As Marion left the camp, she failed to notice someone standing behind a tree a few hundred yards away from the camp entrance. This person peeked around the tree gingerly, her deep blue eyes following Marion’s even move. She had only a moment to memorize every detail right down to the leather boots, but the time frame was enough. When Marion disappeared into the forest, the mysterious person stepped out from behind the tree, he white gown flowing unnaturally in the breeze.
Ronna fingered the gown, trying to form a picture in her mind of what Marion looked like. "I think I can do this," she murmured. "Red leather armor, black lining, rabbit’s fur…yes, I think I’ve got it." Ronna squeezed her eyes shut and repeated some magic words. Her white gown instantly transformed into an exact double of Marion’s outfit. "Not bad at all," she said as she brushed her new clothing off. "Now for a horse." Ronna closed her eyes again, repeated the same magic words, and envisioned Marion’s magnificent white steed. A moment later, she felt an animal with a cold, wet nose nuzzle her arm.
Ronna grabbed the horse’s reigns and attempted to climb up onto the saddle. But her muscles failed and she slipped, tumbling back to the forest floor.
"Ooof!" Ronna said. As she looked up, the horse turned around and smiled, revealing a long row of white teeth. It was almost as if he was laughing at her.
"You dumb horse," Ronna mumbled. She picked herself up, brushed the dirt and grass off her clothing, and made a jump for the horse’s reigns. This time, however, her hand connected only with air. The horse took off in a trot away from Ronna and into a dark part of the forest.
Ronna stomped her foot impatiently. However comedic the scene was, she didn’t have time to mess around. So Ronna took off after the horse at top speed. But however fast she ran, the horse ran faster still. Finally, Ronna fell to her knees, winded and extremely tired. The horse stopped a few feet away from her grunting as though he was laughing his fool head off. Ronna stuck her tongue out at the horse and stood up.
"Fine, forget you," she said. She waved her hand and the horse disappeared. Ronna turned and headed back in the direction of the camp. It took her walking around in circles for awhile to realize that she had no idea where she was going.
"Drat!!" Ronna cried. "I lost the damn camp sight, thanks to that horse!" Mellar had warned Ronna to refrain from using her magic as much as possible, but she was running out of time. So she closed her eyes and waved both of her arms, chanting softly. Then she vanished.
* * *
Little John stretched the bowstring to make sure it was secure. Exhausted, he tossed the bow into the basket with the others. He’d been repairing and making bows all afternoon in his tent, on Robin’s orders, and he was tired. His fingers ached and blisters were forming, but he dared not say anything for fear of being dishonored. Protection came with a price; no pain, no gain. Nevertheless, a break was in order. So Little John rolled up the remaining leaf frond string and stacked the bow twigs neatly. Then he began rubbing his hands. He didn’t notice that he was under Robin’s watchful eye until it was too late.
"Why stop, Little John?" Robin taunted. Little John turned around from his work desk and saw Robin just inside the tent, arms folded, with a smug expression on his face.
"Aww, come on Robin." Little John whined. "I need a rest! I’ve been working all afternoon on these bows. Don’t you think we have enough already?"
With cat-like grace, Robin slid over to Little John, and crouched down so the two warriors were eye-to-eye. Leaning down into Little John’s face, Robin whispered "So maybe next time you’re in danger I shouldn’t take steps to protect you."
"Robin, I don’t understand why you’re being so over-protective" Little John said between clenched teeth. "Just because there’s some danger doesn’t mean we have to kill ourselves trying to protect ourselves! We might as well just forget it then."
Robin stood up straight and glanced over at the unfinished bows lying on Little John’s work desk. "I guess I overestimated you, Little John," he said.
"You’re no better than Marion. I thought you cared about this camp and our group."
"I DO care, Robin," Little John said. "But not enough to overwork myself. Can’t I take a break?"
"Now you’re whining, Little John. I’m so disappointed in you. My, my how you have changed." Robin shook his head and strode away.
Little John was too shocked to continue the argument. Robin’s behavior was totally mystifying. "Well, he’s been under a lot of stress lately," he reasoned. So he turned back to his work, deciding to humor Robin and skip a break. But when Little John unwound a length of leaf frond string and attempted to cut it with a knife, the knife slipped. It sunk into his tender flesh.
"Ohhhh" Little John sighed. He stuck the wound in his mouth and threw the knife aside. "That’s it, I’ve had enough." He said. He jumped up from his work desk and began searching around a spare cloth bandage.
"Looking for these?" came a voice from behind him. Little John whipped around quickly and saw Marion standing by the work desk, dangling a cloth bandage from her hand in a seductive way. Little John smiled, thankful that it was only Marion and not some mysterious enchantress. "Thanks," he said and took the bandage.
"Oh dear, don’t forget this," Marion said. She opened her other hand and presented Little John with some healing herbs. He took them with a smile.
"Thanks, Marion," Little John said after he was fixed up. "Say, you came prepared. It’s almost as if you knew that was going to happen!"
Marion stifled a giggle. He had no idea how close to the truth he was. She smiled sweetly, then snapped her fingers. Little John examined his wound for a moment, then looked back up at Marion for one more thank you. But she was gone.
* * *
"Why does everybody fight me so much?" Robin wondered allowed. He was lying on his bed, in solitary, thinking deep about the events of the past few days.
So far, there had been no attacks and no warning signs of danger. He’d grown tired of pushing people around to the point of inter-camp fighting, which was against the rules, and decided to lay off for awhile. Maybe Little John and Marion were right; maybe he WAS pushing too hard. But how could he protect his people unless he pushed hard for help? For some reason, cooperation was scarce at the camp. This was a problem that rarely happened, but when it did, it could surely be solved. This time seemed different, however. No matter what reason there was to work, nobody wanted to.
"First, the love of my life runs off," Robin said quietly. "Then, the strongest man in camps begins acting like a baby when I ask for a little cooperation and respect."
Speaking of Marion, the sun was getting low in the sky and she had not yet returned to the camp. Robin was concerned….well, not concerned, more like downright worried about her. But he supposed he deserved it after the argument they had. "Why am I so rigid?"
Robin asked himself. He turned over onto his side and closed his eyes. "Let’s face it, everything around here is changing. Marion WAS right. I’m changing, and it seems for the worst. But why? Is it related to the danger? Olwyn, where are you when I need you?"
Robin had little time to wonder, for it was then that he heard footsteps outside his tent. He rose quickly out of bed, peeked outside, and came face to face with Marion. Robin’s eyes lit up at the sight of the woman of hid dreams, but the mood passed as quickly as it had come. Be firm with her, Robin, he told himself.
Don’t let her get away with keeping you worried like this, while everyone else around here has been slaving. Robin cleared his throat and folded his hands calmly.
"Marion, where have you been? I’ve been worried all day about you. You know, you shouldn’t have left like that while everyone else has been working like dogs to build up a good defense against the dangers we face. As thrilled as I am that you are safe, I am not happy about what you have done."
Robin spoke to Marion as if he was her father and not her friend. Marion had no idea what he was talking about, and for a split second panic filtered through her body. But then she regained control and turned on the charm. I hope this works, she thought.
"Oh Robin," she said. Marion stepped to Robin and wound her arms around his neck. Before Robin knew it, her face was just inches from his. "Please forgive me. I don’t know what I was thinking!"
Suddenly Robin found himself in the grasp of déjà vu. It was just like the dream! But something was different. Upon looking deep into her eyes, Robin found himself falling into the depths of pure evil. But he didn’t resist. In fact, he liked it.
"Robin. Do you forgive me for my behavior? I know I can make it up to you," Marion purred, her voice deep and throaty. Whatever the reason, Robin liked this new and improved Marion. A smiled spread across the warrior’s face. Yes! Marion thought. He was hers. But Robin began to fear an interruption. The smile fell and for a moment Marion feared that, somehow, he had figured out who she was.
"What’s wrong, dearie?"
Marion murmured as she conjured up an incredible amount of will power to stay calm and confident. Robin answered, but not in the way Marion thought he would. He grabbed her arms with such force that took her by pleasant surprise and yanked them around his waist, pulling her close. All the passion he’d been harboring as long as he had known her now spilled fourth.
"I don’t want to be interrupted this time," Robin growled as he bent his head to kiss her.
It was a burning kiss full of passion, but it wasn’t as Robin thought it would be. When he imagined kissing Marion in the past, the Marion he kissed was a gentle, sweet soul with a heart of gold and a twist of spunk.
This Marion was too aggressive. Robin couldn’t ignore the anxious feeling tugging at his heart, and suddenly he felt sick to his stomach. This was supposed to be one of the greatest moments of his life. This isn’t right, Robin thought. I have to stop.
But he couldn’t pull away. It was unclear whether or not the inability to pull away from Marion was his fault or her fault. But perhaps he should have tried harder, for at that moment someone was approaching Robin’s tent looking for him. When she came around the corner to peek into the tent, she gasped. Fortunately, it was enough to break the spell of the kiss.
Unfortunately, when Robin pulled away he saw her standing in the entryway of the tent and almost fainted. It was Marion…another Marion!
End of Chapter Three