The heat of the day was nothing compared to the heat Robin felt within himself. It had started a short time after he and Willow ventured into the 'other realm' (as Olwyn called it). It came and went, much like an old wound, the greatest heat filtering throughout him whenever he and Willow were in close quarters. It wasn't anger, or lust, or passion. At least, Robin didn't think he was feeling those things. He really wasn't sure what he felt. All he knew was that Willow awakened something deep within him, a flame that had long since smoldered and died. The flame erupted whenever he saw her. The heat permeated his skin whenever he touched her. She didn't seem to notice any of it. In fact, since the incident by the creek, where she had left him with so many questions, Willow had not even spoken of the 'other realm'.
Robin's first reaction to this was that the memories were too painful for her. She had begun by reliving her tortured childhood only to be swallowed by the soil she cherished later on. The memories were frightening for Robin to think about. He often questioned whether or not it was all a dream. But if that was the case, then why did Willow walk away from him whenever he brought it up? Why didn't she just say she didn't know what he was talking about?
The answer was clear. She knew very well what happened between the two of them. She knew what she was feeling and she was keeping it from Robin. He didn't know why. Not all the answers were clear. He did know that he would never truly understand any of it unless Willow chose to talk to him about it, and that didn't seem like an event in the near future.
That particular day, Robin was wandering the camp, laughing as the children scattered about him and trying hard to cover his worry. He wasn't worrying about Willow this time. He was worrying because the camp was happy and fruitful. Recently, he and Little John acquired a large sum of gold. They gave much of it away and used some to help the families within the camp. Everyone was happy and healthy, their bellies full and satisfied. All except for Robin, whose belly still churned with the inner flame. When the idea came up for a celebration, Robin was just as excited as everyone else, until someone suggested that their be music and dancing.
Robin had a terrible secret. At least, it was terrible for him. Despite all his grace and agility in fighting, he could not recall how to dance. The last ball he had ever attended was when he was sixteen and that was formal dancing. He knew nothing of the folk dances his people were so fond of. He was in a bind.
At some point during his wandering, Robin felt the heat grow. He leaned on a tree for support and caught sight of the reason for his inner warmth. Willow sat on top of a table, telling stories to the group of children that had gathered around her. The sun glistened in her hair; her eyes flashed in the warm rays. A light breeze blew her curly locks around her face and back again. Robin couldn't hear what she was saying, but he knew it was spellbinding, for all the children were as still as statues.
Robin felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned to the face of Sean. "Staring at her again, are we?" Sean had caught Robin on several occasions.
"You better get your guard back up, or that woman will the death of you. Literally." Robin nodded, trying not to show his embarrassment at being caught off guard, again.
"I wasn't staring. I was just thinking." Sean laughed.
"Yeah. I know what with too."
Robin didn't laugh. If only Sean could understand. "I'm thinking about the celebration. It's in two days and I still don't know how to dance." Sean laughed, for he had guessed long ago that Robin had a problem with dancing in public. He always faded into the shadows whenever the camp was in the mood for music. But he couldn't this time. This celebration was too important. Robin was their leader and he needed to participate.
Sean interrupted his thoughts. "Why don't you ask Willow to teach you. I've seen her dance before, in the woods when she thinks no one is watching. She is so graceful, she puts doves and swallows to shame." Robin considered this and immediately struck the idea from his mind. He hadn't the nerve nor the energy to ask Willow anything right now. Unfortunately for him, Sean had plenty of energy.
Sean called to Willow, who was rising after finishing her story. She jogged over to them and greeted Robin with a tired smile.
"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" Sean glanced at Robin, beckoning to Willow with his eyes. Robin took the hint and said softly,
"Uh, Willow. I, uh, I don't know how to dance. And, um, I was, uh, hoping that maybe you could, uh, teach me." There. He said it. The heat in him felt like lava. Willow's tired smile brightened into a full grin. She nodded.
"Ok. I'll teach you, but not in camp. We don't want your little secret to get out."
So that was all it took. Robin and Willow nonchalantly saddled their horses and rode off, out of camp. Sean watched them go, a satisfied grin crossing his features. If only it was that easy for him.
Willow and Robin rode far from camp. Willow led the way with Robin following. He had no idea where she was taking him. Eventually, Willow came to a clearing surrounded by a circular grove of trees. From outside the grove, the clearing was almost invisible. The trees obscured all vision of the feathery grass that lay at their heart.
Willow dismounted and led her horse, Black Star, into the clearing. Robin followed, not saying a word. The flame within him was growing stronger. He was sweating heavily. A gentle breeze blew through the clearing, but gave him little relief. He watched as Willow pulled a small instrument from her saddlebag. It was a pipe flute, also called a Pan flute. She blew into it, tuning it.
Robin looked at her quizzically. "I didn't know you played an instrument." Willow laughed, lowering the flute from her lips. "That's because I never told you." Robin approached her, holding his hand out for the flute. She gave it to him, smiling expectantly. Robin put the pipes to his lips and blew, but no sound came out. Confused, he blew again, harder. Still, nothing except the sound of his own blowing. Willow laughed and took it from him. "You are blowing across. You need to send the air down, into the flute." She demonstrated for him, blowing gently, moving the pipes back and forth, allowing a short tune to escape them.
Robin was enchanted by her talent, one he had known nothing about. Willow didn't give him a chance to inquire. "I brought it because we have no music here. It's difficult to dance without at least a tune in your head to go by." Robin nodded. It made sense. Willow began a new tune. It was a simple, beautiful sequence that repeated several times. The music enveloped Robin, relaxing him, calming his flame.
After a few minutes Willow stopped playing. Sure enough, the tune was stuck in Robin's mind, refusing to stop recycling. Content that she had accomplished her first task, Willow put the pipes back in her saddlebag. She walked back to Robin and took his hands. "Now. Do you remember how to hold a lady?"
The touch of her hands brought the heat back. It grew as she positioned his hands and drew herself closer to him. She began to hum the tune. It began fresh in Robin's mind. Then she started to move, her feet dancing simple steps and motions. Robin followed awkwardly. When he first thought he was beginning to understand the steps, his foot landed on Willow's. He cringed visibly and opened his mouth to apologize, but Willow just hushed him. She didn't care.
For a long time, that was how it went. Finally, Robin caught on and it was suddenly easy for him. He began to imagine the two of them in a ballroom. Though they weren't dancing ball dances, he longed to see Willow in such an environment. He pictured the two of them, surrounded by people, dancing alone in the center of the room. He pictured himself in the elegant clothes of his youth and Willow... Willow wore a grand gown, blue and shimmering. Her hair was arranged just so her locks encased her face. And she was happy, so happy.
The picture was suddenly interrupted by a loud squealing. Willow stopped short and spun around. Sleeper came diving from the treetops and landed on her shoulder, squawking and squealing like his life depended on it, or rather Willow's life.
Willow's eyes went wide. "We need to go." Robin turned her around to face him. "What? What's wrong." Willow opened her mouth to answer but thought better of it when a group of twenty soldiers came crashing through the grove of trees, surrounding her and Robin. A familiar voice chuckled as it made its way behind the soldiers. "You should have gone because then you might not be in my custody." Robin began to feel a different heat. Anger. Hatred. And it was directed at Guy of Gisborne.
Robin and Willow were not the surrendering type. Conflicts were just too much fun when they were directly addressed. So, when they found themselves surrounded and out-numbered ten to one, they did the only logical thing. They fought.
They brandished their weapons, standing back to back. Two soldiers attacked Willow first, thinking a woman was easy prey. She proved otherwise when she suddenly twisted her daggers in each of their guts. Robin had a similar effect with the soldiers on his side. Their faces twisted in agony when they made unfortunate contact with his sword. He took down three soldiers.
Fifteen to go. And then Guy of Gisborne. The black-haired man with the evil smirk was staying outside of the fighting. The last time Robin caught a glimpse of him, Guy was leaning contentedly on a tree trunk. Robin took down another two soldiers, stabbing one and kicking another in the head. Willow's preferences for battle were a little different. Robin heard a crunch and a moan. A soldier fell holding his groin. He glanced back at Willow and saw that she was extremely pleased with herself.
Twelve soldiers still stood and they were getting wiser, attacking in-groups of four and five. Willow and Robin were starting to get tired and that complicated things even more. At one point, Willow decided the best way to handle her five soldiers was to play dominos. She left her stance at Robin's back and moved to where she had more space. The soldiers followed her in a straight line, just as she had anticipated them to do. When the timing was just right, she suddenly leapt up and planted her feet squarely in the chest of the first soldier, sending him sprawling backward and knocking the other four down. Willow landed awkwardly on her feet and struggled her balance. With her attention distracted, she didn't see Guy coming.
Robin turned his head just in time to see Guy behind Willow.
"Willow! Look out!" Willow turned her head, but the hilt of Guys sword was all ready at her skull. She crumpled to the ground in a heap, unconscious. Guy lifted his sword as if he were preparing to decapitate her. He called to Robin.
"Stop fighting, Robin Hood! Or I will leave you only your lady's body."
Seeing know alternative, Robin dropped his sword. A soldier moved to strike him down, but Guy motioned for him to stop.
"There is no need for that. He's worth just as much alive as he is dead. Bind him at the feet, but leave his hands free." The soldiers agreed, shackling Robin's feet, but not his hands. Guy motioned to the soldiers and one grabbed Robin, pulled him over to wear Willow still had not moved. Guy said,
"If you want her to live, you'll have to carry her." He leaned down to Robin's level and smiled broadly. "All the way to Prince John's castle."
Robin nodded solemnly. He was actually glad of this fate because he could still protect Willow, even if they were captured. He knew he couldn't trust soldiers with a young woman. They would take advantage of her, conscious or not, if he didn't protect her. He gingerly lifted her into his arms, being ever so careful to see that she was as comfortable as he could make her. Guy mounted his horse, as did the rest of the living soldiers. They surrounded Robin on their horses.
"Walk, Robin Hood."
Robin had been walking for about an hour when he noticed Willow move. It was just a subtle movement, as if she were reaching for consciousness, but it was still beyond her grasp. Robin had long since grown very tired. Willow didn't weigh much, but she became a dead weight very fast. Eventually, Willow's little subtle movements became shakes and twists, like she was realizing that she was in an uncomfortable position. Robin didn't know that she was truly awake until she moved her head from where it laid on his arm, up to his shoulder. She didn't speak for several minutes, exhausted from the effort of lifting the throbbing mass that sat on her shoulders. When she was strong enough, she opened her eyes slightly and whispered into Robin's ear. "Where am I?"
Robin hushed her quietly. He didn't want Guy to know that she had recovered from the blow so quickly. When the soldiers seemed preoccupied with other things, Robin half-turned his head and whispered back to her.
"We are walking to Prince John's castle. Guy has captured us." Willow didn't react for a few moments and Robin wondered if she had even heard him. Finally, she replied,
"How did they capture us? I don't remember." Robin flexed his arms, lifting her up a little higher.
"Don't worry about it now. Just rest while you can. We'll get out of this." Willow didn't protest. She fell into unconsciousness again, this time by choice.
The day felt like eternity. Robin breathed a tired sigh of relief when he saw the colors of sunset in the sky. They would not make it to Price John's castle that night. He would use the darkness as his ally. Guy noticed the impending darkness as well.
He announced, "Keep watch for a clearing. We'll camp in the forest tonight. Raise your spirits, men. By tomorrow we will be one thousand crowns richer." The soldiers let out a small cheer.
Robin felt his blood boil, despite the cool air that accompanied dusk. He glanced at Willow again. She had come out of unconsciousness several times, but had not managed the strength to stand. So Robin had carried her the entire way. Miles.
A few minutes later, Guy called for a stop. The clearing he had chosen was suitable. Robin gently lowered Willow to the ground, his arms screaming for relief. The cold earth was enough to wake her and she slowly opened her eyes to look up at him. Robin met her gaze warmly, only to have it interrupted by a tarp thrown over their heads. The soldiers laughed as Robin pulled the heavy cloth off of them.
Guy smiled. "If you want shelter for the night, you'll have to build it." Robin scowled.
"You could at least give us stakes and a blanket with it. A tarp alone isn't good for much." Guy laughed.
"Certainly, Master Robin." He pulled down a wool blanket and small tent stakes and threw them in the same fashion as the soldier had done with the tarp. The blanket completely missed its target and Robin caught the stakes with no effort at all.
Robin set to putting up their tent. Willow asked to help several times, but Robin refused her offers. He needed her to conserve her energy. He needed her to be strong. By the time the sun had set, Robin had finished. Willow was all ready taking advantage of the one blanket they had been allotted. She slept peacefully. Robin sat up for some time after the last of the soldiers went to bed, watching her. When he was sure that the soldiers were in their own dreamlands, he reached over and covered Willow's mouth. She was awake in an instant, attempting to ask what he was doing, but the words couldn't filter through his grip. Robin smiled.
"It's time to work. Are you up to it?"
End of Chapter One