The Gypsy Spell
Tuck and Little John were sitting with the men eating their breakfasts when Robin and Marion rejoined the crowd. Sean and Jennie were close by. Alexis was up, his daughter hovering protectively over him.
"Alexis, it's good to see you up and about." Robin said.
"It's good to be about. Serafinah would have me still abed." he chuckled softly.
"You can't keep us down, Englishman." Amir rose from his seat. Robin had almost hoped to ignore him. "We are too strong to die."
"I'm not trying to kill anyone!" Robin said exasperatedly. "And neither are the villagers. That's what we came to tell you. Parva remembered something about the night of the fire."
Marion stared Amir down, as if she could force him back by sheer force of will. "The person in Parva's wagon was small and skinny. No villager came in the night to burn you out. It all looks like a terrible accident."
Sean's eyes darted to the little boy sitting next to Little John. He got up and went to kneel beside Issam.
"It was an accident, wasn't it?" he asked
Issam averted his eyes, but not before two huge tears welled and spilled onto his brown cheeks. When Little John put a hand on his shoulder, Issam nodded almost imperceptibly.
Alexis reached towards his nephew. "Issam?" Issam went to Alexis' arms immediately and sobbed.
"I only wanted a honeycake, and Baba Parva keeps them in the cupboard over her bed. I wanted just to sneak one, but she grabbed my leg and I fell and upset the lamp. Then when I jumped from the wagon I fell on Papa Alexis and he got hurt too." The little boy cried harder and would not be comforted until his Uncle had wrapped him up in a bear hug.
Jennie spoke up then, "But if the first fire was an accident, who set fire to the wagon last night?"
Robin's jaw tightened as he focused on the culprit. "I have an idea about that."
Amir bristled under Robin's scrutiny. "I would not have harmed a hair on Marion's head."
"That is why you set the fire and waited until it caught before you rushed to the rescue, dear brother." Serafinah finally found her voice. "You could make yourself a hero, lay the blame on the Englishmen, and win the woman all at once."
Amir fumed. Robin wondered that smoke didn't pour from his ears. "That's not true!"
"I saw you!" Serafinah yelled. "You followed her like a dog. You saw your chance and took it."
"You speak of dogs, while you've been wagging your tail at the English thief!"
The argument between the siblings continued in their own language, voices raised and eyes flashing daggers at each other until a shout from Alexis silenced everyone. He loudly addressed both his children, who were immediately chastised and went off to their separate quarters quite subdued, Serafinah still casting glances back at Robin.
Robin's mind still could not rest. There was something still not settled.
"Issam accidentally set the fire in Parva's wagon, but there were three other wagons damaged by fire that night. How do we explain that?" Robin asked Alexis.
"The second wagon sat next to Parva's." Alexis indicated the wagon that was currently without a canvas roof. "It could have caught fire by the wind. But the other two were further away." He caught Robin's meaning.
"So there's someone out there waiting for your guard to slip again." Robin and Alexis caught each other's gaze and nodded.
"When we are ready we will move on. Maybe then the burning will stop." Alexis said resignedly. He sighed and took his red headscarf from his pocket, tying it on over his baldhead and the bandage that wrapped around his wound. "But tonight, we will celebrate! Tonight,... I will cook!" He rubbed his hands together with a mad twinkle in his eye.
The Outlaws and the Little Egyptians joined forces that night. Some of the Sherwood hunters brought rabbits to cook in a spicy stew. Uleallian pipes and an Irish harp mingled notes with the violin and sitar. Everyone was happy that at least part of the mystery had been solved.
Robin finally stopped fighting with the knotted cord in his hair and cut it with his knife. Suddenly an ache in his head that he hadn't realized was there was relieved as he ran his hands through the long dark locks. Unfortunately, it now curled every which way, including into his eyes.
Robin turned to the tiny basin so he could slick some water into his unruly hair. As he splashed water he upset the little shelf above the basin and spilled the little clay bottle that Serafinah had given him. The scent of herbs, sacred woods, and spices dripped into the basin. As the scent of the oil was not unpleasant, he continued to apply the water and oil on his hair.
Marion grimaced as one of the women pinched her cheeks hard.
"Such beautiful pale skin, but you need some color!" the woman laughed as she nudged Marion away from the cooking fires. They'd learned quickly that any meal Marion put her hands on somehow wouldn't turn out right.
"A little color would turn that man's head, make him think a bit." said another woman as she turned puffy flat breads on a skillet.
"Make him think of what?" Marion started to take offense. She tamped down on her temper and went off to her wagon to pack the rest of her belongings. She thought of changing back to her red suede bodice and boots, but the comfort of the gauze blouse and skirt was too great to resist. Tomorrow was soon enough to go back to being herself. She unwound the scarf that bound her hair and let the reddish curls bounce down to her shoulders.
Something made Marion think of the little red glass bottle in the bottom of her bag. She drew it out, watching the way the light caught the gold tracery on the glass. Uncorking the bottle she poured a few drops into her hand and applied the perfume to her wrists and the back of her neck. She fluffed the rest into her hair and put the bottle back into her bag. The scent of flowers and spices rose from her skin and cast more color into her face than a mere pinch ever could.
Penny whistles skirled around Sean's bagpipe as Jennie and two other women danced an energetic Scottish jig to the delight of the Little Egyptians. Issam ventured far enough from the shelter of Baba Parva's protective gaze to examine the foreign bagpipe in childish fascination as Sean slugged ale while the chanter continued to play. Tuck sat with the cooks sampling their native spice mixes and trading his own little herb bundles. Little John had brought longbows as a parting gift to the Little Egyptians and happily demonstrated the art of stringing them. Robin stood in the shadows of a large oak tree and watched everyone enjoying themselves.
"I have been looking for you." Serafinah said. She emerged from the darkness behind Robin and placed one small hand on his bare arm. Robin shrugged slightly but couldn't dislodge her without more effort. She toyed with a lock of his hair as he tried his best to ignore her.
"You don't want to join your friends?"
"Not just yet. I wanted to say goodbye to you. Tomorrow we will be moving on and I wanted to thank you for everything you've done for us." She plastered herself against his side as he clenched his jaw.
"I'm just doing what I do. Helping people is a full time occupation." He kept his eyes on the fires and away from her.
"Not all the time I hope. Save a little for me tonight?"
Finally Robin had had enough. He turned back into the shadows and grasped her arms, holding her away.
"Serafinah, I'm flattered, really. But I only stayed to help your family. That's all." He hoped that she would drop the subject.
Her smile faltered a bit. "That's all? You don't like me even a little bit?"
Robin let go of her, pushing her back slightly. "Of course I do. You're a very sweet girl. I hate to disappoint you, but there's someone I like even more." He turned back toward the light, to the fires where Marion stood watching the dancing.
"You like her more? She can't even cook!" Serafinah spat, disgusted with his choice.
"Yeah, but you should see what she can do with a sword and a whip." Robin smiled just thinking about her.
"She's stupid!" she muttered. "Marion couldn't even learn who set the other fires."
"That makes me equally stupid because I can't figure that out either. Issam upset the lamp that started the fire in Parva's wagon, and that spread to the one next to it. But the other two wagons were nowhere near. I still don't know who set them afire."
Serafinah chuckled eerily. "I did it."
That made Robin turn and stare at her in confusion. "What did you say?"
"No one was hurt. It was only a little canvas. Everyone was running to Baba Parva and Papa. There was no one around and I had a bucket besides. I let the fabric burn a little, then cried for help and threw water on it, but sparks caught the second one on fire. We put it out quickly and no harm was done. We needed your help and I couldn't think of another way Amir would let me send for you."
"Serafinah!" Alexis' voice cut the darkness away from the fires. She turned and looked in horror at her father and her brother behind him.
"Father, you were hurt and Amir wouldn't let me send for Robin to help us. It was the only way." she pleaded.
"I will speak with you later, daughter." Alexis said quietly. Amir took his sister by her arm and led her away.
Neither Robin or Alexis spoke for a few moments. Alexis cleared his throat before he met Robin's eyes.
"I am sorry for whatever trouble,..."
Robin stopped him. "No trouble. Everyone is safe. That's the most important thing."
Alexis nodded before he followed Amir and Serafinah.
Marion saw Robin standing in the shadows with Serafinah and her spirits dropped a bit. She tried to push aside the disappointment and she focused on the beautiful music and the dancing. The Little Egyptians began to play a whirling dance of accordions and sitars and the women hitched up their skirts to dance around the fires, trying to entice the men into joining them. Two women tugged and pulled at Marion, trying to get her to dance as well.
At first Marion resisted. Then the lure of the music was too great and she let them guide her as she attempted to learn the hip-thrusting, shimmying dance. Why was she resisting? Good food and drink, the intoxicating music, and all the laughter and good humor lulled her senses and she gave herself up to it.
They danced in crossing lines between the fire circles, in and out while the music drove them on. Voices shrilled to the accompaniment of drums and strings. Hands grasped Marion's again and pulled her in another direction.
Robin was on his way back to the wagon to gather his things so he could be on his way back to camp tonight. Several of the men saw him walking away from the fires and drew him back. One very energetic man spoke to him, gesturing toward the festivities.
"I'm kinda tired, I was just going to go back to the wagon,..." Robin noticed he was being pulled toward the dancing. "I'm not really much of a dancer. I've got two left feet and they're really big. I step on people when I dance. And I don't think I've ever heard this song before, I don't know...." Robin practically dragged his heels as the cheering men dragged him into the melee. The women of the clan saw him coming and welcomed him into the circle as he was offered up like a sacrifice. He was carried away and the only thing he could do was laugh.
It seemed Robin danced with everyone as the dance wound its way in circles around the fires. He was caught up in the energy of it and forgot his two left feet. A cheer went up as he careened into another hapless dancer and they stumbled against each other. He steadied himself and the woman he'd collided with and it took a moment for him to realize he stood holding Marion.
The celebration continued around them. They stood staring into each other's bright eyes and flushed faces, breathing in the scents of spices and perfume. Someone jostled them as they danced by and Robin tightened his hold on Marion.
"What the hell, it's about time." Robin whispered almost to himself before he kissed her. Hard.
The kiss stole Marion's breath and half her wits until her only recourse was to close her eyes and kiss him back.
Tuck looked up when someone nudged him. He saw Robin and Marion's embrace in the middle of the dancing. He smiled and sighed in relief.
"Well, it's about time!"
Issam came running for Little John and told him to come quickly. John followed Issam until they were at the edge of the dancing, then lifted the boy to his shoulder. Issam pointed until John focused on the couple not too far away.
"That is Baba's magic!" he exclaimed. John roared with laughter.
Something distracted Robin long enough that he lifted his head.
"Magic?" he asked.
"You've got that right."
Marion grinned widely. His smile answered hers and he pulled her
into another kiss.