Status: Complete

Robbin' the Rich

Chapter Four

Sherwood Forest, England. Mid-June

A week later, a full two months into her new life as an outlaw, Marian saw Much and Robin quietly speaking to one another by the campfire. In itself, that was not unusual. Much seemed to be one of the very select few that Robin relaxed with, and they would often talk together. Well, Much would talk, and Robin would listen and add his opinion as required; occasionally, he would even go so far as to quietly argue a point. What was odd, however, was that Much turned and motioned her over. Her heart sped up frantically as panic began to rise in her again. She wasn’t going to be asked to leave—she prayed.

“Marian, a fat old stag of the two-legger variety is going to be passing us by quite closely tomorrow. Would you like to join us on a hunt? Little John, myself, Robin, Anthony, and Will will be going.” Much told her.

Seeing her startled, almost bemused expression, Robin spoke up, amusement sparkling quietly in his eyes so that she wouldn’t suspect that he was inwardly laughing.

“Wot Much means: Do ye wish tae join Anthony, Liddle John, meself, Much, an’ Will in pickin’ the pockets o’ bonnie Sir Theodore o’ Mayfair, when he cuts through the forest tamorrow? Much an’ Liddle John think ye’ve the gist o’ high-robbery, an’ ‘ave asked me tae invite ye tae join us. Ah said t’was up tae ye.”

She…wasn’t being asked to leave. It was all she could do to keep from shouting for joy. She didn’t have to leave!

Robin drew in a deep breath, watching her as she deliberated. He was asking her to join them in thievery, knowing full well how she may react…that she could, instead of staying, demand to be released and left back in the outside world…

“’Oweva…” She looked up again at him, those pretty sea-blue eyes suddenly, inexplicably alarmed. Masking his bafflement at the anxious expression in her eyes, he continued. “Ye may no’ be able tae return tae yore respectable life. No’ if Theodore recognizes ye. An’ while Ah dinna think he’d be spoutin’ aboot a woman stealin’ from ‘im, Ah do think ‘e’d try tae make yer life a livin’ ‘ell. Keep tha’ in mind, Lady. ‘Nless ye go straight tae a convent, ‘twould hamper ye tae return tae society aft’r yore kidnapping by ootlaws, if anaone saw ye.”

Her relief was too great for her to care that Reticent Robin was practically sneering at her. She didn’t care that he’d probably regard her as a hypocrite—he wasn’t trying to send her away!

“I’ll go with you.”

* * *

Robin’s first thought when he saw Marian for the first time out of the corner of his eye, back in the tavern, late the night before he’d met her face-to-face, had been that she was absolutely gorgeous, and that it was a damn shame, since she was far too sheltered to be anything but a runaway—and a noble one, at that. No bar wench was that shy, and no girl her age who wasn’t a noble would’ve gotten to keep her virginity for so long. As it was, she was an old maid in the eyes of society, unwed and unbedded at so advanced an age.

He’d been right, as it turned out—she was a runaway lady. He couldn’t imagine a worse fate then the one that Much had slyly informed him had been arranged for her: marriage to the Sheriff. It was no wonder she’d run. The Sheriff…Robin shuddered at the thought of Marian bound to him before law and God. The Sheriff and his late brother had sprung from the same evil mold, as far as Robin was concerned.

Save for the beautiful part, though, he’d completely underestimated her. Courageous, kind, intelligent, stubborn as hell, and opinionated…She had shed her dress, and her timidity, and donned men’s clothes with every indication of glee, thrilled with the freedom that the forest offered. Meekness had no place in her any longer, as if her kidnapping had consigned it forever.

God, she was prefect, an angel with tawny hair of every shade of brown and red and gold, and eyes the color of the borderlands lochs. Her figure alone would turn most women green with envy, though she no longer resembled the milk-and-water miss that had lingered even in the tavern. Strength had replaced weakness, but she wasn’t hard, either, and the combination brought a vicious dryness to Robin’s mouth that he both recognized and resented. Robin could barely look at her these days without a keening discomfort.

The Scot had never realized what a possessive person he was, had never truly cared enough about a woman to have to realize. Jealousy was not something he was particularly familiar with—and shame for the jealously was never far behind.

Even her smell drove him to distraction, he raged silently to himself, perversely watching from across the camp as she prepared for the long day ahead of the group that was going out. A whiff of her scent tickled his nose, swept over by the brisk breeze. It nearly drew a groan from him. The scent was so purely her; clean and warm and sweet; that he could hardly stand it.

Her…aura? Would that be the right way to describe it? Marian’s aura. It was as though she could suck up all the pain and bitterness around her, and make it brighter, more positive. He could feel it from here, across the camp. Robin had never encountered someone that could do such a thing before—Marian was unquestionably special.

He wouldn’t let her get hurt—he couldn’t, he realized, savagely knotting the strip of leather that held back his hair, and winced when he felt the pain of his hair being tugged. It would be like destroying the sun, to allow the woman to be hurt in any way. Robin knew without a single doubt that he would do whatever it took to protect her. He wasn’t eager for the assignment—he was not, by far, the best guardian. Failure was a horrible concept—and it had already struck two times. What would happen if he chanced it a third time?

It was a bright day, and Sherwood shone emerald green, dappling the ground below with colored light. The forest was pleasantly cool in the hot summer, and the six outlaws were ready for anything. Four horses trotted down the road. Never did their riders expect to be beset upon by brigands and thieves, but beset upon they were. Silently as the sunlight, the outlaws dropped on them.

Marian’s intended prey put up a good fight, having been fallen upon inexpertly. He was a large man, not nearly as tall as Robin or Little John, but far less willowy than the first, and more than Marian’s match in sheer brute strength. The horse pranced nervously nearby while he and Marian rolled around, violently disturbing the dirt of the road. His greater strength was quickly revealing itself, and she quickly found herself fighting to remain unpinned to the ground, while the man snarled obscenities at her.

Her salvation came in the form of a sharply interfering boot making contact painfully with her opponent’s ribs, drawing a startled yelp from the man. Swiftly, the man was pulled off her, and rendered coldly unconscious with a vicious blow to the back of his neck.

“They git ruder evra time. Did ‘is mither even bother tae try an’ teach ‘im as a bairn?” Robin asked, shaking his head in disgust, and let the brute fall to the ground with a thud, trying to cool the sudden blaze of protective instincts that had made him leap into the fray.

“I-is he…dead?” She asked hesitantly, eyeing the still body.

“Nay, jus’ unconscious.” Without thinking, the Scot offered Marian a hand to help her up with. She took it, and Robin carefully hauled her to her feet. Hastily, he took back his hand, feeling his body react in what could end up being an extremely embarrassing way. It was fortunate that his fheilidh would conceal the lower half of his body, but really, couldn’t he go one day—just one, dammit—without wanting to touch her? No, apparently he couldn’t, despite his supposed self-control. Irritation made him snappish.

“An’ wot di' ye think ye were doin', askin' 'im tae bloody tea? Next time, ye’ll take someone more yer own bloody size, dammit. Ah’ll no’ be ‘ere tae save ye evra time.” Her look of open-mouthed outrage was nearly comical.

Ignoring her irate sputtering, he knelt beside the man he had rendered unconscious and tied him with his hands tightly behind his back. After completing that task, Robin turned to the still conscious and tightly gagged Sir Theodore of Mayfair, grinning in his wolfish way. The knowledge of the good that the gold could, and would do for his outlaws and the people of the midlands cheered him up considerably.

“Naow, mah good sirrah…” he inquired of the terrified Norman in a sardonic drawl, “wot ‘ave ye in yon saddlebags?”

* * *

When they had returned to camp that evening, after leading their blindfolded victims to a different portion of the road, and taking the long way back to avoid any chance of being followed, the outlaws were met with something of a feast, put together by the collaborated efforts of Maud, Anne, George, and Isaac.

Robin blinked at the amount of food prepared. “’Tis a day early tae be celebratin’ Midsummer,” the Scot remarked, confusion coloring his words.

“It’s Saint John’s Day , Robin—we’re in England, remember?” Much murmured, elbowing him in the ribs to make him move out of the others’ way. The Scot nodded and moved aside to let his outlaws past, recalling belatedly. He still wasn’t used to celebrating on the eve of Midsummer, even though this was the second year he’d spent in England since his mother’s death—in Scotland, the merrymaking started on the day of and lasted ‘til there was work that could no longer wait. In England, for whatever reason, the celebration was the day before, and called Saint John’s Day. The celebrating continued to on the next day, and then stopped there. His mother had raised him according to the dictates of the Catholic Church, in deference to his father, but his family in Scotland had held to their pagan traditions, and often considered the Catholics unimaginative for their conservative ways.

“Pard’n me, then. Ah kin never keep ‘em straight.” Robin didn’t say much more on the subject, but grinned ruefully when Johnny teased him lightly about forgetting, replying that he would learn. Eventually.

Marian, watching the Scot, and nursing her vexation, got the distinct impression over the course of the night that Robin had no great affection for the Christian religion. He still believed in God, of course, but he appeared far more comfortable with the pagan beliefs of the northern Highlands, for when pressed, he told wonderful stories of the Celtic heroes and of the multitude of sprites and spirits that roamed the Highlands. The flickering campfire gave atmosphere to the stories, and Robin was, of course, an excellent storyteller. The food was delicious, there was a heavy black pudding, gravy; dumplings, well-roasted venison and rabbit, and Maud had outdone herself with mincemeat pies to top the evening off. Someone had invited the good Friar Tuck, a man of God who lived in a small woodland chapel not far away, who had befriended the outlaws early on in their struggle for survival in Sherwood. He was a round, bearded little fellow without a single hair on the top of his head, a chest like a barrel and a sarcastic sense of humor that hid a rock-solid belief in the good of man.

All in all, it was a wonderfully pleasant evening; everyone full of chuckles and the playful banter flung back and forth like a merry shuttlecock, lightening every face it touched. Shifts for watch were still taken, but nobody complained too much. Will, Anthony, and Johnny brought out yet another surprise—they had procured a generous amount of ale from the innkeeper at the establishment where Marian used to work. It was a fine brew, everyone admitted, and was well received. Toasts were given—Much offering one to outlaw friendship, Will one to the pleasures of drink, Johnny to continued good fortune—and on and on, round the circle of fellows till, rather surprisingly, Robin offered one to his Majesty King Richard the Lionheart—to which all the King’s n’er-do-well subjects quaffed with perplexing reverence. Disconcertingly, he had stared right at Marian when he honored the Lionheart, but that odd attention was soon forgotten amidst the gales of raucous singing and merriment.

What was more worrying to her than him possibly discovering her family was the growing awareness that she had around him. The fact that in his presence she felt happy and safe terrified her. What manner of woman was she, half in love with someone she was constantly angry with?

Pushing it from her mind, she threw herself into the revelry. By then, several of the outlaws had started—drunkenly—singing a song (that was later spread by unknown means to large parts of the area) proclaiming the bad feelings toward the Prince. Fortunately, it was amusing enough to raise Marian’s flagging spirits. It quickly gave way to a somewhat heated debate on politics, and no one noticed that Robin’s eyes had not once left Marian.
♠ ♠ ♠
St. Johns Day, by the way, is a Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the birth of St John, June 24th, which is more important than the date of his martyrdom, which is August 29th. He was sainted for baptising Christ. It is, also, the the day that the solstice could have occured--in the 10th century, there was no set day for the first day of summer, it was in a time-span of two or three days.

Another note: the fheilidh I mentioned is an early version of the modern kilt--its directly translated to mean great kilt or plaid. It's basically a really big blanket that gets wrapped around the body in what ever way is easiest or most useful for the wearer.

Comments, as always, are very welcome! ^_^