LIFE IS BUT A DREAM

By Shelly Quinn

Chapter Four

They traveled the rest of the day without further mishap, made camp in a small grove, and all slept soundly till morning. At dawn, they arose to continue on their way, knowing that they would reach Billingsley by dusk. Just past noon, the group reached the rise of a valley. Below them was a Keep.

Robin felt a sudden ripple of fear that left him feeling cold, despite the warmth of the summer sun. He rode moved off the path, guiding his stallion over to the ridge so that he could gaze upon the Hamlet below. What greeted his eyes made Robin catch his breath. "No..." he whispered.

"What is it?" Marion asked, moving her horse beside Robin's. When he pointed, she looked down and her eyes widened. "Oh..." she gasped.

Friar Tuck and Little John joined them and both were rendered speechless, for below them raged a battle that was both bloody and fierce. "Praise be," Tuck breathed, making the sign of the cross in the air.

Robin was studying the battle. He knew that it was somehow connected to his dreams, and to Marion's fate. His fate. Perhaps the fate of England, as the wolfhound had said. "We have to stop this," Robin declared.

"How?" Marion countered, her hand reaching out to grip his reins when he would have galloped off. "Robin...there's too many of them. It's a small army."

"Oh heavens!" Tuck suddenly gasped. "Look!" He pointed and they all turned to see why.

Little John went pale as he realized that there were children caught up in the battle. "We have to rescue them!" he bellowed, digging his heels into his horse's flanks and galloping off down the rise before anyone could stop them.

Robin yanked his reins from Marion's grasp. "Stay here!" he ordered her, before turning to follow Little John.

"Fat chance!" Marion hissed, as she spurred her mount into a gallop. A moment later she had caught up to Robin. "We're a team!" she shouted, over the din of thundering hooves.

"Be careful!" Robin shot back, for in that moment an image from his dreams flashed in his head. Marion....lying in his arms....covered in blood. Robin was certain now that his nightmares would find the light of day within this battle. He remembered the wolfhound's warning to him, about Marion. That he should not let the beautiful warrior woman out of his sight...for only he could save her. And Robin prayed that he would not fail her...or himself. But those thoughts disappeared as he neared the first of the soldiers. Robin tied his reins around the saddle horn and gripped hard with his thighs. Pulling his bow from off his back, he fitted two arrows, aimed, then let them fly. Two soldiers fell. Robin continued shooting till his quiver was empty. Then he tossed aside his bow and drew his sword. Galloping into the fray, he slashed at the first man who attacked him, then kicked out at another.

But the fighting was too close, and intense, for horses. That was something Robin was quick to realize. So he slid from his stallion and sent the animal off, out of harm's way. He wanted to check on his companions, but to do so would be a distraction that he couldn't afford. So Robin fought his way over to a young child who was crying. Scooping the little girl up in one arm, Robin turned and ran, taking her to shelter by putting her in the root cellar. Then he returned to the battle.

Robin's companion's followed his lead, scooping up children, and other innocents, and hiding them in the root cellar. After a time, it became the outlaws of Sherwood against the soldiers.

"Why are you fighting?" Robin questioned, as he parried a steel blade that was aiming for his throat.

"For my Lord!" the soldier replied.

As Robin continued fighting the other man, he managed to learn the tale. It seemed that this Hamlet had two Lords, twin brothers, and they each wanted to be sole ruler. So the soldiers, who should have fought side by side had, instead, taken sides, and were now battling each other. "If you don't stop fighting...you will all lose in the end!" Robin shouted. Then he gasped as the other blade slashed across his arm. It was a flesh wound only, but painful. And it made him mad. Robin spun around and delivered a kick to the soldier's head and he dropped like a stone. In that moment an image flashed in

Robin's mind. "Marion..." he whispered. Then he remembered the wolfhound's warning and turned to search for the warrior woman. She was to his left but running towards him.

Watching as Marion paused to fight off a soldier, Robin experienced another flash of an image. Something not from his nightmares. He saw himself lying on a funeral pyre, flames hot about him. His friends and faithful companions were gathered about him, as well as others...villagers and peasants. The poor and the helpless Saxons whom Robin had saved. Those from both his past and his present. All of them dressed in black, mourning his passing. And suddenly Robin understood what the wolfhound had meant when she'd said that he must be as willing to live, as he was to die, for his friends. For England.

...Choose wisely, Robin Hood....

Those words echoed in Robin's head as he blinked away the images. He looked at Marion and saw that she was in danger. A marksman, from horseback, had an arrow aimed at her heart. In that moment, Robin made his choice. Crying out Marion's name, he ran forward, straight into the path of the arrow.

"ROBIN!" Marion screamed as she saw the arrow pierce Robin's heart. He clutched at it with one hand, his eyes locking with hers for one moment, before his knees buckled and he fell to the ground.

"Marion..." Robin whispered. White-hot pain rippled through him, but it was followed by cool darkness, and then the pain was gone and time...stopped.

Tuck and Little John heard Marion's scream. They both turned in time to see Marion fall. But as Little John ran towards his friend, he realized that something was wrong. He grabbed Tuck's arm and pointed. "Look."

The Friar gazed about him in stunned disbelief. The battle around them had ceased, for the soldiers they had been fighting were frozen. Not like an icicle, but frozen in motion. "My Lord..." Tuck whispered, his fingers closing over the crucifix that dangled from his neck.

"What's going on?" Little John asked, as he followed the Friar over to Robin and Marion.

"I don't know," Tuck replied. He knelt beside Marion, who was cradling Robin's head in her lap. With two fingers, Tuck checked for a pulse in Robin's neck. There was nothing. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his eyes lifting to Marion's tear-stained face. "He's gone." Tears now spilled from the Friar's eyes. As he wiped at them with his sleeve, he saw an image appear beside them. The image took form...a beautiful woman with hip length white hair. "Who are you?" Tuck demanded, as he rose to his feet.

The woman didn't answer. Her attention was on Robin as she knelt beside him. With one hand, she pulled the arrow from his chest, then pressed her palm over the wound. A shimmer of light flowed from her hand, growing ever brighter as it engulfed Robin. It flashed, blinding everyone, then it faded.

Marion was the first one to notice Robin's eyelids flutter. "Look..." she breathed.

Robin was unaware of the miracle that had occurred. He opened his eyes and saw a familiar face. The wolfhound, but in the form of a woman. "You..." he whispered.

She laughed then took his hand, pulling Robin to his feet with an ease that belied her fragile appearance. "It is as written," she whispered. "You are the chosen one, Robin Hood. And well-chosen....I might add."

"You saved my life," Robin countered, as he fingered the hole in his tunic where the arrow had penetrated. He remembered the pain and the darkness. Dying.

"As you once saved mine," the woman reminded him. She reached out and let her fingertips brush Robin's face. "You owe me nothing, yet I would ask a favor," she said softly.

Robin nodded. "Anything," he allowed, for he felt that he did owe her. Marion was alive and so was he. For that, he would be eternally grateful.

She smiled again and said, "I would ask for a kiss."

"My pleasure," Robin replied, bending his head to brush his lips to hers. But then he stepped back as he a sudden coldness. With a gasp, Robin watched the woman change into her true form.

"Oh my..." Tuck whispered, as he stared at the wolfhound. One side of her fur was stained with blood. "Who are you?" Tuck asked.

The wolfhound answered, not with words, but in their minds. "The guardian of the light. And Robin Hood is the light." With that, she ran off towards the woods south of them.

Little John was about to ask if what he had just seen was real, when there was a blinding flash of light. Everyone closed their eyes and time moved forward once again.
 
 

Robin opened his eyes and discovered that he was lying on a pallet, and he was in what appeared to be a stable. But he wasn't alone. He felt a soft hand touch his face and turned his head.

Marion smiled at him. "How do you feel, Robin?" she asked, worry shining in her eyes.

"I..." Robin broke off as confusion washed over him. He should have been at the keep, with Little John and Tuck. Not in a stable. "Where am I?" he countered.

"Kelsi," Marion replied. She pressed her hand to Robin's chest when he made to rise. "Rest easy," she beseeched him.

But Robin shrugged off her hand and stood up. He remembered that Kelsi was the village they had stopped in on their way to Billingsley. And they had been invited to the wedding celebration. But that wasn't possible, Robin told himself. They had left Kelsi days ago. "What are we doing here?" Robin asked, his eyes locking with Marion's.

She bit her lip, then tried to explain. "You...fell ill, Robin," Marion said softly. She was worried still, for he was pale and his dark eyes were fever-bright, even though his fever had broken at dawn. Tuck had assured her that Robin would recover now, he just needed to rest.

"Ill?" Robin echoed, with a shake of his head. "What do you mean...ill?"

"Well...poisoned, actually," Marion confessed. "It was in the wine you drank. Tuck discovered it after you collapsed, when we walking. Do you remember?"

Robin sighed, one hand pressing against his forehead to ease the sudden throbbing. He was finding it hard to accept what she was telling him. "Who poisoned me?"

Marion shrugged. "We don't know who...or why."

"Then....we've never left Kelsi?" Robin prompted.

"No. We've been here for the past two days," Marion confirmed.

Robin dropped down onto a bale of hay, then buried his head in his hands. "It was only a dream..." he whispered. But he found that hard to accept, for the images that danced in his mind were so real. He could see the wolfhound as if she stood before him, and her voice echoed in his mind. But Robin knew he had to accept that it had only been fever induced nightmares. Marion had never been in any danger, and he hadn't died to save her. Unconsciously, Robin's hand lifted to his chest and he fingered his tunic. He gasped as he felt a tear, over his heart.

Just then, Tuck and Little John entered the stables, and both were delighted to see Robin up and about. Little John engulfed Robin in a mighty bear hug, not releasing him until Tuck ordered him to.

The Friar pressed a hand to Robin's forehead, and smiled. "The fever is gone," he announced. "But you need to rest, Robin," Tuck cautioned.

"I'm fine, my friend," Robin replied. And he felt physically fit. It was his mind that was exhausted. Robin was more confused now than ever. If he hadn't left Kelsi, then why was his tunic torn?

"I'll ride on to Billingsley then," Little John said, as he moved to saddle up his horse. "I'll let Heath know that the rest of you returned to Sherwood because Robin fell ill."

Robin ran to his friend, gripping the mighty arm. "Wait a minute. Marion said I was ill for two days," he stated. When Tuck nodded, Robin continued. "In that case, there's still time for all of us to reach Billingsley in time for the baptism." He smiled at his companions. "That is...if you're feeling up to a hard ride," Robin challenged.

Marion moved to confront him. "Tuck says you need to rest, Robin," she reminded him.

"I'm right as rain," Robin assured her. He searched about the room and spotted his saddle, then he moved to his mount. "Who's with me?" he asked.

Marion shook her head, knowing that it was useless to argue with him once his mind was made up. "We're all with you," she replied, knowing that she spoke for her companions as well. They all moved to saddle their horses and ten minutes later were cantering down the road towards Billingsley.

Robin lifted his face to the wind, enjoying its warmth and the way it tangled in his hair. It was a beautiful day and he decided to let go of the chaos inside him and concentrate on the baptism. But even as he made that decision, Robin happened to glance towards the woods to his left. He felt as if eyes were watching him. And then he saw her. A beautiful wolfhound with a silver-gray coat, keeping pace with him as he rode. Then a soft voice filled his head.

"Well done, Robin Hood..." said the wolfhound. "You chose wisely."

"Thank you," Robin whispered, as he pressed one hand over his heart. Just then, Marion moved up beside him on his right and Robin glanced over to her..

Marion frowned. "Did you say something, Robin?" she queried.

He shook his head. "No...nothing," Robin replied. He glanced back towards the woods, and wasn't surprised that the wolfhound was gone. A smile curved his lips as Robin looked back over at Marion again. "Race you!" he challenged, tapping his heels into his stallion's flank, and galloping off leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.

"CHEAT!" Marion yelled after him. But she was laughing as she raced off to catch up. For it would always be like this. Wherever Robin would lead, Marion would follow. Be it to hell and back...or beyond.

Tuck and Little John laughed as they watched their young friends. Little John was thrilled that Robin was well again. They had come too close to losing him, and Little John couldn't imagine life in Sherwood Forest without Robin Hood.
 

THE END

Chapter One
 Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

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