outlaw. I will tell him of your troubles with Guy, and his duplicity and cowardice in his dealings with you and Prince John. My father has no love for the prince (though he has always been politely compliant with him for my mother’s sake), and he has always warned me to beware of Sir Guy of Gisborne. He will rejoice at my newfound wisdom, I am sure, though it comes at such a price."

Robin nodded, grimly. He understood wisdom acquired the hard way. He had been there, himself. "Your father is fortunate to have your confidence, Will." The two men exchanged a meaningful glance. "But what of the second letter?"

Will continued. "I will instruct him to destroy the first letter after he reads it. I want no evidence that he and I are in agreement. The second letter will tell him that I give up my inheritance, and renounce my name. That I have allied myself willingly to you, Robin, in the intent to defend King Richard, and that I hold my father and Sir Guy and all those in league with the false would-be king, Prince John, to be my enemies." The pain etched on his face as he made these statements was obvious. Robin clenched his jaws and Marion stood to go to him, to offer any comfort.

She spoke first. "Will, what you propose will ruin your life, from the standpoint of any future in your home. You’d be sacrificing your land and your name!"

Will argued with her. "And what have you done? And what has Robin sacrificed? I would be doing no more than either of you, and for a worthy cause."

Robin, frustrated at his immobility, nevertheless tried to rise from his bed, winced and then spoke. "Will, it just might work. If your father follows your instructions, and destroys the first letter, he can then show Prince John your second letter and vow to find you himself and punish you. He can disown you verbally to Prince John and to Guy, and be very convincing. Your sacrifice may well save your father and his people."

Will nodded gravely and walked over to Robin. He extended his hand, and they clasped arms. "Then, I have your blessing?"

Robin shook Will’s arm once more and agreed. "Yes, Will. It is well done. Please thank Dirk for me. He was a most welcome visitor back in Guy’s castle, and if he chooses to come back here after his mission is over, he is welcome."

"Thank you, Robin. And thank you, Marion." With that, he turned to leave.

Suddenly, Marion stopped him with a question. "And what will be your new name?"

Will pondered. "I hadn’t thought of one yet, but Chloe called me ‘Sir William of the Red Coat’ -what do you think?"

Robin shook his head. "Too long. How about Will Scarlet?"

Will smiled. "I like it." And then he was gone, to begin the task of writing the letters.

Marion watched him leave, and then turned to Robin. "Why is it that witnessing the sacrifice of others is so much harder than making a sacrifice yourself? I hope Will can find this camp a welcome home, but it will never replace all that he has given up."

Robin smiled with half his mouth. "Yes, but there are some gains here. There is Chloe...!"

Marion smiled. "True. I wish them both well. But I will give them no advice - it seems I learn too much the hard way!"

Robin reached up with his hand, beckoning Marion to come closer. "Now, where were we...?’ As Marion slowly walked towards him, a rustling was heard behind them and Tuck reentered the hut.

"Robin? What are you doing, sitting up?" he scolded. "Lie down and let me look at that dressing!"

Robin made a face of disappointed resignation and laid himself back down. Marion grinned, shook her head, and said, "I will leave you two to this arduous task. I’ll be back later!"

Robin called after her, "Marion? Marion!" Her face reappeared in the doorway and she smiled broadly, "I will be back, Robin. And I will remember where we left off...!"

Robin smiled, laid his head down, and surrendered to Tuck. He was relieved in spite of the renewed pain. All was well with Marion. And they had a new and trustworthy friend in their band of outlaws. But he knew that trouble would be brewing in the future - with both Guy and Prince John. He was anxious to heal, to be prepared for the storm he saw coming...

The End?
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