Willow touched her medallion to the second door and it slowly opened. She looked before her to see a pleasant looking forest path. She glanced at Robin and he shrugged. "I guess we just walk in, Willow." She nodded and they stepped through the door and began walking. Willow glanced back, but the door was gone. All she could see behind her and before her was an endless, straight path lined with trees and flowers.
Willow wondered to herself how she was supposed to feel. So far the trial had not been pleasant at all. Reliving her horrible childhood was definatly not at the top of her preferences. She had hoped the trial would test her athletic ability or her intelligence. Why couldn't she just be given an enemy to fight and be done with this thing? Then again, fighting could lead to more pain. So far inside this door, all she and Robin had done was walk. There were no threats to be seen or heard anywhere. Everything was peaceful and serene. It was a positive change from Fitzwalter Castle, but Willow was all ready getting edgy. She wanted this trial to be done with.
Willow felt Robin's eyes on her, though he looked away when she glanced at him. She sighed. Now he would start seeing her as even younger and more helpless than he all ready did. It was bad enough that he had to come along to begin with. But he had watched her being beaten by Isabelle, just as it happened many times during her childhood. He'd held her, cradled her! Great! Now she knew his thoughts were condescending. To him, she was just a child in a teenager's body. She sighed again. She desperately wanted to show Robin how she took care of herself and how much she cared about him. She sighed an even longer sigh. He probably only let her hang around camp to make Marion happy.
Robin walked calmly, thinking aimlessly about all that had gone on. He kept glancing at Willow until she noticed, then he looked towards the flowers that flanked the path. He wanted to tell her he was proud of her. He wanted to tell her that she was a strong person and that he admired her. He wanted her to know that he respected her and her independence. But, judging by the look on her face and how she kept sighing when she looked at him, Robin thought better of it.
Why had he been asked to come along on this trial? What purpose did he serve? He could tell that Willow didn't want him to be there. She probably didn't like being around him on a normal basis. Maybe that was the case. Maybe she didn't even like him. Maybe she only hung around camp to make Marion happy. Yeah, that was it all right. Robin wanted to pop himself in the head. Where did he even get the idea that she might have even liked him a little bit? How on earth did the thought cross his mind that there was something between them? Then Robin heaved a long sigh. Of all the women of Sherwood that swooned over him, he found himself wishing that Willow was one of them. He didn't even know why.
Finally Willow couldn't stand the silence anymore. She was mad at her mother for bringing her into this world. She was mad at Marion for saving her and taking her in. She was at Robin for being so wonderful to everyone, including her, and not loving her. And she was mad at this stupid trial. "Why do you love everyone except me?!" she suddenly demanded.
Robin jumped when she spoke, taken completely off guard. "What? What are you talking about?" Tears filled Willow's eyes. "You love Marion and Katherine and everybody else except me." Robin blinked his eyes and rubbed his temples, utterly confused. "What do you mean?" Willow's eyes flared. "Oh come off it!" she yelled, "You and Marion grew up together! You made googly eyes at each other at parties and you pick on each other constantly! I know you love her! Why on earth haven't you MARRIED her yet?!" Robin was so shocked he could hardly stand. Willow glared at him. "Well?!" Robin fumbled with his words. "Willow, I don't love Marion." Suddenly the forest went black around them and they were in the hallway once more.
Willow found herself sitting on the floor of the hallway. The oak doors dwarfed her in size, but she didn't even notice. She was too busy staring at Robin, his words echoed in her mind. He said he didn't love Marion. But that was impossible. He had to love Marion! Marion was the one. Birds sang her presence. The sun and moon shone brighter for her. How could anyone not love Marion? How could Robin not love her? Marion loved him. Was that love truly unrequited?
Robin could tell he had struck something deep within Willow. For one thing, she was speechless, something that was never true. Her two cents worth was more like a hundred crowns! Why wasn't she saying anything? What was so astonishing about what he said? It was true. He didn't love Marion. At least, not the way that Willow meant. Not the way he had loved Katherine so many years ago. Marion was like his best friend. The kind of friend that you can't lie to, because they know everything about you. Marion was beautiful, yes. And funny. And loving. He cared for her very much. But Robin could not marry her. It would be like marrying a sister.
Willow felt sick. Deep within her, her stomach churned. This was too much for her to handle. But she needed to understand this. "What is Marion to you, Robin?" Robin smiled tiredly. "I guess she is like the sister I never picked on." Willow thought about that for a moment. "You certainly seem to pick on her a lot to me." Robin grinned. "Not as much as I would a real sister." Willow smiled too. "I pick on her like a real sister and she gets mad at me." Robin folded his arms and rested his head on the wall. "Well maybe you just don't have the knack of it yet."
They rested there for a long time, talking about the best ways to bother Marion. According to Robin, laughable embarrassment was the way to go. Willow had always considered defiance the only way to really get a rise out of her. By the time the two had recovered their breath, they were laughing. Willow realized that Marion was a very important figure in their lives. She gave them both special parts of herself, and their feelings for her were something in common. Sister.
Willow stood and headed to the next door, her heart felt much lighter. Robin stood beside her and they stepped through the entrance. They next found themselves in the middle of a massive wasteland. Desert just didn't describe the lifelessness. No grass, no trees, no birds, nothing. Just miles upon miles of flat, sandy soil. Whatever lift Willow's heart had felt, it was gone. A brief glance at Robin showed that his heart was in the same condition.
Willow wasn't sure when she noticed the rumble. Her ears tuned into it at some point after her heart hit rock bottom. At first she thought it was her imagination, but her imagination was getting louder. Robin noticed it to. He knelt down and put his ear against the ground. "I hear a tremor. The ground is shaking." Willow knelt too. "It's getting louder. I have a bad feeling about this."
Suddenly, the rumble became a crashing, crumbling noise. Willow recognized the sound of rock hitting rock and splitting apart. The ground below them began to shake violently. Willow lost her balance and hit the ground hard; the sand scraped her elbows. Robin fought to stay upright. He grabbed Willow by the arm and pulled her up. "I think we should run!" Willow winced from the tightness of his grip. "Why? What's going on?"
Then she saw it. A crack. No, a gorge. The earth was opening, working its way toward them at a fast pace. The gorge got wider as it approached swallowing the top layers of earth into the belly of the planet. It was headed straight for them. Willow didn't ask anything else. She broke Robin's grip and broke in a run at break-neck speed, straight for the gorge. Robin was shocked at her choice of direction. He took off after her. "Willow!!! What are you doing?! Come back!!"
Willow yelled back at him. "I can stop it! Don't come after me! Go back the other way!" Robin didn't accept that. "You can't stop this! You are going to get yourself killed!" Willow stopped and turned around. "Then that is my fate! I know what I am doing! Now go back!" She turned and ran even faster, the dust having no affect on her at all. It did have an affect on Robin though. He found he could hardly run and breathing was difficult. He watched Willow go. Her form was almost totally obscured by the dust. He watched as she came upon the gorge. He cried out as it swallowed her up. Sinking to his knees in despair, he waited for the gorge to swallow him too. It came closer and closer, the noise drowning out his sobs.
Then everything stopped. The gorge stopped moving; the rumble faded away. Robin sat there, his sadness paralleled only by his confusion. The dust slowly cleared and there the gorge sat. It seemed harmless now, a wonder of nature. But nature had taken Willow away from him.
Slowly, he climbed to his feet. He walked towards the massive crack, stopping about twenty feet from its edge. The remaining dust stuck to his tear-stained face. Despair began to take him again. He screamed at the gorge. "Why?!!!!!!" He got no relief from the question, only more sadness because no answer was offered to him.
Then he heard a noise. A huffing, coughing noise. He looked around him. After a minute he spied a hand making its way over the edge of the gorge. He sprung forward, grabbing the hand, pulling a dusty Willow up to safety. She was hacking and coughing, covered with dust and dirt, but alive. Robin felt as if his heart would burst. Willow was oblivious to his joy. She stood and began to brush off the dust. Robin couldn't believe his eyes. She had barely a scratch on her. Willow untied her braid and attempted to shake the dust from her hair. "Oh, I need a bath!"
Robin couldn't stand it any longer. He picked her up and swung her around yelling, "You're alive! You're ALIVE!!!!" Willow was to stunned to answer. She held on for dear life as Robin continued to revel in her alive-ness. When he finally put her down she said, "Of course I am. I told you I could stop it." Robin wasn't listening to her. He pulled her close to him, hugging her so tightly, she could hardly breath. "I thought you were dead. I thought I had lost you. But you aren't dead. You're alive!"
Willow hugged him back. "Yes, Robin. And I plan to stay this way." Then the desert dissolved around them. They broke their embrace to find themselves in a huge room. At one end, a panel of men sat behind a desk. High on a podium, a man sat with a scroll in hand. At the other end, Olwyn sat on a stool.
Willow and Robin's embrace became and desperate grip. What was going on? The room around them was barely a room at all. It didn't have walls or a ceiling! Just a floor that extended to oblivion. All they could see was the panel of men, the man at the podium (a judge?), and Olwyn sitting on his stool, quietly observing. The man at the podium glanced at the panel. "Verdict?" Of the men seated at the long desk, Robin counted seven, one rose and said, "We have deliberated and we declare that the candidate has passed."
The man at the podium then pointed to Willow. "You will step forward, please." Willow nodded, but Robin refused to let her go. He held her tightly until he felt Olwyn's hand on his shoulder. "Let her go, young man." Reluctantly, Robin released her. Willow stepped away from him and walked toward the podium. She stopped at its base and gazed up at the man. "What is it you wish of me, sir?" The man looked down at her. "You have completed your trial. Now you must decide where you wish to live."
Willow was puzzled. "But I live in Sherwood Forest. Where else would I live?" The man shook his head. "Have you learned nothing from this? You took this trial to gain passage to Avalon. You must decide when you wish to go there. You have two choices. You may enter now and join your brothers, sisters, and father. Or you may remain on earth until you stop aging." Willow furrowed her brow. "You mean when I die?" The man sighed. "You are half-god. You can not die, at least not of old age. However, you will stop aging at about the time a person of your health would die of old age."
Willow pondered this for a minute. "Will I ever see my family before the end of my life, should I choose not to go now?" The man smiled. "You will be an earthly deity. You will only see them if they approach you, which is not likely, at least not of your brothers and sisters." Willow lowered her head and thought. She glanced toward the panel. She glanced up at the man above her. She glanced back at a very distraught Robin and an amazingly calm Olwyn. "Very well. I have made my decision."
Robin found himself back in his tent, sitting on his fur rug, bow in hand. It took him a minute to realize what had happened. Once he had, he threw down his bow and bolted out of his tent. Camp seemed normal. Children were playing games. The blacksmith was working his trade. Women were cooking, sewing, and weaving. Little John was sparring with someone. Marion was practicing with her whip. Friar Tuck was crushing herbs for tea.
Robin's gaze found its way to the limb where Willow normally sat. She wasn't there. He quickly looked for Sleeper perched on top of a tent or in a tree. Nothing. He ran to the Fitzwalter tent. Throwing back the flap, he was relieved to see Willow's cat, Calla, and dog, Burke. But he did not see Willow. Then Robin felt a tap on the shoulder. He spun around to face Marion. "Are you looking for someone?" Robin stuttered, "Uh, hi, Marion. I was just looking for Willow." Marion smiled. "She went into the forest early this morning to gather wild vegetables. I think she said she was going to stick to the creek. If you follow it, you should find her." Robin thanked her and hurried off.
Robin ran along the creek bed for what seemed like miles. He hadn't seen so much as a foot print. He finally grew so tired that he couldn't run another step. He went to a tree for support. As he leaned on it and caught his breath, something told him to look around the tree's trunk. On the other side, he saw Willow. She was kneeling next to the water, staring at her reflection. Beside her lay a basket filled with plants. Sleeper perched on the basket's handle.
Willow seemed spellbound by her reflection, she studied it as if it was the first time she had ever seen her own face. She pulled at her skin, rubbed her brows, and puckered her lips. Robin walked up behind her. "Willow?" She didn't look at him. "I feel older." Robin knelt beside her. "What do you mean?" She raised her head and looked at him. "I feel older." Indeed, her face looked older to Robin as well. It was the same face he knew and had seen the day before, but the child-like sparkle had left it. It was a mature face.
"Why are you still here?" Robin asked her. Willow sighed. "Why should I join an old family that I will be with eventually anyway, when I can start a new one here?" With that she picked up her basket and walked off, leaving Robin to ponder what she meant.