Tracking from Braxton bridge onwards proved easy work -- the kidnappers might as well have been a herd of boar for all the clues that littered their paths. From the distinct westward direction the men where headed for Mulberry, a common enough trail, he and Marian had used it more than once to cut across Braxton field and reach home before dark. In an hours worth of running full stop he had Marian in his sight, she was slung over a tall broad-shouldered mans back, red faced with indignation.
Mid noon was when they came to a halt. Hushing his hound, no point giving away the game now, he edged closer on careful feet. Marian he saw had hopped over to a log and sat their furtively wriggling her hands and openly glaring. Same old Marian he was glad to see. Now how to draw there attention away from her, and onto him…
"Ah-ha! Nothing like insults to make a man loose his head. Easily enough done then."
His only true defense being his quick wit and fast feet, he'd borrowed a token knife from Luc -- "Just in case, and a good thing too," he thought, brazenly striding into camp. "Oi! You sons of jackals, you blackguards" he hollered, "are you so stupid to think you can get away with kidnapping Marian Fitzwalter? Her papa will spit you out for dinner, he will, just see!"
Marian was staring at him as though he where Cerberus the three headed dog her face all crunched up and worried. But the men, they took one look at him and laughed. Later they would regret this. "You yellow bellied cowards, haven't you no honor, stealing off in the night with a little girl, for shame!" he snarled out watching how there eyes narrowed and their faces darkened to an ugly red. The man chewing tobacco spat it out glowering, "Listen here y'brat, I don't know where's abouts you come from, but if you don't get on out of here-"
Robin glared back just as hard. "You'll do what you honorless jackals? I'm no defenseless girl, you will not catch me, I promise it." Marian beamed from her log, "Yeah, you sons of jackals!" she parroted. The tobacco mans' hand raised for a blow that would never land, for Robin put his knife straight through it.
"He knifed me, the little cur knifed me!" the man howled clutching his bloodied hand to his chest. Robin stared them down defiantly, head cocked to the side and smirked daringly, his eyes glittering hard as un-forged steel.
"I'll tan your hide with the back of my blade boy!" Pat vowed stalking forwards with anger like coals in his eyes. "You'd have to catch me first" he said, and with a wink to Marian he was off. Cursing vilely the men tripped over a string of twine bound between two saplings before narrowly avoiding a to-close shave with a hive of bees who swarmed like an angry mob of hungry peasants as the boy flung saplings and rotten logs brimming with green puss and frogs.
From high above, Robin laughed.
He slowed his mad dashing just enough to keep them chasing, their breaths growing more long winded and breathy, he taunted them with shouts and whistles, "Oi! This way you lot, no, no, this way!" he'd holler riling them past the point of sense. When at last a small field stretching out ahead they no doubt thought him caught, they thought wrong. They charged full tilt, caution coming to late as they tumbled down, down, down into a hollowed out hunters pit -- rotten wood and moss softening the blow as they sprawled across the pit.
"You stupid foolish boy, thinking I wont get out of here, are you?" Pat snarled. The boy leaned over warily, saying, "I'm thinking when you do manage it I shall be long gone."
Doubling back to camp Robin returned to find Marian freed, tearing into the rabbit stew her kidnappers had planned on eating, she looked across the way at him and grinned. "Say Robin, whatever took you so long?"
Robin wordlessly slumped down beside her, Blue at his feet, and filched a piece of meat for himself. He was hungry. And tired. And she wasn't at all in need of rescue anymore. Not at all the proper damsel, Marian. But she was whole, and hearty, and Marian, with this he was contented.
"Robin" she said after a moments quiet. "Yes?" he grunted, chewing. "Thank you" she whispered and before he knew what she was about he hand an armful of Marian hugging him tightly. Small hands dug into his tunic, sharp little nails scoring into the skin beneath.
He did not care. Marians' head tucked beneath his chin -- hair tickling his nose smelling of pine and dirt -- he decided men such as Pat and Lewis weren't to be tolerated. People just couldn't go around kidnapping his best friend and making her cry. It wasn't done.
Him with Marian tucked up beside him is how their parents found them soon after, and when her eyes lighted on her father she leap from the log and into his arms while he ambled along after. He was no less pleased of course, and when his father chuckled and said "what? No hug for your old man Robin?" it proved all the invitation he needed, launching himself at his father who snatched him up in a bear-like embrace muttering into his hair, "I worried for you, son."
"We never meant to stay out so late, I swear it, and it weren't her fault either" he said glancing sideways at Edward, "we were just going to ol' St. Georges and it got late and-"
"Robin" Robert said attempting to break through the babble, but his son just kept talking his pitch getting higher and more anxious, "and then it was dark and its dangerous wandering about in the dark you taught me that, then there was the bear, and the bandits-"
"Robin!" he said, more sharply, finally getting the boys attention. "Yes father?" he said abruptly his youthful face scrunched up in worry. "Oi! This son of his who faced bears and bandits without enough common sense to fill a pea was worried of what he, his father, might do. Bless him."
Robert smiled encouragingly, "Boy, its just pleased I am to find you, both of you, whole and hale with nary a scratch on you."
"Oh" Robin said and in an instant all that worry vanished like a weighted lifted off his shoulders and he beamed, his voice lowering he confided, "Marian still insisted the bear was a dragon, did you know? I think saying otherwise might just break her heart." Robert chortled, "she does, does she" he echoed humming thoughtfully, "Well, then we mustn't say a word then, shall we" he concluded affecting a most serious voice. Robin nodded vigorously, "no, we mustn't" and that, as they say, was that.
Marian eager to tell of her adventures did so with much hand waving and excitement, and when she'd finished, and Robin had added his own parts in, the two men were left staring at their children numb with horror of all the what if's and might-have-been's.
"So, the question seems, what to do about those pair of outlaws your son caught us" Edward said finally when the numbness had run its course. "What to do, hang 'em high I say, there's plenty of trees that'll do the trick!" Robert declared his eyes narrowed and his hands fisted as though they were wrapped around the outlaws throats.
"Ah-ah, steady on old friend we can't be ending up in prison ourselves now, can we? Think of your Robin and my little Marian, Robert" Edward said, ever the voice of reason, clapping a firm hand to Roberts shoulder before he did something rash.
Robert growled, "I am thinking of them damn it all!"
Edward sighed, "I know you are. Think you, I am not tempted to take matters into my own hands? I say man, I'm sorely tempted" he closed his eyes, "they had Marian, my Marian Robert…the things that could be done to a little girl…" he broke off his words unfinished.
Abashed the other man calmed himself, but cursed at the woods and trees because they were there. "What do you suggest we do then?"
Edward gave him a hard smile, a calculating look coming into his eye. "Why, we take them to Nottingham's sheriff personally, of whom I am acquainted." Robert sighed, "very well, and what of this other outlaw, the one Marian speaks of that guarded her so well and from Robins telling tried to rescue her even though she was no relation of his own."
"Hmm, perhaps I can negotiate a deal, on that I really cant say, after all we aren't that well acquainted" he admitted to which Robert huffed a knowing laugh. "I should say not."
"Alright, let us fetch these cutthroats and be done with this business lest I change my mind" Robert muttered as they strode through the brush, following after Robin who dashed about ahead with Marian close after. It would not be until they reached the very gates of Nottingham that they intercepted Sheriff Hawthorne and his Saxon prisoner. Marian heedless of her fathers call barreled at the man, giggling like the little girl she was as he gave her a swing before setting her back down on her feet, for this Robert liked him on sight. At seeing such a display the sheriffs face became inscrutable.
"Why are you in chains, Luc, you haven't done anything wrong have you?" the men could hear her say her face scrunched up with impending indignation. The Saxon laughed chucking her chin gently, "Ack, little Maid Marian I'm afraid I've earned me these irons between one thing or another."
Marian turned to Robin her look clear to all, well, do something, it said. Robin sighed wondering what in the blazes it was she expected him to do, magic up a key from thin air? She would have to be content with simple words, it was all he had presently. "He did help us both sheriff, sir, without him Marian might'a been a lot worse off."
"He did, now did he?" said Hawthorne, surreptitiously pleased by the nerve this boy showed looking him in the eye with a confidence more fitting to a young man that a twelve year old boy. "Aye, sir, and without his knife, well, without it those real outlaws my father and Edward caught you might've done more than just haul Marian around like a sack of potatoes."
"I will take all this into consideration boy," Hawthorne said not unkindly. "My names Robin, sir, and thank you, sir" he said using more sir's than even Hawthorne's own men did which pleased him more, perhaps, than it had a right. "Robin" he said nodded curtly turning to the redheaded girls father, "Edward Fitzwalter, its been a good long while since I've seen you" he said. "Indeed, so it has. I've brought you the ones responsible for kidnapping my daughter" he said without preamble, "I was hoping we might reach an accord, you and I."
"So I gathered. Let us walk friend." Striding along a woodsman's path off the beaten road of Nottingham they talked where no unwanted ears, not eyes, might intrude. "I have no wish to hang that man Edward, for all he's an outlaw it might well be a shame to see him hang" he admitted with a wry smile. "He's done your family a service, and that of your friend Robert -- I wish you had reached me sooner" the sheriff stated his voice growing grim, "but as matters stand I can do little to aid your cause."
Edward blew out a frustrated breath, watching Marian chatting with the Saxon prisoner who had crouched down to listen as she babbled. "Is there nothing that might sway you?" Edward looked on as some internal struggled warred within the sheriff, and held out his hope that this might yet end well.
"Its poor manners to hang a man for doing good" Hawthorne declared his mind made up on the matter, "I owe you a favor, thus, you may consider the matter dealt with. I will relieve you of those cutthroat kidnappers and as for the Saxon outlaw, I will release him as a pardon is beyond my power and it does not sit well hanging a man in thanks for looking after two lost children." Edward, a merry gleam in his eye nodded respectfully to the man. "Many thanks Hawthorne, many thanks indeed!"
Hawthorne looked at the outlaw knelt down beside the girl and boy and said, "Would have been a pity to hang that one anyhow" as he tossed the keys to a startled Luc. "Off with you before I change my mind!" he barked. "Two traitorous bastards in exchange for three common thieves, yes, this is good, I always have hated traitors myself" the sheriff said clapping the men in irons and marching them through the gates. The public would have their hanging come dawn, and he would keep his clean conscience come dusk with everything nearly squared away as it where, with this he was pleased.
Luc stopped before Edward and Robert, "I thank you for now I owe you the lives of myself and my men, I will remember this" he vowed clasping hands with them firmly. "You looked after my son when I could not for that no reward you ask would be to high" Robert said, "so should you ever need a favor, come to me and we will talk." Luc looking both surprised and pleased agreed. "Roberts right, if you should ever need aid, come to us and we will settle out debts," Edward vowed his mouth quirking in a sly grin, "besides, I think my Marian would become most unbearable if we ever refused. She's take quite the liking to you."
Luc laughed white teeth flashing as he grinned, "as a passing amusement only, I assure you, that ones heart lies elsewhere" he said nodding to where Marian stood tugging stubbornly at Robins shirtsleeve as she showed him a frog she held cupped in her hands. Two heads bend over as they peered at the creature as though it was something exotic in that way children had.
Edward snorted, "you might be on to something" he agreed slapping Roberts back he added, "we may yet end as relations after all." Robert groaned, "let us not put the cart before the horse old man, as it stands they've a lot of growing to do before there will be any talk of that sort."
Bram and Simon standing along the side nodded to each other muttering, "Robin and Marian, has a sort of ring to it don't it." Simon shrugged, Bram nodded, "I'm right, aint' I." Simon shrugged. "Alright then lads, time to be getting off" Luc said waving them over before striding off towards Sherwood, them keeping close at heel.
Having seen the Saxon outlaw off with a friendly wave Robert began herding Robin, Marian, and Edward in the direction of Locksley. Edward grumbled about his back and empty stomach the whole way, but Marian skipped to a merry beat blowing dandelions in Robins face while swinging his arm while he ruffled her hair and endured it with good patience.
It was only at the fork leading away to Rochester Marians eyes became suspiciously bright under the evening light as she clutched Robin in a fierce hug before dashing off. It was here that something had changed within Marian. Always there had been a deeper something between her and Robin, only now could it be called for what it was, love, the sort brought on by true friendship -- and yet for any beholden to look there was the faintest beginnings of more. It was this that Robert glimpsed in the shine of Marians eyes that eve. Edward, however, remained oblivious as ever to the innermost workings of his daughter. Robert would not hold it against him. To look at Marian and see Marriam must sometimes be difficult. He could only hope someday Edward would see, truly see, Marian was more than her mothers daughter.
Robin watched the redhead dash off with a bemused grin, calling out, "Oi! Be seeing you tomorrow then?"
Marian stopped staring back over her shoulder at him her face blooming into a smile she said, "of course, silly!" a promise twinkling in her eye as she took her fathers hand.
Babbling on about dragons and ghosts she pulled him up the long winding road to Rochester -- home was sweet, indeed.