Iris giggled happily as she helped Marion on with her dress, pulling it over her curly hair. "Marion, you are going to look absolutely fantastic." Marion gazed at herself in the large mirror. She was wearing a floor length gown, bright blue, it shimmered in the torch light. She could not remember the last time since she had worn a gown.
"Thank you for inviting us Iris," Marion exclaimed, as she struggled to tie up the strings on her bodice. "You’re very welcome Marion. I thought that you and Robin should have a little fun." She slapped Marion’s hands away, working on the ties herself. Marion gave her a look of thanks. "It’s been a long time since either of you have been to a ball. After that mess with Sir Guy, I thought the two of you could use some rest." When she finished tying the strings, Marion glided over to the bed, she reveled in the sound of her gown brushing the floor. Stopping at the bed she picked up a brightly decorated mask.
"It was really a great idea of having a masked ball on Christmas Eve." Marion said, as she placed the mask over her face. "Robin and I won’t have to worry about Prince John or his spies seeing us."
"It was the least we could do," Iris giggled "After all you did rescue Tom and I from our Aunt."
She helped Marion on with the mask. Marion smiled fondly at the memory. "Yes, and I never let Robin forget it!"
They both laughed and hugged each other. Then quickly made their way down the long, dark halls; toward the main ballroom. As she walked down the castle halls, Marion felt like a young girl again. As a child she loved to go to parties, finding any excuse to dance. Thanks to Iris, she was going to be able to again, and they didn’t have to worry about any of the Princes men. As she entered the large room, she immediately spied Robin talking to Tom.
He was dressed in an elegant dark, blue velvet outfit, a parody of what he wore in the forest. Marion smiled to herself at their private joke. He was dressed as the outlaw Robin Hood. He wore a half mask, covering only his eyes. Her blue eyes brightly glowed in thanks, as she saw he was sporting the hat she begged him to wear. She knew that his long sable hair was well known in Sherwood, and she wanted to keep it covered. She argued with him the whole trip there, that he had to wear it. She was thankful that he finally relinquished. As she approached him, she let out a deep sigh, thinking ‘He was the most handsome man she had ever seen.’ As Robin saw her entering the room, his face lit up.
"God she looks beautiful" he whispered. She was dressed in a shimmering blue dancing gown. Her mask covered most of her face, but her beauty still glowed through it. Robin noticed the men at the ball eyeing his Marion. His large brown eyes glowed in pride for the woman he loved, as he thought ‘She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen’.
"Excuse me." he said to Tom.
Striding over to Marion, Robin took off a large blue silk hat, A plume stuck out from the side. Bringing it down with a flourish he brought his right foot out and bowed most elegantly, his long hair hitting the ground as he courtly exclaimed, "Milady Fitzwalter, I am your humble servant." He maintained the bow, waiting for her recognition. Marion hit him gently on the shoulder with her fan.
"You may rise young sir." She exclaimed.
Whipping his long hair back, he rose, holding the hat nervously in front of him he stammered. "My lady, would you be so kind as to have the first dance with this humble servant?" Marion giggled, grabbing the hat, she shoved it down on his head.
"Delighted!" She said as she hooked his arm. With Robin taking the lead, he moved them to the dance floor. Joining together in a flourish, Marion had to catch her breath as she realized she was finally going to be doing something she had always enjoyed as a little girl. His hand strongly gripped her waist, giving her a half grin, they began to dance to the holiday music. As they danced around the hall Robin noticed that Marion practically floated across the floor. Never had he seen her so happy. All at the ball noticed the handsome couple, Iris was elated.
"I have to hand it to you my love. I didn’t think it would work." Tom said, as he came up from behind Iris. He placed his arms across her middle, leaning on him, she looked up and kissed his chin.
"Don’t they look lovely," She sighed.
Tom gazed at the dancing couple. The two did indeed look grand together. They seemed made for each other. This was noticed by all as they moved around the dance floor. They looked to be the perfect couple, as they danced together as one. As Tom kept watch on the Sherwood outlaw, he saw something that caught his eye. His notorious cousin Brian had just walked in. Iris also saw him. Stamping her foot in anger, she whirled around, shaking her finger at him.
"I thought he wasn’t coming!" Gently pushing her aside, he walked toward Brian, angrily stating, "So did I!"
Brian saw Tom storming across the dance floor, and instantly put on an innocent face. "Tom," He sung out, "Nice party!"
"Don’t nice party me. What are you doing here Brian, and why did you bring him!"
He jerked his thumb towards a rather muscular young man, who was innocently standing next to Brian. Trying very hard to totally ignore Tom.
"Why Tom, you know wherever I am, so goes Albert."
Tom stepped up to Albert, finally taking notice of him, Albert gave him a most mischievous smile.
"I don’t want any trouble from you. First sign and you’re both out of here." Jabbing his finger at Brian’s chest he snarled, "Got that?" Giving him a genuinely look of hurt, Brian said apologetically, "Just here to have some fun cousin."
Knowing better, Tom let out a scoffing laugh, whirling around he went back to Iris. As he left, Brian elbowed Albert in the ribs and pointed towards Robin and Marion. "There he is." The smaller man looked over at the happy couple.
"Are you sure that’s Robin Hood." Albert found it hard to believe this handsome looking couple was the most wanted duo in all of England.
"Of course I am," Brian chuckled, "I’ve seen him before." As Brian stared at the dancing couple, his mind raced, trying to come up with a plan.
"Give me a few hours." He said with a nod of his head.
"Are you sure this will work?" Albert asked.
"Of course I am, when have I ever failed you?" Albert gave him an all knowing look. Brian tried to redeem himself, "Look, before you know it, it will be over and we’ll be living like Kings!" Brian reassured him.
Albert gave him a dangerous look, "50/50 cut, right?"
"Of course Albert, hasn’t it always been that way?"
Nodding in consent, Albert walked off to blend in the crowd. Brian waited for his chance to make his move. It didn’t take long, he saw Tom coming up to the dancing pair, his hand tapping Robin on the shoulder.
"May I have this dance?" Tom asked, with a low bow at the waist.
Robin stepped back, returning the bow. "Of course." Robin exclaimed.
Tom took her hand with a flourish, and disappeared into the crowd. Robin slowly made his way towards the banquet table. The food laid out, looked and smelled delicious, but he really was used to simpler foods. Taking a large roll, he started munching on it, as he tried to decide on what looked the least harmful, when a pleasant looking young gentleman came up to him.
"You’re Robin Hood aren’t you?" The young man stammered.
"Of course I am." Robin chuckled, "But just for tonight." He jiggled his mask to prove his point.
"No, I mean you’re really him!" Placing his hand over his mouth to cover what he was saying, he whispered. "You can tell me, I’m Tom’s cousin, he told me of when you saved him and Iris from her Aunt." Shoving his hand out Brian said enthusiastically. "My name’s Brian."
Robin hesitated to shake the young man’s hand, even in this setting, he was always on the lookout for Prince Johns men, but Tom would only tell family of what happened to him and Iris. As he gazed at the young mans smiling face, he found himself smiling back. He did have the same features as Tom, he quickly accepted his hand.
"No one is to know this." He warned the young man, with a raise of his eyebrow.
"Of course." Brian said, winking. "Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me."
They made their way towards a long table, covered in an elegant white lace tablecloth. Centerpieces made of the best of the past harvest decorated the tabletops. Robin sat on the end, with Brian eagerly sitting next to him. "I’ve heard all about you." Brian enthusiastically said.
"Have you?" Robin asked. He paid no heed to the young admirer, as he searched around the large ballroom for Marion. He spied her dancing with one of the young lords. Brian noticed Robin ignoring him, his eyes trained on the woman he was dancing with. His mind raced as a plan began to take seed.
"Isn’t that Marion Fitzwalter?" He whispered.
"No, she didn’t come." Robin quickly retorted.
"Oh, I see. Can I not talk to her, Like I’m not talking to Robin Hood?" The young man gave him a cheerful grin.
Robin laughed out, "Maybe."
Brian stared at Marion, as he sighed out, "She’s very beautiful."
Robin gently said, "Yes she is."
Brian nodded to himself. He knew now what he had to do.
"Um, I hear that she fights along side you?"
A young man walked by with a tray of mugs, filled with punch, he handed one to Robin and then Brian. Smelling it first, Robin found it to be free of alcohol, he slowly began to sip the punch, swallowing slowly he said.
"Yes, that’s right."
"Aren’t you afraid for her?" Brian asked as he nursed his punch.
Robin slowly turned his head, his dark eyes narrowed, "What do you mean?"
Brian laid the mug of punch down, picking up a small steak knife that was left there, he began to play with it as he spoke. Throwing the blade into the wooden table and pulling it out.
"Well, all I know is; if she were my friend, I would want to protect her from any harm."
Robin’s look returned to Marion, she was dancing with another young Lord. She practically glowed tonight. It’s been a long time since he’s seen her this happy. Distantly he had heard what Brian said, quickly replying.
"What Marion does is her choice. I’ve learned long ago that when she sets her mind to do something, nothing is going to change it."
Brian saw that this line of conversation wasn’t going to get him where he needed to go. He had to come up with a better way to coax his prey, a thought came to him. Yes! He had it.
"Lovely decorations are they not?" He sung out, continuing with the knife throwing, "I mean for Christmas."
Robin gazed around at the festivities. "Yes they are very pretty."
"By the way, do you have a gift for Her?" Brian turned his head sideways, giving him a large grin.
Robin looked blankly back at the young man. "What do you mean?"
Brian dug the knifes point in the wooden table, "I mean, with all that money you take; surely you’re able to purchase her something for Christmas."
Looking cross at Brian, Robin said in an angry tone. "Look, regardless of what you hear. I never keep the money I take. It is distributed amongst the poor, and the needy."
Picking his nails with the knife’s point Brian continued, "So, you don’t have a gift for her then?" He looked at Robin, his eyes accusing him. Robin turned from his gaze, he followed Marion across the floor.
"No. I don’t." Robin said in a hushed tone.
The two were quiet for some time. Brian waited for him to ponder on what he said, moments later he continued to work on Robin.
"She looks so happy, doesn’t she?"
As he said this, Marion locked eyes with Robin. Robin could see she was positively beaming. She smiled and waved at him, he grinned and waved back.
"Yes, she does." Robin agreed..
"Then why don’t you give her the greatest gift of all?" Brian asked.
Slowly turning around, he eyed Brian. "And what is that?"
"Don’t you see. Look at her."
He put his hand on Robins shoulder and pointed at Marion for effect.
"Have you ever seen her so happy?"
Robin looked at her more closely. He was right, It had been a long time since he’d seen Marion this happy.
"You know why?" Brian asked, "Because she’s with her family, she feels safe here. Not outside in a cold forest, being chased by the prince’s soldiers. She has no fear of being caught or killed. She’s feels safe and warm here. All I know, is if she were my woman, I would have her with the ones that love her the most!" Brian paused, waiting for this to have an effect on Robin. "If you love her, you could give her this gift. You could set her free."
Robin gave Brain an annoyed look, "I’m sorry, but I really don’t know you that well, and I don’t think I want to talk about this to a stranger!"
Brian put his hands up in submission. "Whoa, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how strongly you felt about this. Please accept my apologies," He humbly bowed his head, "I didn’t mean to bring up something that would upset you so."
Looking at Marion, Brian leaned closer to Robin, whispering in his ear. "I know you made the choice to live the way you do, but does Marion deserve to? Look at her, she belongs here. She puts all the other ladies to shame." Stepping back, Brain said, "But as you said, it was her decision. I’m sure no one could talk her out of it." He began to walk away, leaving Robin alone with this thought. Giving him a last parting shot, before he was out of hearing range; he added, "Not even you."
Brian whirled around, with his back to Robin, his face had the biggest, joyful grin. He knew the seed was planted. The anger in Robins voice told him what he said hit a cord. He would now sit back and wait for his seed to grow.
End of Chapter One
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