LIFE IS BUT A DREAM

By Shelly Quinn

Chapter Three
 
 

Marion was the first to reach Robin. She was surprised to find him smiling at her. "Are you okay?" she asked, as she moved to his side.

"Fine," Robin replied, knowing what she was thinking. Just then he saw Tuck appear, followed closely by Little John.

The Friar studied his friend, but so no signs of distress. "Robin...what are you doing out here?" he queried.

Robin heaved a sigh, then decided to tell the truth. "I woke up and heard someone calling me," he said softly.

"Who was calling you?" Marion asked, a frown furrowing her brow as she looked about. But she saw no one.

"A wolfhound," Robin replied, then he grimaced. He knew his reply would not go over well. It certainly wouldn't do much in defense of his sanity.

Little John was the first to react. "A wolfhound?" he repeated. "Called...to you?"

Robin nodded. "Yes."

Tuck closed his eyes and his heart sank. He was more worried now than before. Surely, Robin had truly lost his mind. But Tuck felt it might be best to play along. At least for the moment. "Where is this...wolfhound...now?" he challenged.

"She ran away," Robin answered. "When she heard you coming." He knew exactly what the Friar was thinking, but Robin was determined to have his say. They were his friends. They would believe him in the end.

"And...why would a wolfhound call you out here in the middle of the night, Robin?" Marion prompted. She exchanged glances with Tuck so knew he wanted her to placate Robin. But Marion wasn't happy with what she was hearing. It worried her all the more that Robin seemed so calm about it.

He had seen the looks that passed between his friends, and Robin knew they were playing along with him, but he didn't let their disbelief stop him from telling his tale. He was determined to make them understand...and believe. "She wanted to tell me...a story,"

Robin replied. But even as he spoke, he suddenly realized that he didn't have a definitive explanation for them. The wolfhound had spoken mostly in riddles. But Robin made an effort to elucidate. "She's somehow connected to my dreams."

Tuck was surprised, but pleased by Robin's words. Maybe they were making some progress. "Connected in what way?" he prompted.

"I'm not really sure," Robin confessed, seeing the disappointment that flickered in Tuck's eyes. "Maybe...Maybe I should tell you about the dreams. Maybe then you'll understand."

"I think that's a good idea, Robin," Marion said softly. "Tell us."

Robin did as she bid. He explained how his dreams had started with Marion dead in his arms. He didn't spare any details as he described how she had looked, and the blood on his hands. He told of the dance they had shared, and the kiss. Then he mentioned the blood again. Robin closed his eyes and saw the images clearly. It seemed so real that he wiped his hands on his tunic without being aware of the action.

But Tuck noticed, as did the others. The Friar went to his friend, placing one hand on a broad shoulder. "Robin...do you know what they mean?" he asked. "These dreams."

"I haven't a clue," Robin confessed, heaving a sigh of frustration. "The wolfhound told me that I had choices to make. That the fate of England rests in my hands. She also said that only I could answer the questions about my dreams."

"What did she mean?" Little John entreated. He was just as worried about Robin as the others, but a bit more inclined to believe his friend about the wolfhound. Being around Robin had taught Little John that anything was possible.

Robin smiled at his friend. "I don't know, John," he replied. Then he turned to face at Marion and realized, by the look on her face, that she didn't believe what he was telling her. Neither did Tuck. "You think I'm going mad," Robin whispered.

Marion offered a smile, but it was heavy with sadness. She wanted to deny his words, but couldn't. "Robin...I think that you've been under a lot of stress," Marion began.

"I'm not crazy!" Robin insisted, feeling anger flare up from deep inside him. It hurt that she didn't believe him.

"I didn't say that you were," Marion countered, moving to Robin and reaching for his hand. When he pulled away from her, she felt tears fill her eyes, but she couldn't let him go on like this. She wanted to help him. Marion looked over at Tuck, her eyes pleading with him to do something.

Tuck was at a loss as to how to help Robin, but he knew that his young friend was slipping into madness. Right now, however, Tuck needed time to think. "Let's return to the camp," he suggested. "It's hours yet before dawn. We should all get some sleep."

Robin didn't say a word, he simply turned on his heel and stalked of. Marion was quick to follow him, shooting Tuck a backward glance of despair. The Friar sighed and moved off to catch up, leaving Little John to bring up the rear.

The blond-haired giant felt bad for all his friends, but Robin in particular. He wished he could help, but knew there was nothing he could do. Sighing heavily, Little John scooped up Robin's sword and tucked it in his belt, before heading back to the others.
 
 

Back at camp, Marion watched as Robin squatted before the crackling fire. He held his hands out to the flames, but she saw him shiver. Scooping up a blanket, Marion went to Robin and draped it over his shoulders. She smiled when he thanked her, then she knelt beside him. His head was bent and his dark hair obscured his face. Marion reached out to tuck the sable locks behind Robin's ear, then she pressed her palm to his face. His skin was warm. Not exactly, like a fever, but warmer than was normal. Marion almost heaved a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was a simple fever that was making Robin delusional. That would explain so much. Perhaps that, combined with the herbs that Tuck had been forcing him to drink, was what made Robin dream of such terrible things. His visions were fever-induced images. Simple hallucinations. Marion could accept that.

"Come lie down, Robin," she beseeched him, as she moved to sit with her legs outstretched, her back propped against a nearby tree. Then Marion patted her lap, inviting Robin to pillow his head there.

A part of Robin wanted to protest that he wasn't tired, and that he wasn't crazy. But in all truth, he was exhausted. And he was beginning to believe that it had all only been a dream. Another nightmare taunting him into believing that it was real. Wrapping the blanket tightly about him, Robin went to Marion and laid down on his side, resting his head in her lap. He felt her fingers comb through his hair in a soothing caress, and he let his eyes close. A heartbeat later, sleep beckoned him and Robin followed it into velvet darkness.
 
 

From deep in the woods a creature with eyes that glowed red, watched the man named Robin Hood. Watched over him as he slept and kept the demons from his dreams.
 
 

The morning dawned bright and clear. Tuck made breakfast and was relieved when Robin accepted his portion with a smile. His young friend looked better this morning. Not so pale and the shadows were gone from beneath his eyes. "You slept well?" Tuck ventured to ask.

"Well enough," Robin replied, turning to glance over at Marion, who was rolling up their blankets. His dreams had been quiet and serene and Robin wondered if he had Marion to thank for that. Perhaps her closeness had been enough to reassure Robin's subconscious fears that she was safe. He had no reason to dream of her death. "We've two days left to reach Billingsley," he announced to the others. "We should be there by dawn tomorrow."

"I can't wait to see Heath," Little John declared, as he stretched the kinks out of his muscles.

Marion laughed. "I still can't believe he's a father," she replied, for she remembered a young flirt, who had vowed never to marry so that he could romance every woman he met. But love had changed him, as it changed all whom it touched. "I wonder who the baby looks like."

Tuck's eyes twinkled. "Heaven help us if it takes after Heath," he teased. "Imagine what big ears it will have."

The others laughed, and Robin felt wrapped in sudden warmth. His friends were his life, and he would willingly die for them. Just then, the wolfhound's words echoed in his head. ...you would willingly die to save the lives of your friends. But you must be willing to live for them as well...

"What does that mean?" Robin mused to himself. But then he shook himself out of his reverie. It was time to ride. "Mount up," he ordered, as he tossed aside the remains of his breakfast for the birds to feed on.

"May the good Lord bless our journey," Tuck offered in prayer. So far, Robin seemed to be himself again, and the Friar hoped that the danger to his friend's sanity had passed.

Once the campfire had been put out Robin and his companions mounted up and rode off. But Robin couldn't shake the feeling that they weren't alone.
 
 

They had been on the road for nearly an hour when Robin caught a glimpse of silver-gray in the woods to his left. At the same time he sensed a presence and recognized what it was. The wolfhound. She was keeping pace with them, yet hiding in the shadows of the dense woods. Part of Robin wished that she had only been a dream, but the other part of him was glad she was with him. He felt certain that the wolfhound was connected to his dreams, and that she would help him to keep Marion safe. And that was all that mattered to him, that he be able to protect Marion from the fate that seemed certain to befall her, if Robin were to believe his dreams.

After stopping to water the horses and munch on some fruit, Robin and his companions prepared to mount again. Robin was already in the saddle when he felt a searing pain in his side and he doubled over.

Little John was beside Robin in a heartbeat, reaching out to keep his friend from collapsing. "What's wrong?" he beseeched, wincing as he heard Robin gasp in agony.

"Get him down, Little John," Tuck ordered, as he rushed over. He could see that Robin was pale as alabaster and he feared that his young friend was suffering from some sort of seizure.

"No.." Robin hissed, as Little John made to pull him from the saddle. The image of the wolfhound flashed in Robin's head, and he knew that it was her pain that he felt. She had left him when they had stopped for lunch, and Robin knew that she needed him now. But his companions would not understand, so Robin didn't even attempt to explain. He lifted his leg, pressing his foot to Little John's chest to push the big man away from him. Then Robin dug his heels into his stallion's flanks and headed off the path, deep into the woods.

Marion reacted first. She ran to her horse and mounted up, intending to follow Robin, but in that moment a silvery mist appeared, thickening into a blinding fog. Marion lost sight of Tuck and Little John, and knew there would be no hope of finding Robin until the dense haze dispersed.

Robin was unaware of the fog that had enveloped his friends. Wisps of it swirled around him, yet his vision was clear. He had to reach the wolfhound before it was too late.

She was lying on a bed of ferns, an arrow imbedded in her side, and blood staining her fur crimson. "You came, Robin," she whispered in his mind as he left his horse and came to kneel beside her. His hands were gentle as they stroked her fur.

"What can I do?" he asked, wishing that Tuck were here. The Friar was the one with the medicinal knowledge to help. Just then Robin swallowed back a moan as the wolfhound's pain made itself felt within his own flesh.

"Remove the arrow," the wolfhound requested. She was amazed at how empathic Robin was. She had not expected this of him, but it pleased her, for it was further proof that, he was the one she had been waiting for.

Robin wrapped his fingers around the shaft of the arrow, then he gritted his teeth and yanked. He winced even as the wolfhound yelped, but then he gasped and nearly toppled over as a transformation occurred before his eyes. Where once he beheld a wolfhound, in her place was a beautiful woman, shimmering with silver-white light. Then the light faded and the woman smiled. "Who....what...are you?" Robin beseeched.

Tossing back a fall of hip length, white-blond, hair, the woman reached out, her fingertips brushing Robin's face as she whispered, "I'm a friend."

"A friend..." Robin echoed, as his hand lifted to cover hers on his face. "I don't understand."

"All that matters now is that you follow your heart, Robin," she replied. "Marion needs you. Do not let her out of your sight, for only you can save her."

Robin was about to ask what she meant but just then, he heard voices calling his name. His friends were close by. Rising to his feet, Robin turned away from the woman. A moment later he saw Marion appear, gliding out of the fog that had faded back without his awareness. ....Marion needs you... echoed in Robin's head, and he turned to face the wolfhound. No...the woman, Robin reminded himself. Only she was gone. Not so surprising, Robin realized, and this time he knew, he wasn't dreaming, or half mad. For where the wolfhound had lain, the ground was stained with blood. Whatever else she might be...she was real.

Marion slid off her horse and ran towards Robin. She was relieved to see that he was smiling, and didn't appear to be in pain. "Are you all right?" she asked, reaching out to touch Robin's face. His skin was warm, but not feverish.

"I'm fine," Robin replied, and he meant it. He nodded to Tuck and Little John, as they moved to stand beside Marion. "I'm sorry if I worried you," Robin apologized to his friends.

"So long as you're all right, it doesn't matter," Tuck replied. He, too, placed a hand to Robin's cheek and was relieved that no fever was present. "What happened, Robin?" The Friar, queried.

Robin knew that he could not tell them the truth. Knew that they would not believe him, so he offered them a version of the truth. One that he hoped they would accept. "I thought I heard someone scream," he said softly. "I think it was an animal."

Little John frowned. "But, Robin," he protested. "You nearly collapsed. I thought you were dying."

"I'm not going to die, John," Robin replied, reaching out to pat his friend's broad shoulder. "We should go," he said firmly, moving to step by Little John to reach his horse.

"Are you sure you're all right, Robin?" Marion countered, grabbing his arm so that he was facing her. She locked her eyes onto his, seeking a glimpse into Robin's soul. But all she saw was the reflection of warmth and compassion. The ember of light that was the heart of a good man.

Robin smiled at Marion. "I'm fine," he assured her. And this time he believed that he spoke the truth. "Come on...let's go." With that Robin strolled over to his stallion, mounted, and headed back for the road.

The others mounted and followed him, but Little John trailed behind. He had spotted the dark stain on the ground and knelt beside it. When he touched it with his fingertips, they came away wet. "Blood.." Little John whispered. He had figured as much just by sight. And it wasn't Robin's blood, for he had studied his friend and Robin had not injuries. But someone had been hurt, someone that Robin did not want to reveal. Little John was curious, but would respect his friend's right to privacy. He was certain that when the time was right, Robin would share his secret with them. Until then Little John would keep a careful eye on the man whom some called thief, or outlaw. But whom others believed to be the Angel of Sherwood.
 

End of Chapter Three

Chapter One
 Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

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