CHILD'S  PLAY

By Shelly Quinn
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Chapter Three

Robin could feel Tuck's eyes upon him, Little John's too, as they rode. Finally he couldn't take it any longer, so he nudged his horse up beside the Friar's. "Tuck...have I suddenly grown another head?" he inquired, his expression one of pure innocence.

Tuck frowned. "What?" he countered, feeling foolish at having been caught out staring by his friend. So he forced a smile and decided to tell the truth. "I'm just amazed by your condition," Tuck said.

"And what condition would that be?" Robin prompted, grinning.

"Well....you were drunk," Tuck whispered. "You should be suffering a hang over."

Robin leaned towards his friend and whispered as well. "But...I was never drunk. I was just having fun. You should try it some time." That said, Robin offered a snappy salute, then he touched his heels to his stallion's flanks and rode ahead to join Marion.

Tuck sighed and rubbed his head. He was beginning to feel as if he had a hangover. Robin's behavior was odd, and Tuck decided he would keep an eye on his friend.

But all seemed to be well, until they happened upon a Saxon Lord and his family on the rode, who were being robbed. Robin's eyes shone with excitement as he grabbed his bow and an arrow. "Come on, my friends!" Robin shouted. "Time to play hero." With that he galloped off, Marion and Little John on his heels.

Tuck followed as well, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen, so as he nudged his horse into a gallop, Tuck whispered a silent prayer.
 

The thieves numbered eight, all heavily armed. One had an older woman by the arm, his sword blade at her throat. So the coachmen and the Lord were frozen, unwilling to risk the lady's life.

Robin used his thighs to keep his balance as his stallion galloped forward. He readied his bow with an arrow, then let fly. The arrow lodged in the thigh of the man holding the Lady. The man cried out and released the woman. At the same time, Robin released another arrow. Another man fell. Then two more. Only four were standing by the time he reached them and he was sliding off his horse, sword drawn.

The first man attacked Robin, bellowing a battle cry. He was bigger than Robin, but no match in the end. Robin parried his deadly sword thrusts, then did a back flip, his feet clipping the big guy beneath the chin and rendering him unconscious. Just about that time Marion and Little John caught up and dispatched of the remaining three men.

The Lord had checked on his Lady and now he came to Robin, asking his name. When he learned he had been rescued by Robin Hood, he felt to his knees and gave thanks. "How can we repay you, Robin?" the Earl asked.

Before Robin could respond, a young boy of about thirteen, exited the coach and ran over. He was the Earl's son. His name was Geoffrey and his eyes sparkled. "Robin Hood!" he exclaimed. "Blimey...that was great!" Geoffrey enthused. "Could you teach me how to shoot like that. And that...that...flip you did?"

"Of course," Robin replied. "Be happy too." His eyes shone with excitement as well. "Know what I really want to do?" he countered, tossing aside his sword, rather than resheathing it upon his back.

"What?" Geoffrey asked, interested in anything Robin Hood had to say.

Robin laughed. "I want to go fishing. There's a river about a half mile from here. I know how to make poles, and how to catch the best grubs. Wanna go?"

Geoffrey nearly jumped up and down with excitement. He had never been fishing. "Oh yes!" he shouted. "Let's go fishing!"

To say that Marion, Tuck and Little John were stunned by Robin's behavior was and understatement to be sure. Marion stepped forward to grab Robin's arm when he would have mounted his horse.

"Robin," she said, forcing a smile, since she knew the Lord and Lady were watching. "What are you doing?"

"Going fishing," he replied, shrugging off Marion's hand. Then Robin offered a dimpled grin. "Wanna come? But I'm not gonna bait your hook for you."

"You can't go fishing," Marion protested.

Robin frowned. "Why not?" he countered, with complete candor.

Tuck intervened, seeing that Marion didn't have a response. "Robin...have you forgotten about the wedding?" he queried.

"Who wants to go to some boring, old, wedding," Robin shot back, grimacing. "You guys go ahead. Geoffrey and I are gonna go fishing."

"No, you're not," Tuck insisted, his tone firm. He felt like he was reprimanding a child, not a young man who was the leader of an outlaw community. A man who would lead England to freedom.

Robin rolled his eyes. "You can't tell me what to do, Tuck," he shot back. "I'm Robin Hood. So there!" As he spoke, Robin stuck out his tongue, then he mounted his horse. That done, he held out a hand to Geoffrey and pulled the boy up behind him. Smiling at the Earl and his wife, Robin promised, "I'll have him back before dark."

The Earl looked at Marion, then shrugged. He herded his Lady back into their carriage and they headed off to follow Robin and Geoffrey.

"What is going on here?" Marion exclaimed.

"That's what I want to know," Little John piped up. "What's wrong with Robin?"

Tuck was quiet, one finger tapping at his chin. He was thinking back on Robin's behavior for the past few days and a thought had occurred. When he felt eyes upon him he started, then smiled at his companions. "Um...I think I might know what's wrong," Tuck offered, hesitantly.

Marion rolled her eyes. "Mind sharing it with us?" she prompted, her anxiety apparent in her tone.

"Well...," Tuck began. "You know how Robin has always had a child-like quality about him?"

"Yes," Little John replied. "So what?"

Tuck sighed. "Well, as of late, his behavior is more...child-ish. If you know what I mean."

Marion nodded as understanding dawned. "You're right, Tuck," she conceded. "Robin has been acting like a kid. Like wanting to play tag with me at the lake." And she was remembering his kisses. That was not like Robin to be so bold with his affections. Not that she had minded. But that wasn't the point.

"But why would Robin act like this?" Little John queried. Even though he agreed with Tuck as well. It would certainly help to explain Robin's behavior in the tavern, and the way he had danced with the barmaid.

"He must be under a spell," Tuck replied, and he hoped it was something that simple.

Marion agreed. "And it started at the Inn. But who's spell is it? And why?"

Tuck shrugged. "I wish I knew."

"So....what happens now?" Little John questioned. "With Robin?"

"I have no idea," Tuck admitted. "Judging by his behavior so far, he seems to be reverting back to childhood. First he was acting like a 16 year old, now he's acting like he's Geoffrey's age."

Marion groaned. "That means in a few hours he'll think he's ten."

Tuck grimaced, wanting to deny Marion's words, but believing that she spoke the truth. "Seems likely. Only way we'll know for sure is to keep an eye on Robin. A close eye."

"He's got a head start on us," Little John reminded them, as he ran for the horses. He was mounted and galloping off a moment later, with the others close behind him.
 

Much to everyone's relief, after fishing with Geoffrey for a couple of hours, Robin was content to rejoin his companions and continue on their way. But he was carefully watched by three pairs of eyes.

If Robin was aware of being watched, he gave no sign of it. As he rode he played with his dagger, flipping and spinning it in his hand, since their pace was slow and easy, to give the horses a rest. His sword was sheathed on his back again, since Marion had retrieved it, and his bow. At suppertime they reached a small village and located a small Inn that offered food and lodging for a small coin.

Marion was pleased that Robin seemed back to his old self as she watched him bedding his horse down for the night. But she was soon to learn that she had been too optimistic. When they entered the Inn and sat down for supper, she soon realized that Robin had reverted further back in childhood.

Supper was lamb stew, which Robin had no interest in. He wanted the peach cobbler that was offered for dessert. When he reached for the cobbler, Marion slapped his hand. "Stew first!" she hissed at Robin, ignoring his pout.

"I hate stew!" Robin shot back, glaring at Marion, as he shoved the bowl of stew across the table. "And you can't make me eat it!" He threw the words at her like a challenge.

"Oh...really?" Marion drawled. She grabbed a handful of Robin's tunic, then locked eyes with him. "If you don't eat the stew, I'll have Little John hold you down while I stuff it down your throat. Are you hearing me, Robin?"

He swallowed hard, knowing that Marion meant what she said. "I hear you, Marion," Robin replied, offering a dimpled smile in hopes of charming her. It didn't work. A big bowl of stew was placed in front of him and Robin grimaced, but picked up his spoon. He scooped up a portion of the stew and made to bring it to his mouth, but suddenly Robin chuckled and snapped his wrist. The stew went flying, hitting Little John on the chin. A chunk of lamb plopped onto the table, and gravy dribbled down the giant's neck.

Tuck was horrified. "ROBIN!" he reproved, even as he grabbed a napkin and swiped at Little John's face.

"Give me that!" Marion hissed, snatching the spoon out of Robin's hand before he could fire another round. She slammed it onto the table and was ready to give Robin a scolding to end all scoldings. But when she opened her mouth she found it filled with cream. "Ungh.." Marion mumbled.

"Good...isn't it?" Robin snickered. His hands were covered in the whipped cream which he had scooped off the cobbler. It was all over Marion's face, and in her hair. Robin thought she looked silly and he doubled over with laughter.

Little John was laughing too. He wasn't mad at Robin for throwing the stew, and Marion did look funny. But he choked back his laughter when Tuck glared at him.

The Friar reached across the table, fingers ready to close about Robin's wrist, when the young man jumped up and grabbed the pitcher of cider. Tuck held his breath as he found himself doused by the cold liquid. He spit and sputtered then pushed back his chair. "That's ENOUGH!" the Friar thundered, making everyone in the Inn fall silent.

"It's only just begun," Robin countered, a mischievous light gleaming in his eyes. He wasn't the least bit intimidated by Tuck. So he scooped up the cobbler with the intent of smashing it into Little John's face, but his plan backfired when the Giant grabbed his wrist. Robin ended up with the cobbler on his face. But he didn't mind. Rather he laughed until his sides ached. And Little John joined in.

"Brother.." Marion muttered, but then she found giggles escaping her. Throwing up her arms, she gave in to the laughter and was soon echoed by Tuck. Marion used a napkin to wipe her face, then went to the innkeeper to pay for the mess. She decided that it was hard to be mad at Robin when his face was covered with peaches and cream and his beautiful eyes sparkled.

But that was not to say that Robin was going to get away with his antics, unpunished. First thing was a bath. Since Marion and Tuck had there own cleaning up to attend to, Little John was elected to clean up Robin. But, as most ten year old boys reacted, so did the outlaw of Sherwood. He wanted nothing to do with a bath. That didn't stop Little John. Once the tub was filled with steaming water, he cornered Robin, stripped the smaller man of his clothes, then dumped him in the dump.

Robin struggled all the way but was no match for Little John's mighty strength. So he splashed at the water for a bit then settled down. But when Little John held out soap and a cloth, Robin ignored them. Only to find himself scrubbed from head to toe by the giant. Robin hollered and slapped but to no avail. Lastly, Little John lathered soap into Robin's hair, then ducked his head under the water. After a few rinses with clear water from another bucket, Robin was allowed to leave the tub and dry off, all the while muttering under his breath that Little John was trying to drown him.

Little John helped Robin dress in a clean tunic and trousers then set about drying Robin's hair. He had to sit down with Robin locked between his long legs to do so, for the legendary outlaw was far more interested in playing with the tub water. He was carving the block of soap into ship and wanted to sail it.

A knock sounded on the door and Little John sighed with relief. "Who is it?" he called out.

"Marion," came the reply.

"Come in," Little John invited. He smiled at the warrior woman, for he was thrilled to see her. "Help.." Little John mouthed, silently.

Marion laughed, then nodded. She could see that Robin was a handful. So she took the towel from Little John and bid him to go join Tuck for the dinner they hadn't gotten to eat yet. When Little John was gone, Marion confronted Robin. He was over by the tub now, splashing the water with his hands as he sailed his soap bar ship. "Let me brush your hair," Marion requested, her eyes warm and her voice soft. She touched Robin's shoulder as she spoke.

Robin stopped playing, as he had a flash of memory. Another woman's soft touch and warm smile, as she tucked him into bed at night. Not his mother, but his father's wife, and she had loved Robin as if he were her child. "All right," Robin replied, letting Marion take his hand and lead him to the bed. He sat down on the edge as she picked up a brush and carefully pulled it through the heavy, damp, tangle of his hair.

"Let me know if I hurt you," Marion requested, as she carefully detangled the knots that had formed. Robin's hair was so thick and wavy that it was difficult to brush. But Marion had the patience needed to deal with it.

"It doesn't hurt," Robin replied. He closed his eyes as the brush pulled through his hair, acting like a caress.

Marion smiled to herself as she felt Robin relax beneath her ministrations. She hummed softly as she worked, and by the time the sable strands were brushed smooth and nearly dried, Robin was leaning against her. Marion knew he was almost asleep. She nudged him all the way onto the bed then covered him with a blanket when he curled up on his side. One hand rested by his face and Marion thought Robin looked barely sixteen with his long lashes shadowing his cheeks. So young and so beautiful. A sweet child. At that thought Marion heaved a sigh. If they didn't learn more about the spell and how to stop it, they would soon have a man-sized two year old on their hands. And the thought of that made Marion shudder.

From the shadows a figure watched and soft laughter whispered in the wind. Liesel faded out, but her presence lingered, making Robin twitch in his sleep as she invaded his dreams.

End of Chapter Three

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

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