Based on characters from "The Birthday Trap" from TNT’s The New Adventures of Robin Hood.
Joan T. Woodcock
Marion was upset. Very upset.
"I don’t like this one bit," she muttered as she stood and began pacing in front of the fire. Her companions, John Little, Friar Tuck, Kemal and Robin Hood, watched her frenzied movements. But all remained silent.
Marion suddenly stopped and whirled to face Robin.
"Aren’t you the least bit suspicious of their motives, Robin? It’s been almost a year since your stepmother Mary’s birthday and no one has tried to contact you, not even after you sent James the bow you made for his birthday. James didn’t even give a reply to Sean when he delivered it. And now there are rumors that Lord Tadcaster is very cozy with the Norman lords."
Robin looked up, the strain of the recent news shadowing his handsome face. He simply stared at Marion and shook his head, too weary to answer. They’d been at it since an exhausted messenger was found lost and frightened near the camp in the wee hours of the morning, after riding through the night to deliver Mary’s letter.
Marion saw the plea for understanding in Robin’s expressive brown eyes and though disturbed by the dark circles of worry under them, she was too angry - and worried herself - at his lack of concern for his own safety to stop pressuring him.
"What has your half-brother done for you, Robin, that you would walk into a possible trap for him?"
Tuck’s head shot up at that statement. "Marion, please. You’re going way too far now. Leave Robin alone. It’s his decision to make."
"Leave him alone?" she asked incredulously. She spread her arms encompassing the men sitting in front of her. "Somebody has to talk some sense into him and you three just sit there like bumps on a log."
Little John had been quiet to this point, but this was too much. "Marion!" he barked out so loudly that Marion actually jumped. Feeling sheepish at his outburst, John lowered his voice. "You heard the Friar. Leave Robin alone. He’s got enough on his mind without you -
Robin stood abruptly, cutting Little John off.
"Look, I appreciate your concern, Marion, I really do. For what it’s worth, I realize the whole thing is odd and could be a trap. And, of course, I’ve heard the rumors about Normans frequenting the castle. Didn’t I send a message to Mary when we heard the first rumor?"
"Which she ignored," Marion added caustically.
Robin walked over to Marion and gently grasped her upper arms. "I have no choice but to go. I can’t take the chance that Mary’s request isn’t legitimate, despite what her husband may be involved in. James is my brother, Marion. If I don’t go and James dies..." He gulped deeply, his Adam’s apple bobbing. "All I ask is that you understand, Marion, even if you can’t or won’t approve. He’s the only family I have left."
Marion stepped out of his grasp and wrapped her arms around her midriff. "I can’t, Robin. Even for you. I’ll never understand your blind loyalty to people who..."
She stopped mid-sentence. Her words hurt him deeply. She could see the stricken look in his eyes before he lowered them. Marion reached for him but Robin stepped away from her. With a nod to his other companions, he slowly walked away from the fire, the slump of his shoulders and bowed head expressing more clearly than words how disappointed and defeated he felt.
Little John’s heart went out to his friend and he rose to follow him, then thought better of it and sat down with a plop, rubbing a huge hand over his face. He looked up at Marion. "Was your stubbornness worth what you just did to Robin, Marion? Your understanding and support, more than anyone else’s, means everything to him. And your pride wouldn’t let you give it to him."
Tuck had been watching this exchange and his eyes widened in surprise at Marion’s quivering lower lip. "Little John, maybe we should drop this for n--"
"I-I know I’m not the most eloquent speaker or deep thinker around here," John interrupted, "but, Robin wasn’t asking for approval, Marion, he was asking for support. Your support."
Marion hated to feel vulnerable but damn! if Little John’s words weren’t doing just that. But she was right! Of this, she had no doubt.
Kemal usually remained stoic as his training dictated, but he felt very uncomfortable watching these old friends delivering such upsetting verbal blows. "Perhaps a compromise can be made."
His three companions turned to listen, instinctively sensing that Kemal would not speak up if he hadn’t perceived the problem to be serious indeed.
"If Robin refuses to have someone accompany him -- "
"Which he will just in case it is a trap," Tuck offered.
"The letter said come alone," Marion reminded them.
"That’s right, but Robin will refuse our company anyway because he would never knowingly put his friends in jeopardy, especially for a personal matter," Little John added.
Kemal nodded, fully understanding and admiring Robin’s noble, unselfish nature, and continued. "Then perhaps one of us can follow him if he refuses a companion. I would like to do it."
Tuck clasped Kemal’s muscular shoulder. "Excellent solution, my friend. And yet so simple we should have thought of it hours ago." He faced his other friends. "Will this satisfy you, Marion?"
Marion resumed her place on the log, making sure to avoid Little John as his assessment of her behavior -- whether correct or not -- still rankled. "Yes, it’s a good idea, Kemal. If Robin won’t care about his own safety, we’ll have to for him."
She ignored the censorious looks from the men. "I just wish I could shake this feeling..."
Wearing a muted brown cape with the hood pulled over his flowing sable hair, Robin carefully approached his stepmother’s husband’s castle, keeping to the more wooded trails for cover. He stopped a ways from the keep, tethered his horse and stared at the impressive stone structure. He convulsively swallowed the lump that seemed to have taken up permanent lodging in his throat ever since he received the message from Mary that his half-brother had been mortally wounded while boar hunting. James had suffered a horrific chest wound and was barely managing to stay alive as the breath wheezed in and out of his damaged lungs. According to the missive, James was holding on to see his half-brother one last time. Robin couldn’t refuse, regardless of Marion’s arguments. And, in preference to Marion, he had agreed to have Kemal come with him. Despite their disagreement, which hurt him more than he’d care to admit, Robin did trust Marion’s instincts.
Ironic. All that arguing and he came alone anyway. Just as he and Kemal were saddling up for the journey, word had come of a devastating fire that destroyed a small village north of Sherwood. Every spare body was needed to help the survivors.
So here he was, carefully approaching the entrance Mary described in her letter that would keep his presence hidden while leading him to family’s living quarters in the solar of the castle. He wore no disguise this trip as he would not be exposed at a public function like the birthday party.
The underground passages, whose coolness was a welcome respite from the unusually muggy heat outside, were remarkably empty. At any other time, Robin’s carefully honed instincts would have been on full alert. He would have wondered at the eerie silence and the need for such secrecy. They must have feared for their safety -- or his -- if it were known that Robin Hood was there and Normans were indeed frequent visitors. Or it was a trap. Or, perhaps, they didn’t trust him. He had saved them all at his stepmother’s birthday celebration yet Robin would never forget the look on Mary’s face when she first entered the hall. She had looked radiant...until she saw Robin and immediately clutched the jewelry at her neck as is she were afraid he would steal it. Had Robin’s mind and emotions not been so overwrought, he would have dwelled on the implications of her gesture, as well as the Norman rumors. However, his worries for his brother overrode all other concerns and he continued down the deserted passageways, his mind on James.
Voices could be heard up ahead and Robin inched his way forward, until he came to a niche in the stone wall big enough to back into. The voices were now distinguishable and a broad grin lit Robin’s face. It couldn’t be!
He peaked around the wall and his guess was proven correct. There stood his old "partner" Derrick, being dressed down by a prune-faced woman with an incredibly shrill voice. Every time the boy attempted to defend himself, the old shrew took off in a new harangue. She finally withdrew, leaving a disgruntled Derrick alone.
"I see some things never change, Derrick."
That voice! Could it be? The boy whirled around and let out a loud whoop of excitement. "Robin! Is it really you?"
"It’s really me, kid."
"Kid?" Derrick asked in mock annoyance as he ran to Robin and squashed him in an enthusiastic bear hug. With what little movement he had in his trapped arms, Robin patted Derrick’s back, laughing.
"I’m glad to see you, too, Derrick. It’s been awhile. Aside from the old crone who just left, is everything well with you? Looks like you’ve grown quite a few inches."
Derrick unwrapped his gangly arms, the blush on his face advertising his embarrassment over such an outburst of emotion. He straightened proudly to his full height. "I’m three inches taller, Robin. But, look at you! Your hair’s much longer. You’ve really put on muscle. Now you look like Robin Hood!"
Robin laughed, draping his arm over Derrick’s shoulder for a quick squeeze, remembering how Derrick had refused to believe he was Robin Hood when they first met.
The smile left Robin’s face and he stepped back, recalling his reason for coming. "I’m here to see James, Derrick. How is he fairing?"
Derrick cocked his head to one side, giving Robin a quizzical look. "He’s fine, Robin. Why wouldn’t he be?"
Now it was Robin’s turn to look perplexed. "I received a summons to come as fast as I could. That James was dying."
"Dying? That’s news to me. He looked fit as a fiddle last I saw him."
Robin paced across the width of the passageway. "I don’t understand it, then. My stepmother wrote that James was attacked by a wild boar and hanging on just long enough to talk to me." He turned and walked back to the equally confused young man. "Are there any visitors staying at the castle, Derrick? Any Normans?"
Derrick pondered the question then shook his head. "If there are, Robin, I haven’t seen them. But then, the past couple of days my duties have kept me away from the castle. What are you going to do? Will you need a partner again, partner?"
His eagerness brought a smile to Robin’s face and he clasped the boy’s shoulder. "In case there’s trouble, you’ll be the first person I call. Is it a deal?"
Robin extended his arm, which Derrick quickly clasped. "It’s a deal."
"Okay, then. Point me in the right direction and after my visit with James, I’ll meet you outside by the big oak to the north of the castle. Do you know the one?"
"I should say that I do. I’ll be there."
With that, Robin moved down the hallway.
He turned to face the boy.
"Be careful, right?"
Robin bowed to his young friend with a flourish. "I will, Derrick. And...thank you."
Robin proceeded for several minutes more until he reached huge wooden double doors, much too ornate to be the entrance to anything but the family’s private quarters. He stopped some yards from the doors and breathed deeply several times to control his rioting emotions.
Too many memories hit him at once. So many deaths. So many people taken from him over the years. And now James who was much too young to be torn from the bosom of his family. He had everything to live for and tragically, no time left to live it. At least in his own experience, Fate had given Robin the opportunity to go on with his life, however irrevocably altered it had been. But not so James.
With a final, fortifying gulp of air, Robin slowly opened the heavy wooden doors and froze, dumfounded at the scene in front of him. Mary, her husband, Lord Cecil Tadcaster, and their daughter, Rowena, were standing in the center of the large room staring at him as if they had expected him at that very moment...and James was standing with them!
End of Chapter One
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