Joan T. Woodcock

Chapter Four

Robin was dreaming. He had to be. The pain he was feeling couldn’t be real.

He tried to relax only to find that even the slightest movement continued to cause the agony of his dream. Suddenly, a blinding pain exploded in his ribs as a booted foot kicked the already fractured bones, causing Robin to jackknife forward. His head was snapped back by a sharp yank on his hair and he was face to face with his nemesis.

Planter let go of Robin’s hair and laughed as Robin’s head smashed back into the tree. He smiled as he watched the expression in the outlaw’s eyes when he finally realized what was in store for him.

Robin blinked several times to clear his vision. Oh God.

Planter was holding a stout branch, testing its strength by slapping it against his palm. His eyes were wild, like a rabid animal. "You must be made to pay for all you’ve cost me, bastard. I’ve been too easy on you. That’s going to change right now."

With a prayer on his lips, Robin braced for the blows. He didn’t have long to wait. He heard the branch swish through the air -- white hot agony scorched through him as the blow landed across his pectoral muscles. A scream ripped from his tortured throat, only to be cut off as another blow struck him, and then another and another.

*** *** ***

Derrick sat up with a start, not certain what woke him. He remained still, barely breathing as he listened for the sounds of the night. He thought he had heard a cry but the forest was strangely silent. And then he heard something. A thwack, followed by another and then another. It sounded almost as if someone were getting hit with a -- Oh no! Robin! Derrick bolted up and ran towards the other side of the camp.

"Corporal! Wake up! Please! I need your help. He’s killing him. Please!"

MacAfee was instantly alert, his reflexes honed by years of warring, and he lunged at the intruder, his beefy hand going straight for the throat. Frantically, Derrick clawed at the hand, trying desperately to pry it off his wind pipe.

In the few seconds it took the corporal to realize his attacker was the boy, Derrick began to sag and the awful gasping sounds became fewer. MacAfee immediately loosed his death grip and grabbed the boy before he collapsed. "Lad." He shook him. "Derrick!"

Derrick gasped in a huge quantity of oxygen, blinking several times to recover his wits. He then struggled to his feet and faced the older man.

"You’ve got to help me, corporal. Planter is beating him. You’ve got to stop him before he kills him."

Fresh cuts and bruises marred Derrick’s face and MacAfee cursed, knowing the boy had already tried to intervene unsuccessfully. The soldier gathered his weapons and followed him.

Planter had just drawn his arm back to deliver another blow when it was stopped in mid-swing. He swiveled around to see what was holding him back.

"That’s enough, sir," MacAfee ordered firmly. "You do want the prisoner alive when we return to the camp, don’t you?"

Incredulity changed to fury as Planter stared at his second-in-command. He attempted to pull out of the iron grip but was unable to, causing him to lose control of his rage.

"You had better stand back, corporal, unless you want some of the same."

"I canno’ do that, sir," MacAfee responded in a quiet yet firm voice. "What you did to him the last time was bad enough. But I turned a blind eye, never questionin’ your twisted cruelties. I canno’ do it anymore."

"Oh you can’t, can you!" With dizzying speed and strength of insanity, Planter whirled around and plowed his fist into MacAfee’s temple, dropping the man like a stone. He then turned his attention to the boy. "Now it’s your turn, boy."

Panic welled up inside Derrick. He’s going to kill me now. He began to back up as the deranged sergeant advanced on him. I’m sorry, Robin. He bumped into something behind him and suddenly found himself behind a giant of a man with long blond hair. With one lightning quick strike of his quarter staff, the man felled the sergeant.

As the giant leaned over Planter to make sure he was out cold, a woman and a friar raced over to Robin.

*** *** ***

"You run along now, dear," Widow Cooper said as she bustled Marion out of the cooking area. "We know how Robin likes his capon pie. We’ll take care of it."

With a final but gentle push, Marion found herself out of the tent. I wanted to make that pie for Robin. I know I could make it. Marion’s conscience got the better of her, though, and she amended her declaration. I could make it but whether he’d be able to eat it or not is another matter. With a frustrated harrumph, Marion stalked away from the cooks and headed for Robin’s tent.

When she arrived, she saw that the flap was open and the tent empty. She spun around, looking in the immediate vicinity to see if Robin was near. He was nowhere in sight. Darn him! Tuck had told him to rest today, all day. Although Robin insisted that he was completely healed and getting stronger every day, Tuck did not agree. Neither did Marion. So, they reached a compromise, again with the help of Kemal. Tuck would not hound Robin to take more time to recuperate if Robin agreed to take a day of rest every third day. And that was today.

Marion crossed her arms over her abdomen and stood there thinking. Where could that impossible man have gotten to now? Tapping her foot, she wracked her brain, picturing all the places in the camp Robin frequented. With a determined stride, Marion headed off towards the stable area. He had better not be on a horse.

After an unsuccessful trip to the stables, the cooking area (to see if he snitched some of the capon pie that Widow Cooper thought she could make better), the school, and the wind mill, Marion was ready to concede defeat. A gust of wind blew some leaves past her and she took a deep breath of the crisp, cool autumn air. Ahhh, what a delight! Robin must love -- That’s it! Marion headed towards the meadow, knowing exactly where she’d find the missing Robin Hood.

The meadow was awash with seasonal colors of gold, orange and rust. Marion scanned the area. No luck here either it seemed. The area was usually filled with laughter and the delighted screams of children. But now it was as silent as a tomb. Little Andrew Smythe suddenly burst out of the woods, followed quickly by his older sister who caught his arm and started dragging him back into the trees.

"Sally," Marion called. "Where is everyone? It’s so deserted."

Sally Smythe took a step closer, making sure she had a firm grip on her brother’s arm. "We didn’t want to disturb Robin so we all agreed to stay out of the meadow until he’s finished."

Marion was totally confused. "Finished what?" She again scanned the meadow and its parameter. No one was out there -- Wait. Over on the far end of the clearing, Marion could just make out a figure sitting or kneeling, she couldn’t quite tell from this distance. Robin?

Sally followed her stare. "Robin came here a while ago. After talking to us like he always does, he walked way over there and knelt down."

Sally looked at Marion, a worried expression on her pretty, young face. "He was walking so stiff and slow, Marion, like he was hurting bad. He was just as friendly to everybody and all, but, the smile on his face..."

After a moment of silence, Marion nodded towards the young girl, encouraging her to continue. "The smile... ?"

"I don’t know how to say it… He looked so sad. Like his heart hurt."

Sally gazed up at Marion, her blue eyes pooled with unshed tears. "I felt bad for him, Marion. Real bad. We all did. That’s why we’re leaving him alone, so he has some peace and quiet, just like my mum wants when she’s feeling poorly. Did we do the right thing? Does it work the same way with a man?"

Marion gently wiped away the tear that escaped its lashy prison and cascaded down Sally’s freckled cheek, then smoothed blond, wispy tendrils off the girl’s forehead. "Honey, you did exactly the right thing. It was very wonderful of all of you and I’m sure Robin appreciates it and knows how much you love him."

Sally suddenly flew into Marion’s arms and gave her a hug. "Thanks, Marion. Come along, Andrew. I can smell our noon meal cooking." With shy smiles at Marion, the children scampered off into the woods towards the delicious aroma.

Looking around to see if anyone could see her, Marion quickly dashed away a tear or two of her own. She started across the clearing towards Robin. Would there ever be time she wasn’t worried sick about Robin?

*** *** ***

Derrick watched the exchange between Marion and the children from his hiding place. He had been sitting in the small opening in the bushes ever since Robin left his tent and made his slow, painful way to the meadow.

From this vantage point, Derrick had a perfect view of Robin and his surroundings. He was far enough away to go undetected by his friend, yet close enough to come to his aid within seconds. He felt it his duty to guard Robin -- a duty and a privilege.

As he watched Marion make her way to Robin, Derrick’s thoughts drifted back to the night they were rescued.

With MacAfee unconscious on the ground, Derrick knew, he knew that he and Robin would die. Even though he was a good size for his age, Derrick was no match for the madman Planter had become. And Robin -- well, Robin was half dead by the time he and MacAfee arrived.

Little John, who Derrick knew now as a gentle giant but who looked like a mighty avenging angel that night, had secured Planter tightly with the blood-soaked ropes Marion gently removed from Robin. Little John was truly magnificent that night.

Derrick scooched into a more comfortable position when he saw that Marion and Robin were going to talk rather than start back for the noon meal. He smiled when his stomach growled long and loud. Even something Marion cooked would have tasted good at this point-- no, on the other hand, he wasn’t that hungry. Derrick smiled again. He hadn’t been in camp long when he was warned about poor Marion’s lack of culinary talent. Now Friar Tuck -- he was another story. A twig snapped behind the young man, interrupting his tasty image of the friar’s roast pheasant with rosemary sauce.

"I heard your stomach growlin’ as I walked up the path, laddie. ‘Tis a good thing I brought you a wee bite to eat." With that, Angus MacAfee extended his ham-sized hand and presented his young friend with a warm capon pie. A chuckle rumbled through Angus’s deep chest as he watched Derrick’s expression of pure ecstasy as he took his first bite of pie.

The two friends sat in comfortable silence, Derrick polishing off his unexpected treat, MacAfee just sitting back and enjoying the peace and beauty of the day. He didn’t think he’d ever take it for granted, either, not after all those dreary, ugly years as a soldier. He turned towards the meadow and found Marion and Robin off in the distance. His smile disappeared.

"Still feeling guilty, Angus?" Derrick asked, correctly interpreting his companion’s mood change.

"Aye, laddie, I am. I was there when the captain captured Robin the first time and I did nothin’ to stop the torture. And then I did nothin’ this time. He almost killed him again."

The older man turned away from the two people across the meadow, unable to bear watching Robin’s movements, awkward even at this distance. "He has never held it against me. Never." He looked into Derrick’s understanding eyes. "He could have forbidden my stayin’ here and takin’ up his cause. He could have turned the people against me. But, he didn’t. He welcomed me. He gave me a home." Damn if he didn’t feel like he was going to cry. A big bear of a man like him. ‘Twas embarrassing, it was.

"It’s okay, Angus," Derrick commiserated as he placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and squeezed affectionately. "Robin just has that effect on people."

Angus placed his much larger hand over Derrick’s. "Aye, laddie, to be sure." He looked towards the subject of their conversation once again. "I just wish it wasn’t his own family who betrayed him, except for the comely Rowena. I don’t know if even Robin Hood can forgive and forget this time."

Derrick nodded in agreement. "I bet he’ll try, though."

"No doubt. I’m sorry, too, that you had to watch the soldiers take care of Planter in their own way. Savagery like that -- It wasn’t a sight for your young eyes."

"Don’t feel sorry for me, Angus. If they hadn’t killed him, I’d have tried myself. I’m glad he’s dead and I’m glad he died the way he did. He deserved it."

MacAfee nodded his understanding, forcing the image of the soldiers practically ripping the downed sergeant apart from his mind.

*** *** ***

Robin knelt in the soft grass, his hands clasped together so tightly his knuckles were white. His elbows rested on the higher of two fallen logs, his head bowed, causing his hair to curtain either side of his face. The quiet was such an unexpected treat, allowing Robin to gather his thoughts and pray. Pray for the strength to go on. To endure ... to forgive. But could he forgive? That Jam-- He couldn’t even bring himself to say his name. Not yet ... maybe never.

He sighed, his still-healing body slumping with fatigue. He’d have to do something special for the children to thank them for their generous gesture of this glorious peace.

Hearing a branch snap somewhere behind him, Robin straightened his back but did not turn as he quickly brushed at his cheeks before anyone could see him. The most wanted man in all of England with tears running down his cheeks just wouldn’t do.

He was just plastering a smile on his face when the visitor spoke. "Robin, here you are."

Marion! He sighed in relief and painfully twisted around to sit on the grass, his back leaning against the logs.

"I’ve been all over the camp looking for you, sir. You do realize you were supposed to be resting all -- " Marion’s mouth snapped shut when she got a good look at Robin’s face. He’s been crying! Robin’s been crying. Oh my poor brave man.

They simply gazed at each other until, with unspoken understanding, Marion knelt in front of Robin, her arms outstretched. Without hesitation, Robin leaned into them, wrapping his own muscular ones around her. He buried his face in her sweet-smelling hair and began to sob, his shoulders heaving with emotion.

Marion’s heart jerked into her throat and she hugged this valiant, hurting man closer to her, gently rocking his healing body, stroking his hair, whispering soothing nothings in his ear as one would comforting a young child.

They stayed locked in that position for some time until, with a few convulsive gulps, Robin disentangled himself from Marion’s comforting arms. He ran his fingers through his hair and kept his head down, clearly embarrassed by his tearful display. "I-I’m sorry, Marion. I-I..."

"Robin, don’t dare apologize -- not to me. After all you’ve been through, you needed a release, God knows."

Ever so gently, Marion cupped Robin’s whiskered chin and lifted his face to her. Even with bleary red-rimmed eyes surrounded by moist lashes, and a trail of tears down his gaunt checks, he never looked more beautiful to Marion than he did at that moment. His heart, nay, his very soul, was laid bare on that ravaged face, and that was more beautiful than any outward physical appearance.

"Let’s just sit here for awhile and enjoy the autumn snap in the air, all right?"

Robin caught Marion’s wrist in his bandaged hand. "Thank you, Marion. I -- "

"Sssshhhhh," Marion soothed as her finger tips caressed his scarred lips with a feather touch. "I know."

Marion rose to her feet and sat on the lower of the logs behind Robin. With hands on his shoulders, she coaxed him to shimmy back into the cradle of her legs. His head was chest high and Marion smoothed his hair back from his face, combing her fingers through the glorious tresses.

She continued this sweet torture for several minutes and felt Robin relax into her. He sighed in bliss and closed his eyes, clearly enjoying her ministrations. The crisp air flowed over them, caressing them, soothing them with its soft, invisible hands. Marion lifted Robin’s long, thick sable hair off his neck and back, running her fingers through it, and then began to massage his scalp. Again, minutes passed in sweet, comfortable silence.

"Marion ... "

"Yes, Robin?"

"I’m tired ... So tired."

Marion’s heart lurched at the heartbreak and weariness in his voice, understanding fully that he was not referring simply to his healing body but also his battered, betrayed heart. With her hands cradling his temples, she leaned down and kissed the top of his noble head. He would never fully recover from James’s betrayal. Of that, she was sure.

"If I could heal your heart, Robin, I would." She kissed him again.

Robin brought his head back to stare up at Marion. "Believe me, Marion, you do heal my heart."

"But I also have the power to break it, Robin, and for that, I am deeply ashamed and beg your forgiveness."

Robin made a move to rise but Marion stopped him. "Don’t. Just stay here with me like this." Blinking back tears, Marion sniffed and put a crooked smile on her face. "I could kiss your hurts and make you feel better."

Robin smiled at her teasing voice, grateful she had steered away from the seriousness of their conversation. "Well, I guess you could try." He looked back at her, an eyebrow mischievously raised. "I do have lots of scars."

"Yes," Marion swallowed the lump in her throat, pushing back the images of his tortured body. "I would have to kiss almost everywhere since practically your whole body is covered with them."

"My whole body is, Marion. Everywhere."

This time, Marion did not stop Robin when he rose to his knees and faced her. He smoothed back her brunette waves and gazed intently into her blue eyes. ‘I couldn’t bear living if you were not by my side, Marion."

With a hand on his bandaged wrist, Marion stared into Robin’s beautiful sad eyes. "I will never leave you, Robin. And I will always support you. Always."

As one, eyes never leaving each other, they moved closer to seal their pledge. Robin’s hand crept behind Marion’s neck. Marion clutched Robin’s shoulders, bringing him closer. Their lips were tingling in anticipation as their breath mingled. Closer ¼

"Robin! Robin! Where are you?" could be heard off in the distance.

Robin’s head dropped forward with a frustrated sigh. He looked up at Marion and they both burst out laughing, shaking their heads at the untimely, yet typical, interruption.

But, this time they continued staring into each other’s eyes, love and longing almost tangible between them.

"I’ll not be denied anymore, Marion, my life, my love." Robin tenderly cradled his beloved’s face and closed the distance between them. With the softness of a butterfly’s wings, their lips met and clung, the sheer beauty of the sensation entrancing them both. The kiss deepened and their rapidly heating bodies drew closer, clinging to each other, aching for the culmination they knew would eventually follow. Their kiss deepened as they slowly began to lower themselves to the ground, craving for more. At Robin’s coaxing, Marion’s mouth opened and she gasped at the feel of his --

"Robin!" Little John reached them a moment later, followed by Derrick, Angus having gone back to camp for his own capon pie. "Sean and Patrick just rode into camp with Rowena and your stepmother. They found them wondering around trying to find -- Oh ... Oh!" Little John stopped so suddenly, Derrick plowed into his back. John just stared, his honest, open face registering complete shock at the scene in front of him. Then his face beamed with delight. An "Well, it’s about time" was heard followed by an excitedly exclaimed "Yes!" from Derrick.

With a whispered "I’m sorry" to Marion and a heated look that promised that they would continue where they left off, Robin slowly rose to his feet without support, an accomplishment he was very proud of. "Mar – My stepmother is with her?" He reached back to Marion and she quickly grasped his hand, instinctively feeling his need for her support.

"Would you want me to talk to them first, Robin?"

He caressed Marion’s face, loving her for her understanding.

"No. This is something I must face." He turned back to Little John and Derrick. With the sweep of his arm and a slight bend at the waist, he motioned them to walk ahead of him, preferring to be the last so they would not be able to see how slowly he walked. He didn’t fool them, though.

They knew what he was about but went along with him as a balm to his pride. Marion, however, took his arm and together they followed their friends back to the camp...and to forgiveness.

The End

Chapter One
 Chapter Two
 Chapter Three
 Chapter Four

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