CHILD'S  PLAY

By Shelly Quinn
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Chapter One

Friar Tuck had been asked to perform the marriage services for his Goddaughter, Elaina. The nuptials would be taking place in one week and it was a three days ride to the village. Elaina had also requested Robin's presence, feeling that the outlaw of Sherwood was kin to having a celebrity present. Besides which, Robin had helped save her brother's life and she would always be grateful to him. The rest of the Sherwood gang was invited as well, meaning Marion and Little John.

It was the second day on the road for them, but they had stopped at a tavern for lunch. Little John was finishing up his third bowl of lamb stew, outeating the Friar for once. Tuck had only consumed two bowls. Robin and Marion had each opted for one, and Robin hadn't even finished his, for he had wanted to save room for apple pie. He had two slices of that and Tuck had eyed him with envy. Robin could eat anything without gaining an ounce of weight.

To wash down their meal, the serving girl had brought a pitcher of ice cold cider. The group had finished it off so she brought a second. Her eyes were on Robin's face as she poured him another mugful. "Will that be all?" she asked.

"I think so," Robin replied, offering a dimpled smile. "Thank you." He fished a gold coin out of the pouch on his belt and handed it to the girl.

"Oh..thank you!" she breathed, her eyes lighting up at the sight of the coin. After a quick curtsy, she ran off to show her sister.

Marion shook her head. "Always spreading the wealth, aren't you, Robin?" she teased.

He shook back his hair and laughed. "I do what I can," Robin acknowledged. Then he reached for his mug and took a long swallow. The cider was cold, sweet, and tasted like nectar, easing his parched throat. It was a warm day and the roads had been dusty.

"This stuff is great!" Little John enthused as he, too, downed a mouthful of the cider. We should take some with us."

"I think we had best stick with water," Tuck replied, although he was tempted as well. But he knew the cider would spoil in the heat should they put it in their water skins.

Robin stood up and patted his flat stomach. "Well...I'm full," he announced. "I think I'll take a walk before we head out. Anyone want to join me?"

Marion jumped to her feet. "I'll go," she said, for she was feeling a bit stuffed herself. Unlike most women, Marion had a hearty appetite and allowed herself to enjoy her food. She was lucky in that she never gained an ounce either. But that was because she always seemed to be caught up in some sort of action. Life with Robin Hood was never dull or boring. Every day was an adventure.

"Shall we walk down to the lake?" Robin asked Marion, when Tuck and Little John declined to join them. Little John had just ordered a huge slice of apple pie.

"Sounds good," Marion concurred, stepping away from the table to move to Robin's side. She looked back at the others. "We shouldn't be gone long," Marion announced.

Tuck waved at her. "Take your time. We're ahead of schedule so there's no rush." He had his chin propped in his hands as he watched Little John devour his dessert.

Robin took Marion's hand. "Let's go," he prompted, then he led her away.

Neither of them noticed the old woman who was sweeping the floors with a straw broom. But she was totally aware of Robin Hood. Her eyes flashed with a red glow as he passed by her and she cackled with silent laughter. For he did not know it, but his life was about to change thanks to the spell she had cast into the mug he had drank out of. Once Robin and Marion were out of sight the old woman, whose name was Liesel, waved her arms and whispered an incantation. A moment later she was gone and no one had even noticed, for her powers were strong. She was not so much witch, as she was a sorceress. Pity her sister, Winnefred, hadn't been as powerful. She might still be alive. But Robin Hood had been the one to push Winifred into the kettle at Kirkley's Abbey. And for that, he would pay. And pay dearly.

***    ***    ***
Marion was content to stroll beside Robin, her fingers laced with his as they had once done as children. That seemed a lifetime ago yet the memories were sharp in Marion's mind. A smile curved her lips at a particularly amusing memory. "Robin...do you remember the time we were at Eversley Manor with our parents, and we snuck out of bed and down to the kitchen and stuffed ourselves on blackberry pie and washed it down with ale?"

Robin laughed as he, too, remembered. "Oh yes," he drawled. "We were both drunk and our parents were furious!"

"The next day I vowed NEVER to drink ale again," Marion replied, laughter bubbling from her. Half the fun of that night had been the food fight she and Robin had started. In the end, their parents had joined in. The kitchen had been a mess, and she and Robin had been made to clean it, but the memory was wonderful.

"I miss being a kid," Robin sighed.

Marion heard the sadness in his voice and understood. Robin had been forced to grow up quickly. Most men, in his position, would have given up, or given in. But not Robin. No one could break his spirit. Or match his courage. He was everything that Marion admired in a man. Strong, honest, compassionate, intelligent, wise, just and passionate. That he was beautiful as well was just icing on the cake. Marion glanced over at Robin and smiled, enjoying the purity of his profile. The straight line of his nose and the sensual curve of his lips. She noticed that his dark eyelashes were impossibly long, brushing his cheeks when he closed his eyes for a moment and lifted his face to the sun. A lock of sable hair fell across his forehead and Marion reached out to brush it back. It was as soft as silk. "You have the soul of a child, Robin," she said softly. "You believe in magic, and in the innate goodness of people."

Robin smiled as he turned to look at Marion, then he carried her hand to his lips, brushing a kiss across the backs of her knuckles. "Thank you," he whispered. "I'm glad you came with me," Robin confessed. "We don't get much time to be alone together." And he missed that, terribly. There had been a time in their lives when he had been able to sit and talk with Marion about everything and anything. And she would listen to him. And believe in him. His dreams had been a reality to Marion. And she shared many of them.

Marion was truly Robin's strength. He believed that with all his heart and soul.

"Someday, when King Richard reclaims his throne, we'll make up for lost time, Robin," Marion replied. She smiled then squeezed his hand.

"Someday..." Robin echoed, a dimpled smile lighting up his face. And then he laughed.

Marion frowned. "What's so funny?" she prompted, wanting in on the joke.

But Robin didn't answer. He freed his hand then tapped her shoulder. "Tag...you're IT!" he shouted, then he ran away from her.

"Robin!" Marion shouted after him. "What are you doing?" She began to follow him, shaking her head. He was heading for the lake.

"Come on, Marion!" Robin taunted, as he turned to run backwards so he could follow her progress. "You run like a GIRL!"

She raised a fist and shook it at him, but found herself giggling. "I AM a girl!" Marion shot back as she gave in to the moment and chased after Robin in earnest. "In case you haven't noticed!"

From the shadows a figure watched them. "It's begun, Robin Hood," Liesel whispered. "Kiss your legend goodbye!" With that she threw back her head and cackled with laughter, but it sounded like the moaning of the wind.
 
 

*** *** ***

Marion chased Robin towards the lake. She was laughing as he hid behind a tree then jumped out at her. It felt wonderful to run and laugh in the sunshine. To be carefree, if only for a moment in time. So caught up was she in her feelings, that Marion lost track of Robin, until he snuck up behind her and scooped her up into his arms. Then he turned in a circle till Marion was dizzy. "Put me down," she ordered, but her voice was soft.

Robin obeyed, letting Marion's feet touch the ground, but his other arm still circled her waist, holding her against him. "You smell like wildflowers," Robin whispered, then he bent his head and claimed a kiss.

Marion was stunned by the kiss, but welcomed it. Her fingers slid into Robin's thick hair, tangling in the silky strands to pull him closer. Then she was the one slipping her tongue between his lips to taste his sweetness. They had denied themselves for so long.

"Mmmmmmm..." Robin moaned, then he gripped Marion's wrists and pulled her hands from her hair so he could break the kiss. "I want you..." he whispered, his breathing ragged.

"Robin.." Marion had been caught up in the moment, but she knew that this was not the time. And certainly not the place. "We can't," she said softly, with a shake of her head. Desire shone in her eyes, but regret as well.

Robin sighed. "You're right," he conceded. "Sorry. Don't know what came over me. Must be too much sun," Robin teased, to make things lighthearted again.

Marion laughed, feeling relief. She knew that Robin was the man for her, but there were too many obstacles in their way right now. Their personal lives had to take a back seat to the cause. That of saving England for the return of King Richard. "Maybe we should go back to the others," Marion suggested.

"Good idea," Robin acknowledged. "You go ahead, Marion. I'll be there soon."

"All right," she replied, turning to head off. But Marion glanced back over her shoulder to see Robin running down to the edge of the lake.

Robin felt as if he were burning up inside, and he wanted to cool off before heading back. He scooped up handfuls of cool water and splashed his face, letting the water trickle over his neck and chest, then he combed wet fingers through his hair. "That's better," Robin sighed, as he stood up. He turned and was relieved to find himself alone. For a moment Robin thought he'd felt eyes watching him, but Marion was gone. And it was for the best. Yet, for just a minute, he had felt like a child again, and for that Robin had no regrets. As he headed back to the Inn, a smile curved Robin's lips.
 
 
 
 

The group reached Gatling's Tavern just as dusk was falling. They put their horses in the stables then headed inside for a hot meal and to buy lodging for the night. The place was crowded, for the township of Haverly was large.

"Happy bunch," Little John commented, as he sidestepped a young man who was laughing hysterically at something his companion had said.

"Very happy," Robin acknowledged, his eyes shining. He was in the mood for some fun and excitement. In a back corner he saw some men playing cards. "Let's join in!" Robin enthused. He took a step but found a hand on his arm.

Marion shook her head at him. "Eat first, Robin," she chided him, as if he were a child. "Then it's to bed. We have a long ride ahead of us tomorrow."

Robin pouted. "Come on, Marion," he beseeched, giving her puppy-dog eyes. "Just one game? A quick one, I promise." Robin looked over at Little John, silently asking for his support.

"Yeah...just a quick game, Marion," Little John echoed. Robin had just recently taught him to play cards, so he wanted to try his luck.

"You shouldn't gamble," Tuck interjected, siding with Marion.

Robin offered a dimpled grin. "What harm is there in fattening our purses, Tuck?" he countered. "Less..sinful..than stealing. And we'll redistribute the wealth."

Tuck bit his lip, knowing that Robin was simply charming him, but his arguments were sound. And Robin never lost at cards. So it would benefit the poor and unfortunate in the end. "All right...just one game," he allowed, shooting Marion an apologetic look.

"Fine...go play your silly game," she shot back. "I'll see to our rooms." With that she made her way over to the barkeep in the back of the tavern.

End of Chapter One

Chapter One
 Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six

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