Status: Complete

Robbin' the Rich

Chapter Three

Sherwood Forest, England. Early April

Robin awoke with a jerk, nearly falling out of the great oak tree where he’d spent the night after Much’s watch, and struggled out of the confining plaid cloth. Only the tight-knit branches had saved him earlier from his own dream: without them, he probably would’ve fallen and broken something—likely his neck.

With a shudder, the outlaw slipped down, out of the Great Oak, to splash some of the frigid early-spring water of the nearby stream on his face, the rest of his body damp with a cold sweat. He knew he wouldn’t have woken anyone up—he had had never been one to speak aloud when he slept, and he was grateful for the skill, grateful that he’d waken no one up who would then come and inquire as to what was wrong.

Now, if only he could make the almost daily nightmares stop altogether. Robin supposed Marian’s arrival had triggered this particularly nasty one, though it probably wouldn’t have mattered. He didn’t need the appearance of a beautiful, spirited woman to bring back bad memories of other beautiful, spirited women.

The Scot was the first one awake in Ard Darach Camp that morning, up long before dawn, though those on sentry duty would be back in less than an hour. The forest was dewy and the light was reflected eerily in the predawn mist—the time of day that always made him miss the Highlands the most. Hunkering down miserably next to the banked fire, he went about bringing it back to life. The next awake was Little John, who could well have been sleepwalking, for all the conversation he offered. That was fine with Robin, who didn’t much feel like conversing at the moment. Sleep had been impossible after the nightmare he had had earlier. What Little John could or could not divine from his leader’s face wasn’t discernable from his closed, bearded visage alone, and Robin didn’t bother to try and guess.

Much, on the other hand, came out of the half-cave, half-burrow feeling particularly lively—and thus, talkative. After ten minutes of the low-toned but still enthusiastic chatter, Little John and Robin traded looks that should have warned Much he was likely to find himself held underwater until he shut up.

The most unfortunate part about his liveliness, the Scot mused sourly, was Much’s ability to read his face with alarming accuracy. Robin was tired enough not to have completely masked the marks night-time fears had brought to his face, and his friend was pressing his advantage close to breaking point.

“How was your tree last night, Robin?” the question sounded innocent enough to her as she left the sleeping quarters, but Marian watched Robin shoot his friend a mild glare and scrub a hand over his face, as though to erase the weariness that had settled there like a mask.

“Much, ye know fair well how mah damn night was wit’oot askin’ tha’ Ah ha’ a lousy night, an’ tha’ wordin’ was disgustin’.” He shook his head despairingly at the shorter man.

Much grinned. “Ah, but you guessed it, so you’re no better’n me.” But the playfulness drained away some. “Did you get a chance to see the eyes on the lovely lass you brought home the other day?”

“On Marian? Aye.”

“Damn me if they aren’t my aunt’s.”

“Yer aunt? Wheel, Ah suppose.” He shrugged. He’d met the woman once, over ten years ago. “But Ah’d think ye’d know, dinna ye?”

“I’m thinking that she might be Joanna’s daughter. She did get mixed up with a Norman nearly twenty years back.” Joanna was Much’s rather notorious cousin; his aunt’s third daughter, and known to Robin through a series of near myths and half-public secrets.

“Much, Ah dinna know anaone more inform’d than yer aunt. Ah think ye’d know if’n ye’d a nob—” Robin stopped his sentence dead at the sight of her, his face becoming as hard and bare as slate as he watched her over Much’s head, disconcerting eyes brutally direct. Much, whose back was to Marian, eyed him expectantly, before starting to answer when it became obvious that Robin wasn’t going to finish his sentence.

“I know, but it’s been—”

“Much,” Robin’s voice was edged with steel. He looked past the Saxon pointedly. Much followed his gaze, and turned. A smile brightened his face almost immediately at the sight of her, his eyes shifting to full-out amusement at the beautiful quirk of fate before him.

Who’d have guessed? He thought, pleased. Robin’s interested in her.

“Hullo, Marian. You’re up early.” Much quickly changed the subject to something that Marian could talk about as well, while Robin ceased his input to a bare minimum and Little John said nothing at all. By then, others had begun to join them around the fire as well, and he could get away with it without seeming particularly unfriendly. His last words before parting the fire were decidedly in her interest, however.

“Much.” The Saxon looked up, for the Scot had stood already. “Take Marian wit’ ye when ye go oot, will ye? See if she kin pull a bow ‘er size.” Without even a word of farewell, he quit the camp with a few long strides.

Much blinked at his abrupt departure, and then blithely went about introducing Marian to the other outlaws: Will Scarlet, Anthony, Little John, Maud, Isaac, Johnny, George, Robert, and a few others who were going to be moving along soon.

* * *

Robin’s irritating attitude continued—for nearly two months he set Much to chaperoning Marian around Sherwood, while taking great pains to avoid her himself. He wouldn’t speak to her, wouldn’t sit near her—wouldn’t, if he could help it, look at her! He had been kind enough to have gone back to the inn, collect her few belongings in their little bag, and hand it to her, but he had stuck around only long enough to tell her, with a hint of color staining his cheekbones, that Maud would help her with any and all of what he termed ‘yon things tha’ ye females do’, and bolted before she could even thank him for the bag.

But no matter how much Robin might have wished otherwise, it quickly became apparent that the life of an outlaw suited Marian—that she had, in fact, taken to the freedom of it like a duck to water. She quickly became as muscled and sinewy as any of the others, her milk-pale skin going gold from exposure to the sun. She was a quick study with a bow under Much’s tutelage, and with Will Scarlet’s help, learned to find her way back to Ard Darach without fail from just about any point in the woods within weeks of joining the band of outlaws. Little John taught her how to fade in and out of the forest’s warm shadows as silently as a phantom. After two days, she could not only stomach the outlaw’s rough fare of meat—fresh, smoked, or salted venison, rabbit, pheasant, squirrel or anything else that could be shot, caught or trapped—and hardtack, the stews and the dark, grainy breads Maud made, but help make it.

Marian could never best Robin at it, though. It made her angry, that despite his flame-bright hair and lanky build, Robin could appear from almost anywhere he pleased out of the green-swathed forest, and, to her infinite irritation, without being seen until he chose. He was good at everything, it seemed, from shooting to washing dishes—and she wanted very much to be able to prove her worth, for she was certain that he had written her off as a useless child. And beside, it rankled, to have him ignore her all the time.

* * *

“Hey, Marian.”

She looked up from restringing her bow, directing her attention to Much’s bent head. It was a warm, lazy summer afternoon, the canopy of trees keeping it from becoming too hot where they sat, side by side, on a downed log. Much was fixing a snare that had gotten broken by a rabbit who had struggled remarkably vigorously. They were keeping an eye for the new herd of deer Anthony and John had reported nearby, and doing the little chores that needed doing. “What were you running from that landed you in a tavern?”

She froze, shock quickly giving way to horror. Questions of this sort were rare in camp—unless someone was hiding something that could endanger them all, Robin preferred to leave secrets alone. How much could she tell them that wouldn’t lose her new friends’ respect?

“What do you mean, Much?” she tried to pretend she had no idea what he was talking about, though her voice had the suspiciously innocent tone that made Much look up at her sharply.

The Saxon raised an eyebrow into a look that told her to come clean, and dropped them back to the snare, letting his silence do the work for him.

“An arranged marriage,” she finally conceded, swallowing the lump her heart made in her throat. The other eyebrow rose in surprise, though he didn’t look up. Arranged marriages weren’t uncommon, they were a way of life—in fact, she should’ve been married years ago.

“To the Sheriff,” she added, and surreptitiously wiped her palms against the trousers she wore. She needed to relax, she told herself firmly. Much was simply curious—Robin wouldn’t ask her to leave. Not after nearly two months.

Now there was a look of understanding, and of sympathy. The Sheriff was at least twenty years her senior, though twenty-five would’ve been a more accurate guess—he was forty-three to her eighteen—and a complete lout. Widower of three wives, he also had bastard children all over the place that he refused to support or even acknowledge. A cowardly and cruel man, the Sheriff was no fit husband for anyone.

Now wasn’t that interesting? Much wondered with an inward grin if Robin had had any notion of her plight when the Scot had asked Much in passing if he knew.

One to live and let live, Much hadn’t then, but the question, from indifferent Robin no less, had piqued his own interest enough for him to want to find out. And it turned out that the information would have the added benefit of being able to rile Robin. He’d probably have a conniption when he found out, Much decided, not bothering to hide the pleased smile this time—The Saxon had noticed Robin’s odd behavior around their newest member; Robin blew hot-then-cold in regard to Marian, and Much quite enjoyed the show. He did wonder when Robin would figure out that Marian was perfect for him and stop fighting the attraction. But Much wasn’t worried. He figured that whatever it was about her that irritated Robin, it was good for the Scot to have a source of frustration to distract him from the other, larger frustrations that preyed on his friend’s mind.

And wouldn’t their children be cute?
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Whelp, that's chapter three. I hope you all liked it, and much THANKS and ADORATION to Idoru and Junichi, for the fantastic comments. ^_^

Comments, as always, are exceedingly welcome, and will be rewarded with cyber hugs, cookies, and faster updates. ^_^