By Shelly Quinn
Isn't this wonderful?" Marion declared to Robin, as she lifted her glass in a toast to the newly married couple who were dancing in the summer sun.
Robin nodded, but he was remembering another wedding celebration, when a traveler had fallen from the stars. At one point Robin had thought he would lose Marion, but in his heart, he knew that they would never be parted. So he lifted his glass as well, then drank of the hearty wine.
Little John and Friar Tuck came over to the table. Tuck was munching on a leg of lamb. "The food is delicious," he declared, between bites. "My compliments to the chef."
"My compliments to everyone," Little John added, as he poured himself another goblet of wine. "I'm so glad that we happened upon this village on our way to Billingsley. And that the bride and groom invited us to join in the celebration."
"Amen to that," Tuck concurred. He and the others had ridden for nearly twelve hours this day, since dawn, with little rest, when happening upon the wedding feast. Luckily, it had been easy to convince Robin to stay and celebrate. Also, when invited by the father of the bride to sleep over in his stables, Robin had agreed to that as well. They had three more days to reach Billingsley, and it should take them only two to get there. No reason not to get a good night's sleep.
The reason for their journey was a baptism. Heath, a longtime resident of Sherwood, had married and moved to Billingsley a year ago. Now he had a beautiful baby boy and he had asked Robin and Marion to be the Godparents, Tuck to perform the service, and Little John to act as witness. All were eager to see their old friend, and the new addition to his family.
Marion wasn't thinking about Heath and the baptism, she was watching the bride. The young woman was lovely, dressed in white, and a radiant smile lit her face. Marion envied such happiness. Not that she was content with her lot in life, but she wanted more. Looking over at Robin, she mused that he was more beautiful than any man she had ever known. A little girl had come up to him with a ball, and Robin was on his knees as he played catch with her. Marion smiled as she watched him. His hair was tangled by the wind and his laughter was like rich music. Robin would make a good father someday. He loved children and they loved him. And his children would be beautiful. An image of a little girl with Robin's silky hair and velvet brown eyes brought tears to Marion's eyes. But she blinked them back before anyone noticed, then jumped to her feet. She was becoming far too maudlin for her own good. "I'm going for a walk," Marion declared, then she stomped off.
Little John shook his head as he watched her go. "What's wrong with Marion?" he asked.
"Don't look at me," Robin responded, still tossing the ball to the little girl. "If I lived to be Olwyn's age, I still don't think I would understand her." He spoke what he believed to be true, but smiled as he said it. Trying to figure out what made Marion tick was an activity he would never tire of.
"Women always get emotional at weddings," Tuck offered this tidbit of wisdom with a knowing smile. Then he sniffled, for sentimentality was one of his weaknesses as well. Not that it was a true weakness, but having a soft heart often got him into trouble. Thankfully, Robin and his friends were always there to help him.
Robin turned to look at the Friar, then grunted when he took a hit in the head with the ball the little girl had tossed at him. Luckily it was made of rags so it didn't hurt. He tossed the ball back then said, "If you gentlemen will excuse me...I think I'll take a walk myself." Rising to his feet, Robin waved goodbye to the little girl, then followed in Marion's footsteps.
Little John watched his friend go then sighed. "Friar...do you think Robin
and Marion will get married some day?" he asked. "I can't predict the future,
Little John," Tuck replied, heaving a sigh, for he believed that if two people
ever belonged together, it was Robin and Marion. But he also knew that so
long as King Richard was away and England was in an uproar, Robin would put
the needs of the people before his own. As would Marion. She would be by his
side, fighting for Justice and freedom. Together they often faced death, but
Tuck prayed that the day would come..and soon...when Robin and Marion could
face life, side by side. Turning to smile at Little John, Tuck whispered,
"If it's meant to be, my friend, then someday I will be proclaiming them man
and wife....till death do they part."
It was nearly midnight when the celebration died down and the villagers sought their beds. Robin was the last of his group to curl up on a bed of sweet smelling hay, but he was quick to fall asleep, and to dream. Only darkness soon invaded his slumber. Images flashed like quicksilver in Robin's mind. Then suddenly they stilled and Robin could see a man and a woman. It took a moment to recognize that it was himself and Marion. Robin was on his knees, Marion cradled in his arms. She was still, her body limp, and Robin knew that she was dead. He laid her down then looked at his hands. They were covered in blood. Glancing down at Marion, he saw that she was dressed in a white gown and that it was pure and unstained. No blood anywhere. Yet she was dead. Robin closed his eyes and screamed her name.
Tuck came awake with a start as a hand slapped his chest. He realized that it was Robin and that his friend was thrashing about on the hay, as if locked in convulsions. Fear rippled through the Friar as he sat up, only to realize that Robin was caught up in a nightmare. So he gripped the young man's shoulders and shook him. "Robin! Robin...wake up!" Tuck hissed, quietly, for he didn't want to awaken the others. Luckily Marion was at the other end of the stall, and Little John had chosen to bed down in the loft.
"Marion!" Robin whispered, but then the sound of Tuck's voice cut through the nightmare and he opened his eyes. "What...?"
"Easy," Tuck beseeched him, concern shimmering in his eyes. Robin had removed his tunic before lying down and his skin was now slicked with a cold sweat. Also, Tuck could feel him shaking, and his breathing was labored. Whatever demons had invaded Robin's dreams, they had truly frightened him. "You had a nightmare," Tuck explained, hoping to ease his friend's fears. "But you're all right now."
Robin nodded, then lifted one hand to comb his hair off his face. The dark tendrils were damp and curling. "A...nightmare.." he echoed, closing his eyes. But the images were imprinted on his mind and would not fade. Robin's eyes flew open and he stared down at his hands, expecting to see them covered in blood, Marion's blood. But they were clean. Still Robin couldn't shake his foreboding, and fear clung to him like a shadow. He knew that sleep would be impossible now, so he pushed Tuck's hands from his shoulders and rose to his feet.
Frowning, the Friar watched Robin slip on his tunic and belt. "Where are you going?" he asked, as Robin moved to turn away.
"For a walk," Robin replied, unable to meet Tuck's gaze. He knew that his friend was worried about him, but Robin was unwilling to share his thoughts right now. They were too unsettling. "I'm fine," he said, forcing a smile. "Go back to sleep."
"I could walk with you," Tuck offered, unwilling to let Robin go off alone. He sensed that his young friend was truly disturbed and he wanted to help.
Robin shook his head. "I need to be alone," he insisted, albeit gently. "Thank you, my friend. But I'll be fine. I just need to clear my head." Robin laughed. "I think I drank a bit too much wine," he confessed, making light of things so that Tuck wouldn't worry.
The Friar nodded, a smile curving his lips. Robin's explanation made sense. "Be careful," he cautioned, as he curled up on his side.
"I will," Robin promised, then he whispered, "Sweet dreams." For he would
not wish the images that haunted him..still...upon his worst enemy. Robin
sighed as he left the barn. "Not even upon you, Prince John," he muttered
to himself. Then he turned to his right and headed down the road that they
would travel come morning. The path to Billingsley.
At first light, Robin awakened his companions. He had walked for miles last night, guided by the light of the full moon. Robin's fears had eased as he walked, but the images of Marion, covered in blood, were still imprinted in his mind. But had faded, somewhat, in the light of day, so Robin banished them.
The group rode at a steady pace till the Friar called for a lunch break. He was worried that Robin declined to eat and it was obvious to him that the young man was exhausted. After watching Robin trying to hide a yawn, Tuck went to him. "Why don't you take a nap, Robin," he suggested, his eyes reflecting his concern.
"A nap?" Robin repeated, with a laugh. "I haven't...napped...since I was a child, Tuck."
"So?" the Friar countered, even as he moved to his horse and unstrapped his bedroll. "There's no law that says an adult can't take a nap, especially when it's obvious that they're exhausted."
Robin sighed as he watched Tuck spread open the blanket. The Friar's meaning was clear, but Robin chose to ignore it. "I don't need a nap," he insisted, folding his arms over his chest in an unconscious gesture of defiance.
Tuck shook a finger at him. "Yes...you do. Come now, Robin, and lie down." He patted the bed roll. "See....nice and soft and ready for you."
"I'm not taking a nap," Robin insisted, hearing the coloring of petulance in his voice and grimacing. His actions were contradicting his words, for he never would have acted so childishly if he weren't so tired.
"Robin.." Tuck said gently, as he stepped forward to take his friend by the arm. "With all the shortcuts that you and Little have been finding, we're going to reach Billingsley more than a day early. So there's plenty of time for you to take a nap." He shrugged. "Unless you would prefer to fall off your horse while riding, and possibly break an arm, or something, then we WILL miss the baptism.."
Robin held up a hand to cut the Friar off. "All right...all right. You win," he conceded. "I'll take a nap. But only for an hour. Agreed?"
Tuck nodded, a smile lighting up his face. "Agreed," he confirmed. Then he pulled Robin over to the bedroll and pushed him down upon it. Once Robin was stretched out, Tuck covered him with a blanket. "Sweet dreams..." he whispered, then he tiptoed off.
"Right.." Robin sighed, grimacing at the thought of dreaming as he had last night. But he found his eyes closing, in spite of his thoughts, and a heartbeat later he had drifted off.
Shadows invaded Robin's slumber. First they teased him with images of himself and Marion as they danced around a campfire. But then the friendly fire burst into a raging inferno and Robin gasped as he heard Marion scream. He saw her trapped in the flames and himself, unable to reach her. Marion reached out to Robin and her hands were covered in blood. Looking down at his own hands, Robin saw that they were stained with blood as well and a scream erupted from his throat.
"Robin! Wake up!" Little John grasped his friend's shoulders and shook him.
"No..." Robin whispered, as his eyes flew open. He peered out through strands of his hair and recognized the blond giant. "Little John...What?" But in that moment Robin realized that he had succumbed to another dream. Accepting Little John's hand, Robin let the other man pull him to his feet. He swayed for a moment as his knees buckled.
Little John gripped Robin's arm, he could feel his friend trembling, as if he were freezing...or frightened. "Robin...are you all right?" he queried.
Swallowing hard, in order to speak past the lump of fear in his throat, Robin nodded then said, "I'm fine, Little John. Where are the others?"
"Watering the horses," the blond, giant replied. He released his hold on Robin, but watched the other man closely. Just in case.
"Get them," Robin ordered, as he finger combed his hair off his face.
"We need to be going." He watched Little John run off, then he allowed himself
to shiver in response to the cold chill that rippled up his spine. The image
of Marion burning in a fire was so real. "What's going on?" Robin whispered,
but he knew that was no one to hear him, or answer. So he did the next best
thing. He forced the images from his mind and bent to shake out the blankets
and roll them back up. The moment Little John returned with the others, they
would continue on to Billingsley. A part of Robin hoped that he would be able
to outrun his dreams.
It was nearing dusk when Robin and his companions neared the village of Kemp. They stopped on a rise above the village and Tuck pointed out smoke on the horizon. They could see flames coming from the village.
"Let's go!" Robin shouted, spurring his stallion into a gallop. He flew down the rise towards the village, hearing the others close behind him. Once into the village, Robin slid off his horse and grabbed the arm of a man running by. "What's burning?" he asked.
"The church, the smithy and one of the cottages!" the man replied. Then he pulled away and ran off to fill the bucket he was carrying.
"Where do we start?" Marion asked, as she joined Robin.
He shook his head. "I don't know. Anywhere." Robin blinked as smoke filled his eyes. "Help the children," he suggested, for he saw that the entire village was in chaos and the cries of young ones could be heard.
Little John and Tuck nodded, then ran off. Marion watched them go then headed in the other direction, calling over her shoulder for Robin to be careful.
"You too!" he shouted back, then he ran straight ahead to join the bucket brigade at the Smithy’s. Robin helped toss water onto the structure, but it was apparent that it would have to burn itself out. He heard a groaning then a snap and knew that the center beam was cracking. It came rushing down and buried two men beneath it. "LITTLE JOHN" Robin shouted, rushing forward to help lift the beam. But it was too heavy.
"Look out!" Little John ordered, as he suddenly appeared and pushed Robin aside. Someone tossed him a cloak and he used it to protect his skin as he grasped the heavy beam and heaved. A moment later the men were freed and, thankfully, still alive.
Robin patted Little John on the shoulder. "Good work," he praised. He would have said more, but he heard a scream. Then someone called his name. "Marion..." Robin hissed beneath his breath. In that moment a chill rippled over him and he realized that his nightmare had invaded his consciousness. Marion was in trouble. Robin ran off, following the sound of her screams.
He reached the church, which was a blazing inferno, and shielded his eyes as a wave of heat washed over him. But Robin wasn't about to let that stop him. "MARION!" he shouted, then he took a step forward. Two more steps then strong arms wrapped around him, hauling him back. "Robin struggled against them. "LET ME GO!" he shouted. "Marion's in there!"
"Robin!" Little John grunted as an elbow slammed into his ribs, but he held on. "ROBIN....you can't go in there!" the giant cried out, trying to reason with his friend. "You'll be burned alive!"
"LET...GO!" Robin snarled, as he kicked out in desperation. But Little John only held on tighter. Tears ran down Robin's face. He could hear Marion screaming his name. Could see her so clearly in the flames.
Friar Tuck heard Robin's cries and ran over. He was stunned to see Robin struggling like a wildcat in Little John's grasp. And screaming Marion's name. "What's going on?" he demanded.
Little John shook his head, then grunted again when Robin got in a kick to his shin. "I don't know!" Just then he nearly lost his grip on Robin and knew he would have to resort to desperate measures. So he grabbed a handful of tunic then let go with his other hand. But only so that he could slam his fist into the base of Robin's skull.
When his friend collapsed, Little John caught him then lifted him into his mighty arms. "Sorry, Robin," he whispered, as he cradled the younger man to his chest. Robin's head fell onto Little John's shoulder, and dark hair obscured his features.
"What happened?" Tuck asked, as he brushed the silky hair back so he could study Robin's pale face.
"I wish I knew," Little John replied. "He was fine one minute, then he ran off and started screaming Marion's name. Next thing I know he's about to run into the church."
As if on cue, Marion suddenly appeared. She was stunned to see Robin in Little John's arms. "What..?" she began.
Tuck cut her off, since they had already been through that stage. "We're not sure," he explained. Then he sighed. "I'll see if there's a place we can bed Robin down till he wakes up." With that, Tuck headed off.
"Robin..." Marion whispered, as she lifted one hand and her fingers brushed
his face. "
The End of Chapter One
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