Belstead Castle stood majestically in the shadows of the fading daylight. Small thatched huts spotted the landscape below the massive fortress. Soldiers and servants alike, were finishing up the last of their daily tasks before retiring for the evening. All was peaceful as nighttime descended upon them. Inside the large stone dwelling, things were not nearly so tranquil. Lord Carrington , and his only child, Lady Allison were engaged in a heated argument. It was a quarrel they had been having for months now.
"Allison you will be reasonable about this!" thundered Lord Carrington.
"No I will not!" answered his daughter in the same thunderous voice.
The two were facing each other in Lord Carrington’s study. It was a beautifully furnished room, with a huge mahogany desk sitting at one end, cluttered with parchments and writing quills. Two chairs were placed opposite the large desk and a small fireplace was to the left. The tapestries which hung on the wall were done in masculine colors of dark greens and browns. Behind the impressive desk stood a large man in his early fifties. He had jet black hair that was peppered with gray along with the beard and mustache he sported. He was a handsome man, but at the moment his face was beet red , his features distorted by frustration. His present appearance was caused by the young woman standing across from him.
At eighteen, Lady Allison Carrington had matured into a beautiful young woman. She had the same jet black hair as her sire that fell in straight tresses down to her hips. Dressed a lovely gown of emerald green, showing off her slim figure and accented her green eyes. She was standing stiffly, shoulders squared, her face set in a defiant expression.
Passing a hand through his hair, her father repeated. "You have to see reason Allison. It’s long past the time for you to wed. I want to see you safely settled with a husband and a place of you own. I want to dangle a few grandchildren on my knee, God willing. Why must you be so stubborn about this?"
Her face softened a little at his words but her tone was still terse. "I simply do not wish to marry father. I don’t want some man telling me what I can and cannot do." She spread her hands in a pleading gesture. "I want to be my own person, to travel and have grand adventures. Can’t you please understand?"
Sitting down in his chair, he shook his head. "I see now how much I spoiled you. Letting you have too much freedom and independence. Now I am paying for that folly."
Moving closer to the desk she placed her hands on top and leaned toward him. "Father, you raised me to know my own mind, to think for myself and I am forever grateful to you for it. I love you and don’t mean to cause you distress, but I will not do as you ask. I refuse to throw my life away on some unappreciating man."
He waited till she was finished and then rose slowly to his feet. Allison had to back up so they could be eye to eye. At that moment he made a decision and in a deadly calm tone said. "You will marry Lord Cranston is two months time." Seeing she was about to protest he hurried on. "Allison you will do this- for if you don’t, you will loose everything. All the money, property and holdings which would have been yours will go to your distant cousin Gareth. You’ll be penniless."
She just looked at him in horror, her mind numb at his words. Surely he wasn’t serious. He would never do this to her, he loved her. As if reading her mind he added. "Don’t think I won’t do this daughter. You’ve left me with no alternative in the matter. You will either marry Lord Cranston or be left with nothing, on this I give you my word. This is breaking my heart, but I must know that you will be taken care of when I am gone." Moving from behind the desk he went to her, but she backed away in shock.
She could not believe he truly meant to go through with his threat. Her eyes, swimming in tears as she look up at him. "You wouldn’t." The words coming out as barely a whisper. Continuing to look at his stony expression she knew that he did indeed mean every word. Not being able to remain in the same room with him a moment longer, she turned and fled, slamming the door behind her. Heading for the staircase she hastened up toward her chamber. She needed time to think and to sort it all out in her head. Reaching her door she flung it open and entered her own private sanctuary.
Meg, her maid, had been tiding up, but stopped when she heard the other woman come in. One look at her young mistress’s face told her there was trouble. "Oh my lady, whatever is wrong?"
"My father......My father..." She couldn’t seem to think straight enough to get the words out.
"You father what?" Meg prompted.
Allison gave herself a few moments to gather her thoughts and then relayed all that had transpired downstairs to the astonished maid. After she had finished, she felt much better and a little more in control of herself. The shock had subsided and in it’s place, anger and determination. There must be a way out of this, she thought to herself as she began to pace the room.
Concern etched on her face, Meg asked, "What are you going to do?"
Still keeping her thoughts private she asked herself. "What was she going to do? She would not marry Lord Cranston, no matter what her father threatened. There had to be a way to foil her father’s plans." All of a sudden her mind cleared and like a bright light a plan emerged. Making a few more passes around the room she stopped dead in her tracks and gave the other woman a huge smile. "I have it Meg! I have the perfect plan." Rubbing her hands together she continued with relish. "It’s so simple. All I have to do is compromise myself." Her maid just gave a bewildered look. Allison paid her no mind, too involved with her own thoughts. "I just have my father catch me in a compromising position. I’ll be ruined. Lord Cranston will no longer be interested, no man will. I then can carry on with my life as I want."
Finally comprehending where her mistress was going, the little maid was horrified. "But my lady, you’ll be ruined, an outcast, shunned by everyone."
"Oh what do I care what anyone thinks, I’ll be free! Once the deed is done, I will tell my father that I wish to travel- to get away from the scandal. I’ve always wanted to travel, it will be a splendid adventure." Allison was quite excited by the whole idea.
Her maid was not so convinced. "Who will you use to pull this plan off? Won’t your father just force you to marry the man who ruined you?"
"Hmm......you have a point. Well it just has to be someone totally unsuitable, someone my father will never approve of. I know a soldier or a stablehand-no not unsuitable enough. I know an outlaw! Yes, someone wanted by the crown. Father can just turn him over to the authorities afterward.
Still trying to be the voice of reason Meg asked. "Where do you plan to find such a person?"
"There’s an inn not too far from here and I’m sure we can find all kinds of ruffians to help us out. We must make very careful plans, I don’t really want to be compromised."
"I don’t know about this my lady. Outlaws are very dangerous, you could really be ravished or worst."
Allison just waved her off. "Not to worry, we will make sure our plan is flawless. We’ll have to take all possibilities into account, but I have every confidence we can pull this off." She went over and took the maid’s hands in hers. "I’ll need you through all of this. Will you help me?"
Not being able to deny her lady anything Meg reluctantly agreed and the other woman gave her a hug. "I knew I could count on you. We must get started. I want to put our plan into place by the week’s end."
Meg gave her a wan smile in return, but inside she knew this was a really bad idea and she was not happy about this, not happy at all.
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The morning had started out sunny and warm, taking the chill out of the air. As the day wore on dark clouds began to fill the sky and the smell of rain scented the air. Four riders had stopped in he middle of the dirt road to look up at the threatening sky. The winds began to pick up, causing the cloaks they wore to billow around them.
"Looks like we’re in for quite a storm." observed Tuck.
Robin, still looking up at the darkening sky agreed. "Yes it does. I was really hoping to make it back to camp today, seems mother nature has other plans. We better look for a place to wait this out."
"I know of an inn not too far from here that should do the trick." offered Little John.
Robin nodded his head in agreement as his hair whipped across his face. "Let’s go." Squeezing his thighs together, he urged his grey into a gallop as the others followed.
They had reached the inn just as the skies opened up with a torrential downpour. Quickly they secured all the horses in a nearby barn and headed for the inn itself. Little John was the first to enter and he felt a rush of warm air hit him. Holding the door open, Marion stepped in followed by Tuck with Robin bringing up the rear. Inside, a hearty fire blazed, a pot of stew hung above it . The delicious aroma waifed around them, making their mouths water. The room, although not fancy was clean and it would make a good stop over for the weary group.
A portly man garbed in worn, but clean clothes, an apron tied around his large girth appeared from a back room. He was obviously the innkeeper and he made his way to greet the new arrivals.
"Welcome!" as he gave a smile. "What can I do for you on this stormy afternoon?"
The four of them smiled in response, but it was Robin who answered. "A fire to dry by, a hot meal to fill us and a couple of rooms for the night would be greatly appreciated."
"Of course, of course. Please sit down next to the fire and dry yourselves." Then looking a bit sheepish he asked. "Forgive me, but before I bring out the food and prepare the rooms, might I ask to see your coin? I’ve been cheated so often in the past, now I ask before I give service."
None of them took offense and Tuck brought out a small pouch from underneath his robe. "We completely understand, my good man. As you can see, we are more than willing to pay for our meal and lodging." he then jingled the pouch as proof.
The innkeeper visibly relaxed at the sound of clanking coins. "Wonderful, I will bring your stew right over and prepare the rooms."
While Tuck was seeing to their comfort, Robin was discreetly surveying the room. It was something he always did when in a new place. Considering who they were it paid to be careful. He noted only two other tables were occupied. A lone man sat at one, he looked to be a peddler taking shelter like themselves. The other table sat in the far corner and two women were quietly talking. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary . He decided to relax and enjoy the warm fire, hopefully some good food and a good nights rest. Picking a table that was closest to the fire, they all sat down. Their wet clothing was starting to dry and the hot food would warm their insides.
Little John broke the quiet at the table. "Hope the food comes soon, I’m starving."
"When aren’t you." laughed Marion. She had been running her hand through her thick mane trying to dry it faster.
"Well the stew smells delicious. I for one am looking forward to it." replied Tuck.
The words had no sooner left his lips when the innkeeper arrived with four steaming bowls along with some fresh bread. "Here we are. I’ll come back with some ale, both will help take the chill out of your bones."
"Yes, I’m sure it will." thanked Robin. They all began digging into their food and quietly discussing the recent distribution run. Actually it had been several runs, which had taken the better part of the week to complete. All of them were tired, wanting nothing more than to return home and take it easy for a while.
After John finished his third helping of stew, he declared himself stuffed and settled back in his chair. "Robin, do you want me to check on the horses before we turn in?"
"No I think they’ll be fine John. No sense going out in the storm again if we don’t have to."
The innkeeper had wandered over to see if they were finished. Overhearing the conversation he said. "If you put your animals in the barn they will be safe, it’s sturdy." Pausing he looked like he wanted to say more.
"Yes?" inquired Robin.
The man shifted his feet then peered right at Robin. "Are you who I think you are? I overheard your friend call you Robin and his name is John. That would make you Robin Hood wouldn’t it." It was a statement more than a question.
So much for anonymity thought Robin and gave the man a small smile. "Yes I am."
"I knew it! I am so honored to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you but I never thought to see you in my inn." He took Robin’s hand and shook it vigorously. "Consider your stay here on the house."
Shaking his head and tactfully disengaging his hand from the other man’s grip he replied. "No, thank you anyway, but we have the funds to pay and that’s what we’ll do."
The burly man had no intention of letting the matter drop. "At least let me throw in an extra room. I still have one empty and it’s yours. Otherwise one of you will be sleeping on the floor tonight. The beds are comfortable but not large, now you all will have a good nights rest."
"You might as well take it Robin." chuckled Marion. "I think you’ll hurt his feelings if you refuse." Glancing back at the beaming man Robin had a feeling she was right and graciously accepted the offer.
Thrilled the famous outlaw agreed, the innkeeper left to go ready the last remaining room. As he passed the two women seated in the corner, one of them called out to him. "Excuse me sir, but I couldn’t help notice all the fuss you made over that gentleman. Is he perhaps someone of importance?"
Giving a cackle he answered. "Well now that depends on how you look at it." Then bending low and in a hushed tone said. "It’s none other than Robin Hood and he is staying the night in my inn. I’m on my way to prepare his room right now." When the women did not react in awe of the news, he gave a "Hrumph" and went about his business.
When the ladies were alone again they looked at each other, one of them wearing a big smile. "This is it Meg! Can you believe it-Robin Hood, this is perfect. Imagine my father’s face when he learns it’s Robin Hood who has ruined his daughter. All talk of marriage will go out the window."
"I don’t know my lady, Robin Hood is a hero to many. I hate to see him used this way. Your father will have no choice but to turn him over to Prince John and it will mean certain death."
Allison felt a slight tinge of guilt, but shoved it aside. This was her life too and she was not about to have an attack of conscious now. Nothing was going to stand in her way and that included Robin Hood. "All right Meg, it’s time to put our plan into action." They both stood up quietly and headed upstairs to the room they had procured earlier.
End Of Chapter One