Willow sat as she often did, perched on a tree limb just outside of camp. It gave her a unique vantagepoint as to what went on. As a child, she had often loved to spy on her sister, Marion. Sitting in a tree or hiding around a corner, she would watch the suitors come, one by one, begging for Marion's hand in marriage. Willow never liked any of the suitors. They were all pompous and arrogant, dressed to the nines, trying to steal her sister away. Luckily for Willow, Marion never fell for their trickery and looks. She instead would give them elaborate excuses as to why she didn't want to marry just yet and send them on their way.
Willow knew the real reason. Marion didn't want to leave her alone. Since Marion's parents died (Willow's adopted parents), Marion and Willow had been ruled over by their sister-in-law, Isabelle (their brother Henry's wife). She would dress Willow up and tell her to act lady like. She would press Marion to marry and send for the richest bachelors from all the neighboring shires. She even tried to promise Willow to a few of them. Willow knew the true story. She knew what Isabelle really thought of her. Marion knew it too. Because Willow was not a true Fitzwalter, she wasn't worth any inheritance. As soon as Marion was gone, Isabelle was going to toss Willow out and lock the door behind her.
So Marion never married. Instead she stayed by Willow's side and cared for her with all the love and affection an old sister could muster. When Marion was twenty, she decided to join the outlaw Robin Hood. Rather than wait to be tossed out, ten-year-old Willow came too.
And now here she was, seventeen years old, sitting in a tree, sharpening her daggers, and watching the goings on in her home. A horn alerted her that someone was entering camp. She quickly sheathed her daggers, one in each knee-high boot, and jumped from the tree limb to the ground, landing softly on her haunches. A falcon flies up to her and landed on her shoulder. She offered her wrist as a perch. "Who has come, Sleeper?" Sleeper squawked back at her and she nodded. Then the falcon took off and she jogged back to camp.
Willow smiled to see that Marion and Friar Tuck had safely returned from their distribution run. She stepped up to Marion. "Any problems?" Marion shook her head, "Nope. All clear today." Then she reached up and pulled a pine needle out of Willow's waist long brown hair. "Have you been climbing trees again?" The two just laughed and Willow knew she didn't need to answer.
Their laughing quieted when Robin jogged up to them. "How did it go?" he asked. "Oh, fine," Marion answered. Willow stepped back as the two began their conversation. As usual, Robin was a worrier and he always asked if everything was completely and totally 'fine'. And Marion would just reiterate. They were quite interesting characters.
Willow slinked away and headed back to her perch. She climbed back up to her favorite branch and sat back, just enjoying the outdoors. She watched Marion and Robin part ways. Marion headed toward the tent that she and Willow shared. Robin headed in Willow's direction. Willow watched him intently. She always watched him intently. He was such a handsome man. His hair, his eyes, his build, were all so familiar to her, but she still found them amazingly attractive. Unfortunately, she knew full well that Robin didn't love her. He loved Marion. She also knew that that was best. Robin and Marion grew up together. They were the same age. They had the same interests. Willow was ten years younger than both of them. She had no real family and didn't even know if her family was alive or not.
The only remnant of her past that she possessed was the gold medallion she wore around her neck. She had had it since the day she was born. Or, at least, as far back as she could remember. The medallion bore two things. On one side was a symbol- two vertical wavy lines, to vertical straight lines, two horizontal wavy lines, and two horizontal straight lines. Friar Tuck had suggested that the symbol represented elements of nature, but he also said they were pagan and wouldn't elaborate. The reverse side of the medallion was engraved with Willow's given name, Elizabeth.
Willow watched as Robin walked below her tree and made his way to the nearby stream. He hadn't noticed her presence. Willow watched as he scooped water up in his hands and let it drip down his chest and back. He splashed his face and ran his fingers through his dark brow hair. Willow smiled to herself. Robin was a good man, kind and generous. Combined with his gorgeous features, Willow had long since fallen in love with him. But she knew all too well that it wasn't meant to be and she had accepted that. However, when moments like these arose, she allowed herself to hope.
Then something happened that she had never noticed before. She felt a sudden chill. Glancing down, she saw that her medallion was glowing.
Willow stared in awe as her medallion shined with luminous incandescence. She felt a rush of cold air around her, but the none of trees swayed with the air. Past the stream where Robin still knelt, she saw a ball of light forming in mid-air, like a small sun. (Robin didn't notice it and neither did anyone in camp.) She heard a voice echo from the ball of light. "It is time for you to come and join me."
The ball of light started floating toward her. Willow cried out in fear as the light threatened to engulf her. Robin heard her cry and jumped to his feet. He broke into a run when he saw her start to fall from the limb where she was perched. He got below her just in time to catch her in his arms.
Straining against the stress of catching her, he lowered her to the ground. "What's wrong? Are you all right?!" Willow began to sob. "It was horrible! Didn't you see it?" Robin cradled her in his arms. "I didn't see anything-" He stopped short when he noticed her medallion. It was glowing like a small star. "What in the world?"
Willow's cry had attracted other spectators. Half the camp surrounded her and Robin. Marion was among the crowd. "What happened?" she demanded. She knelt by Willow and wiped her tears. "Are you all right, dear?" Willow didn't answer so Marion looked to Robin. "What happened to her, Robin." The outlaw was still staring at the medallion. The glowing had ceased. "Robin?" Marion prodded, "Robin, what happened to her?" Robin blinked to clear his thoughts. "Um, she fell out of the tree."
Willow sat alone among the feathery grasses of a clearing in the depths of Sherwood, one that only she knew about. She went there whenever she felt like being alone. Today she really felt like solitude was a necessity. Laying back against the soft earth, she gazed up into the sky. The clouds were playing picture games before her eyes. One molded into a horse. Another shaped into a duck.
She thought about what had happened the day before. All she could remember was the voice, the light, and then she was in Robin's arms, crying for all she was worth. Marion had been franticly poking at her for information as to what happened to her. Willow had nothing to tell her. She had only fallen out of a tree once before in her life, and that had been seven years earlier.
She thought about the voice. It had said, "It is time for you to come and join me." Somehow Willow knew it had meant her, but she didn't know who the voice belonged to. And the light. Where did it come from?
Why did it rush toward her? Why didn't Robin see the light, but still saw her medallion glowing?
"Because you medallion is of this world, the light was of another." Willow was on her feet in half a second. There he stood. Olwyn the magician. "Now, young Elizabeth. I think you should come with me. There is much we need to discuss." Willow nodded and the two stepped through a mist that led to Olwyn's home.
Robin sat on a fur rug in his tent, mending his bow and thinking. He kept rerunning the past day's events. He remembered going to the stream to wash himself. He remembered hearing Willow cry out. He remembered running to her as she began to fall from a tree. He remembered catching her and listening to her ramble on about lights and voices in-between her sobs. He remembered seeing her medallion around her neck glow for a few seconds. He remembered holding her in his arms as if she were a small child waking from a nightmare.
Willow had been so distraught from whatever ordeal that she had suffered that Robin ended up carrying her to the tent that she and Marion shared. Willow had clung to him, crying and shaking, and he felt like it was somehow his fault that it all happened. Robin knew that it wasn't really his fault, he still wasn't sure how she had managed to fall in the first place, but something inside him told him that he was a major part of whatever had gone wrong.
Robin smiled to himself as he remembered the only other time in Willow's life that she had ever fallen out of a tree. It was the day she and Marion first came to camp, seven years earlier. They rode in astride their thoroughbred mares and dressed in noble clothing. Marion asked Willow to stay by the horses while she and Robin talked, but Willow was not about to let her new home go unexplored.
Marion had approached Robin and told him all that went on and why she had decided that nobility was not where she and her sister belonged. Robin welcomed her with open arms and asked to meet the little sister he had heard so much about. They returned to the horses only to find the spry ten-year-old was nowhere to be found. "Elizabeth!" Marion called, "Where are you?" She spun around, searching the camp with her eyes. "Elizabeth!"
Then someone shouted, "Hey, Girl! Come down from there! You are going to get hurt!" Marion and Robin ran to where one of the woodsmen was pointing. They spotted Willow high in a pine tree. She was talking to a bird, coaxing it with her voice. Marion called again. "Elizabeth! You come down here this instant!"
Willow ignored her and continued to coax the bird. She crept out onto the limb on which the bird perched. Marion and Robin ran to the base of the tree and looked up at her. "How did she get up so high?" Robin thought outloud. Marion shook her head. "I think she was a cat in a past life, " she muttered without much humor. "Elizabeth! Please come down! Leave the bird alone, dear! Please!"
Willow looked down at them. "My name isn't Elizabeth anymore! Stop calling me that! And he's not a BIRD! He's a FALCON! His name is SLEEPER! And he's going to be mine!" Suddenly, the falcon flapped its wings and flew off. It startled Willow and she lost her balance. She came tumbling down and landed right in Robin's arms. She gazed up at him with wide green eyes.
"Are you all right?" Robin asked her. She nodded. Marion stepped up. "What have I told you about climbing trees Elizabeth?!" Willow wriggled out of Robin's arms and stood to face her sister, completely fearless and defiant. "My name is not Elizabeth anymore! It's Willow! Call me Willow! Nothing else!"
Before Marion could counter, Willow suddenly spun around and broke into a run. Marion and Robin followed her. She stopped in front of the cooking tent. The falcon was perched at its peak. "Sleeper, " she said. "Sleeper, come to me. I am a friend. I want to be your friend." Robin watched in awe as the bird floated down and landed on her shoulder. Willow giggled happily and petted the falcon's breast. Robin stuttered, "How-? How-?"
And now, here Robin was, sitting in his tent, mending his bow, and sulking because he didn't have the answer. He still didn't understand exactly how Willow went about talking to animals. But some how she did. He still didn't know where she got the ability to climb and balance as well as she did. She could do more than climb trees. In a flipping contest, she would win every time. And she was remarkably accurate with her daggers. She never carried a sword or any other weapons. So why had she fallen out of the tree? What had scared her so much?
"It is her testing time." Robin jumped to his feet to see Olwyn standing behind him. "What do you mean, 'Her testing time'?" Olwyn motioned for the door. "Come and I will explain everything."
End of Chapter One