The Gypsy Spell
By LauraliChapter One
Word reached the Outlaws' camp that a string of wagons had been seen in the outskirts of Sherwood Forest. Normally that would have been good news; some traveling nobles on their way to Prince John's Court with lots of cash, jewels and other valuables ripe for the plucking. This caravan came amongst terrified whispers and ominous moaning. There were no nobles on this caravan: they were gypsies.
Not really gypsies, they were nomads from Egypt. With King Richard fighting Saracens and Moors to free Jerusalem, the English people were not pleased to see the dark-skinned people with their wary kohl rimmed eyes and tattooed hands and feet. The fabric draped wagons rolled through villages like a parade, but it could have been a funeral procession the way the villagers regarded it. Some people were afraid the Little Egyptians brought plague or leprosy with them, some were afraid their children would be stolen, and some were afraid the unwelcome visitors would bring the very devil upon their homes and kin.
Robin scoffed at the rumors which had finally reached his own campfire. Marion acknowledged that true or not, the gossip was going to cause trouble. Little John at once began spouting stories of children stolen by gypsies in the night, spells the gypsies cast on any who caused them ill will, and what kind of charms might protect against their wickedness. Tuck was quick to quiet Little John on the subject of amulets and evil eyes.
"The only thing that concerns me is if the Little Egyptians take up residence - even for a little while - where do they expect to get supplies and food? The villagers are just getting by as it is. There isn't enough surplus to feed the others too." Robin poked at the fire with a stick and stared into the flames.
"The villagers are restless enough to attack any gypsies who venture into town, no provocation necessary." Marion mused.
"But Gypsies can put a curse on you! A cousin of a friend of mine said he crossed a Gypsy's path and the Gypsy hexed him. All of his fields went barren, the well dried up, and his cow was taken away by the tax collector." John's big blue eyes got bigger the taller his tale got.
"Tax collectors take a lot of things these days, Little John. The fields may have gone barren because the water dried up, as evidenced by the well going dry." Tuck reasoned. "They are normal people just like the rest of us. No one can hex you if you don't believe in it."
Robin got up and stretched. "Maybe I'll have to go out to their camp tomorrow. We don't want trouble from them or the villagers."
That night as Robin slept he dreamed of flames leaping high against a sky full of stars, the sound of wailing violins filled his ears, and a pair of eyes the color of amber ringed in kohl danced among the flames.
As the Outlaws rode up to the edge of the Gypsies' camp a group of children who had been playing ran back to the safety of the wagons, shouting a warning to the others as they ran. A tall brawny man with skin like tanned leather came forward. Just behind him followed a younger man of the same height and build. The younger man's long black curls cascaded down his back while his kinsman's head was covered with a red scarf.
"We have no arguments with the village," said the older man in a heavy accent, holding both palms up. "We will stay here only a few days and move on."
"The village has no argument with you far as I know, and neither do we. We're more like the Sherwood Welcoming Committee," Robin quipped with a cockeyed smile.
The older man smiled widely and laughed, showing gleaming white teeth. He thrust his hand towards Robin. "I am Alexis, and this is my son, Amir."
"I'm Robin Hood." Robin shook Alexis hand. He introduced the others and Alexis turned them towards the center of his camp.
"We are only traveling through your forest on our way back to the coast. We are going back to Egypt if we can. The crusades forced my family out of Byzantium and we have been wandering ever since." Alexis threw one heavily muscled arm over Robin's shoulders. "I am no longer a young man. I would find my rest much more easily if I knew my family were safe in the land of our ancestors."
"You are younger than you think, Papa," Amir intoned. If his father accepted the new neighbors easily Amir was not so quick to do the same. "Nothing will happen so long as I am with you."
"My son protects us all. You cannot protect us from everything, Amir. Even a watchdog must sleep." The small party had reached the center of camp where women cooked and children played and the men worked on small tasks here and there.
Alexis shouted something in his native language. The women shouted and the children laughed and cheered. "You join us tonight, all of you. You are welcome here."
There was lamb and wild onions, mushrooms, potatoes, green squashes and cooked grains. Every dish was flavored with spices found on the road or brought with the family from the Holy Land. After the sun went down and the bonfire blazed there was music the likes of which the Outlaws had never heard before.
Little John felt someone looking at him from behind. He looked over his shoulder to see a small boy who started in fright and ran back to his group of friends.
"What's wrong? What are you afraid of?" John asked.
The little boy crept a bit closer. "You're a giant."
John laughed. "I am big."
"The stories say giants eat children. You don't eat children, do you?"
"Of course not!" John's brow creased. "That's ridiculous. It's only a story, it's not real."
Little John's response reassured the child. He strode right up to Little John and sat down beside him. His name was Issam
"My Baba Parva tells me stories about giants and djinni who swirl the desert sand to make travelers lose their way. What stories do you know?"
"I know stories about faeries and knights and magicians." John said. He looked down at the little boy, then checked to make sure Friar Tuck could not hear him. "Do you know the story about the evil eye?" he asked.
Issam giggled behind his hand and whispered in Little John's ear. "When I sneak into Baba Parva's wagon and steal bits of her honey cakes she gives me the evil eye."
John recoiled in amazement. "Really? What does the evil eye look like?"
Issam stood up on the log they had been sitting on and leaned down, glaring at John with wide brown eyes and an angry expression. "ISSAM! If I catch you stealing honey cakes again I am going to box your ears!" He exclaimed, then fell laughing into John's lap.
The other children took this as a good sign and cheered, jumping on Little John, hanging from his shoulders and arms as he attempted to free himself.
Robin, Marion, and Tuck were gathered around the fire with Alexis and his family. Alexis' clan was more than his son and daughter; his brothers and sisters had brought their own families with them. Alexis' mother Parva drove her own wagon.
"It is the same wherever we go. We are barred from coming into the town. No one comes near our camp for fear of the Black Death. In some places we have been prevented from watering our horses or pasturing our sheep. Still it is better than Byzantium where we feared we would be burnt while we slept." Alexis admitted. He knew when to count his blessings.
"It's maddening." Amir said. "In the night men have come to hobble our horses and steal our only cow. They send soldiers and priests upon us who claim we dance with the devil in the middle of the night." Amir absently broke off pieces of a twig and threw them into the fire. "They harass us everywhere we go and we can do nothing to stop it."
"And we will continue to do nothing, Amir." Alexis put his hand on his son's stilling his nervous occupation. "And God will bless us for our endurance and endless patience." He smiled at Robin. "My son is very protective of his family, but knows nothing of karma."
"It's not easy being a target for animosity." Robin acquiesced.
The conversation might have gone on but for the whirlwind of the violin and skirl of a flute. Drums and bells beat a foreign rhythm and a voice pure and sweet drifted amongst them like smoke. A young woman with honey colored skin threw her head back and trilled a song, following the racing violins with dizzying intricacy. She hiked her green skirt to her knees and began a dance with the other girls, abandoning all modesty to the music. They circled and twirled, bare feet flying in the dust. Everyone clapped and sang along until the music and the dance became hypnotic.
As the song came to a triumphant end, the women danced among the men and fell upon whomever was closest. The young woman in the green skirt fell into Robin's lap much to his surprise and Marion's dismay.
"My daughter usually comes to me. Tonight Serafinah favors you Robin Hood, over her poor father." Alexis chuckled.
Robin smiled graciously at his host. "I get that a lot." He turned his head and came face to face with Serafinah's golden eyes. Her features were finely made, a small silver jewel pierced the side of her nose but did not detract from her beauty. With a bounce and a flounce of her sandalwood scented curls she was gone and Robin found Marion's fiery Celtic disposition had replaced Serafinah's exotic beauty.
"What did I do?" he asked uselessly as Marion walked away into the darkness.
Alexis' clan stayed in Sherwood for a few more days before they decided to move on. The Outlaws gave them a few supplies to help them on their way. While loading a crate into a wagon Marion had caught Serafinah watching Robin and had to turn away in disgust. She ought to be used to it, but the attention Robin got from women was most disheartening at times.
It was several weeks later that the alarm sounded in camp. Someone was approaching. No man on horseback arrived in camp however, it was the young boy Issam.
"What's happened?" Robin steadied the boy who huffed and puffed to catch his breath.
"There was a fire. Papa Alexis and Baba Parva are hurt. Everyone is angry. Something awful is going to happen." Issam threw himself into Little John's arms and the big man rocked the child to comfort him.
"Issam, we're going to help. You'll have to show us where." Robin found Marion had already gone to ready the horses. Tuck headed for his tent to gather herbs and remedies.
In no time the Outlaws were packed and saddled and headed South.End of Chapter One