Four months and three days since it all happened. Since Robin almost died.
Marion continued staring skyward, watching the white cloud puffs skitter across the brilliant blue September sky. It was a day made in Heaven and highly unusual for this part of England.
For a moment the sheer beauty of it filled Marion’s heart with hope. Hope that maybe today something would happen. Maybe today, Robin would return to them.
Marion looked down and blinked back the tears that suddenly pooled in her eyes. I’ve done far too much of this in the last four months, Marion mused as she started walking in the direction of the pond. Even from this distance, she could hear the squeals of happy children at play. She smiled at how wonderfully that part of the nightmare had worked out.
The seven orphans rescued from the village had all been taken in by caring families and assimilated beautifully with the other children. Eleanor and Gwyneth stayed together and now lived with the baker and his wife. Both girls were a tremendous help to the older, childless couple. Tom was now the proud apprentice to the blacksmith who loved him like a son. Little Beatrice had wanted to stay with Robin but reluctantly agreed to live with the Cuthberts. She was a thriving, happy little girl—who still wanted to marry "her Wobin."
Marion continued down the worn path, stopping here and there to admire a particularly beautiful wild flower or breathe in the pungent yet clean scent of the forest.
The voices were louder now and she could distinguish some of their owners. With a "Wobin, Wobin! Watch me!" Bea confirmed Marion’s hunch of Robin’s whereabouts.
The past four months and three days left an indelible mark on the entire population of Sherwood Forest and beyond. Robin was more revered than ever, his legend growing stronger. Tortured, yet, escaping right out from under a troop of soldiers. Guarded by a pack of wolves, led by a pure white wolf. The stuff legends were made of!
At the same time, though, as the villagers witnessed, and helped with, Robin’s slow and agonizing recuperation, they no longer took his daring feats and bravado for granted. They truly appreciated his courage and finally understood the risk to himself that he willingly took to defend them all. A hero he was, but, he was also a human being with bones that broke and skin that bled. Who could be taken from their midst.
Blessedly, Robin was making a complete recovery in all areas but one. Something was now missing. His beautiful, liquid brown eyes had lost their devilish twinkle. His shining joy of life was snuffed out by melancholy and the remnants of remembered pain. His teasing, easy way had been lost. His recovery had been slow and torturous and he had persevered without complaint. And, yet, it had left its mark in a more permanent and damaging way than the scars that covered much of his body.
Marion stopped and lingered over a particularly pretty flower. Fingering its smooth yellow pedal, she remembered when they first brought Robin home and knew she would never forget.. Little John had carried Robin into his tent as if he were a burden precious beyond any riches. Tuck was to tend to his wounds. Marion was elected to gather clean strips of cloth, water, and Tuck’s herbs and medical pouch.
With her arms loaded up to her chin, Marion stepped into the tent just as John and Tuck had finished undressing Robin. He lay on his pallet, so deathly pale. A breech clout rode low on his hips, exposing the rest of him to the chill night air. He began shivering as the cold touched his sweat-sheened skin.
Marion’s stopped dead. Her eyes traveled the length of his body. Never had she seen such devastation. The agony he must have suffered.
Dropping the bandages and pouches to the floor, Marion bolted from the tent and emptied her stomach into the nearest bush.
Marion blinked back to the present and walked the final steps to the pond.
And there he was, standing mid-calf in the water, surrounded by children who were looking up at him with adoring eyes.
"Good job, Tom. We’ll make a swimmer out of you yet."
Tom splashed up to Robin and stood. Even from her distance, Marion could see the flush creep up Tom’s neck at Robin’s praise.
Not to be outdone, Beatrice began paddling circles around Robin like a little puppy, her hands and feet splashing water everywhere.
Soon Robin was soaked to the skin so he stripped his jerkin over his head and lobbed it to the grassy bank.
"Marion! Coming in for a swim?"
Marion’s breath caught at the sight of Robin’s chest, smooth yet firm and defined, with only a trace of the beating remaining. His skin tone was regaining some of its healthy color now that he was mobile again. Oh my. She could stare at him all day.
Then Robin turned around to check on the progress of some of his other "pupils," and Marion’s heart lodged in her throat. His poor back! She wanted to cry, not at the disfigurement that would forever mar his back, but at the horrible pain he had been made to suffer.
Robin had noticed the way Marion was eyeing his chest. He felt a little like Tom. Proud and wanting to puff his chest out. He hid his grin by turning to watch Ian splash behind him.
When he had controlled his mirth—Lord knows, Marion would be upset if she knew he knew what her thoughts were when she stared at him like that—Robin turned back to her and his light mood vanished. Not you, too, Marion.
So caught up in her reflections, it took Marion a second or so to realize that Robin was watching her. One look at his face and she could have kicked herself for being so careless. Pain vied with self-loathing and shame on Robin’s expressive face. The hurt in his stricken brown eyes was the worst of all. A hurt that Marion had unwittingly put there. She knew what he was thinking, that she found his back repulsive, like so many others who were too slow to hide their reaction the few times Robin had allowed anyone to see him shirtless.
Before Marion could explain and take away his pain, Robin repeated his now forgotten question in a flat monotone. "Coming in for a swim?"
"N-not today, Robin," she managed to croak out. "I think the children would rather have you all to themselves."
"That’s right!" Andrew Fellowgood shouted only to receive a bony elbow in the ribs from his sister for such rudeness.
"That’s all right, Andrew. I’m not insulted. I know how popular Robin is."
"Wobin is pop-lar!" Beatrice shouted as her chubby toddler arms wrapped around Robin’s legs. "Wobin used to be pwetty."
Marion gulped. Oh, please, God. Don’t let her say anything about Robin’s scars. Dear God, please.
"He is so pretty," Andrew’s sister challenged.
"No, he’s not," Bea stood firm. "He’s bootiful." She tightened her hug.
Marion’s hand flew to her mouth at those wonderful words. Oh thank you.
Her eyes found Robin’s. He was already staring at her, pooling tears making his beautiful eyes sparkle.
Sweet Jesu, I’m going to make a fool of myself and start crying, Robin thought wryly.
Oh, goodness. He’s going to be so embarrassed if he loses control, Marion chuckled to herself. He’s so darn adorable when he gets all emotional like this.
Luckily, Andrew’s loud voice broke the mood and Robin was saved.
"Men aren’t beautiful, Beatrice. Only girls are beautiful."
"That’s right," Tom agreed. "Men are handsome."
And so it continued, escalating from a war of words to a war of water with Robin caught in the middle.
"Whoa! I’m wet enough. Save me, Marion!" he called as he waded towards the bank and out of the line of fire.
Andrew was right. Beautiful was for women. His woman, Marion. So beautiful he ached just looking at her standing there, hands on hips, looking sassy.
"How do you do it, Robin?"
"You could charm the skin off a snake."
For the first time in four months and three days, a radiant smile lit Robin’s face and Marion thought the sun in all its brilliance paled in comparison. The devastating smile gave way to his wicked grin and arched eyebrow.
"What can I say, Marion?" He shrugged. "I’m good!"
She walked into the water and caressed his cheek. "No, Robin. You’re better than good. You’re bootiful."
Robin threw his head back and barked out a laugh, causing all his little "fish" to paddle over and surround them.
Robin was back.