THREE

By the time I woke, the room was dark except for the embers of a fading fire in the little fireplace. For the first time, I was actually able to take it all in. The bed was large with four, tall posts and red velvet curtains draped around it. The floor was stone, well worn from other occupants and there was a modest little table and chair near the fireplace. I had a distinct feeling the room was waiting for me to add more feminine touches.

I sat up with a start, clutching blankets to myself when the serving woman entered my room. She was about to leave when she saw me sitting there, wide eyed. "Good evening, Mistress." She dipped a quick curtsy.

"Elena," I mumbled in a vain attempt to correct her. I wasn't her mistress just yet and in all practical manner, she was probably higher up on the social scale than I was currently.

The woman dropped another curtsy. "Mistress Elena," she corrected, "I am Sylvia, lady's maid to this home, and it has been quite some time since we had a lady in that bed." A warm woman who had a motherly way about her, I instantly liked her.

As she went about the room, I followed her with my gaze. Sleep slipped away from me as she stoked the fire to life. I threw off the blankets, not even realizing that I was only in my chemise. "Sylvia, nice to meet you but I have to find Robin Hood. I have to find my brother." My hand was on the door, yanking it open before she could stop me.

I went down the hallway at a brisk walk, checking every door for David or Sir Phillip, or even Eva. All I found were servants who looked at me as they rushed about their own business. I'd forgotten that other members of our camp were somewhere in the vast manor.

When I turned one corner I found Sir Phillip, in perfect dress for evening, talking with a guard. The guard's back was to me and when he saw me, he quickly dismissed the other man. "Mistress Elena."

I met him halfway. "Why aren't you out trying to save my brother?"

He tried, very gently to take my hands, but I pulled away from him. Once more he tried and gave up with a sigh. "Your Robin Hood and a few men are out there looking for him now."

I couldn't have been more pleased. David would bring Robert and the others home. If there was nothing else certain, I knew that fact. No one would try harder and no one else could succeed like Robin Hood. The name was infamous for a reason. My worry moved on to another subject. "And my father?"

"Taking dinner with some of the men in the main hall."

That was enough to set me down the hall. I was halted by a strong hand on my arm, spinning me back around. "Sir Phillip, please unhand me."

"They're discussing another strategy and in your state of dress might I suggest at least putting something on? I'd offer my own jerkin, but I believe it may be a tad large for you." There was a smile at the corner of his lips that I did not appreciate.

"My lord," Sylvia had finally caught up to me, "I tried but she's a quick one."

There was laughter in his eyes. "No need to worry, Sylvia, I am aware of that. Just get her dressed so she can see her father, then we need to talk mistress, just you and I."

I didn't say anymore as Sylvia guided me back down the hallway. Sir Phillip would be my husband soon enough and I would have to be a good wife to him. I thought back to the last talk I had with my brother and winced a little at my behavior. A proper wife to a nobleman did not go running down the hall in her chemise, even in distress. Robert knew it would be difficult for me to tame my common ways, he had to in order to bring it to my attention. Or was it I who had mentioned it? My head was all fuzzy.

Sylvia was an expert, dressing me quickly despite my constant movement and fussing. She plaited my hair, wrapping it around my head and pinning a thin, sheer veil upon my head like a proper lady. It seemed excessive just to go and speak with my father but she wouldn't let me out of the room unless I was dressed appropriately. She guarded the door well after my first escape.

As soon as Sylvia pronounced me finished, I was out of the door and back to wandering the halls. A few wrong turns and I found the dining hall. I could hear several voices inside, a rousing bit of laughter. My hand was on the door when another hand stopped mine. I should have known who it was, but I looked up with surprise. Sir Phillip was dressed much as he had been before though now that I was less frantic, I could see the beginnings of dark circles under his eyes.

"Perhaps," he began quietly, "We should speak first? I imagine you'd want to spend much of the night with your father."

I wanted to insist upon seeing my father first, but it was childish to push for something so unreasonable. My father was here and safe and that could content me for the moment. So I allowed my betrothed to take my arm and lead me away. If I expected him to begin speaking immediately, I was disappointed. He walked me through several halls until we stepped through a doorway and into a modest garden; at least modest for a manor home.

The cool night air was refreshing on my warm cheeks. "My lord, what is it you wish to speak to me about?"

His sigh was heavy as he guided me further away from the manor. "It is this business with your brother."

So he was seeking a release from his agreement to marry me. I should have known what my brother's arrest would mean for me as well. I'd been too worried about him to think of my own predicament. With my face turned away to inspect a lovely patch of flowers, I used the shadows to conceal my disappointment. "I understand, my lord."

"I don't think you do, mistress." He released my arm, allowing me to kneel down to look at the plant further. "This business with your brother is troublesome for you and I. I believe this match will work but I must ask of you something you won't like, in order for this match to suit his majesty."

"You would still marry me?" I had found a small weed and was attempting to pull the stubborn thing out.

Sir Phillip laughed lightly. "Yes, but my request…" The nobleman knelt down beside him, watching me work on the weed.

My hands stopped their work. I had a feeling I knew the request. "I can never see my brother again. Or any of them."

My betrothed yanked the weed out of the ground, holding it before me in question. I told him to toss it as far as he could. With a small smile, he obliged, throwing it farther than I had thought possible. He sobered up quickly, drawing my dirty hands into his own. My hands looked so small against his. "It's court politics, mistress. I'll do whatever I can so that you may speak to your father, but Robert's folly…"

"Please," she begged him to stop. "I understand sacrifice. All my life, my father never spoke of my worth until this marriage. I want to make him proud." Then my eyes hardened, "And I want to show him that breaking the law isn't the only way to affect things."

"You are a puzzle, mistress. First in the market place you catch a thief and here, you don't know your own power." He was looking in a way that made me uncomfortable.

I set my jaw. "And you are not a puzzle, my lord? Arrogant charm and now look at you? Dirt on your hands."

A real laugh shook his chest. Then he proceeded to stare at me and regard me. He searched my face before settling on my hair and veil. I bristled. I wasn't some prized pony. Perhaps by reminding him of his behavior on our first meeting had changed him. "I don't like this veil." He reached up and touched the edge of it by my face.

Taken aback, I reached up and unpinned it. "I don't either."

With it free from my hair, he pulled it away and nodded in satisfaction. "Much better," he stood, offering his hand to me and helped me to my feet. "We shall have to get more seeds for you. This garden isn't enough to keep you occupied."

I dusted my hands off on my dress before taking his arm again. "Must I be kept occupied, my lord?"

There was his laugh again; hearty and from deep in his chest. "Oh, dear me, yes, mistress. I never want to see you idle."

I had to agree. Being idle had never served me well, but did he have to call me 'mistress?' I would have to continue to beg Sylvia to find some other title to call me if she could not say my name. Until I was married to the man whose arm I was on, I had no title. It had to stop. "My lord, call me anything but 'mistress.' If I must never speak to my brother again, you can do me this favor."

He stopped, looking at me, surprised at my request. "I suppose it is the least I can do. And what shall I call you?"

"My name, of course. Or anything other than 'mistress.'" I told him frankly.

We began to walk once more. "Very well, my flower." I shot him a look and he laughed once more. With his laughter, I tried to withdraw my hand from his arm, but he held onto it. "You gave me permission for anything. I have chosen 'flower.'"

I sighed. I really should have known that such a thing would happen. "Very well, my lord."

He was still laughing slightly as he led me back into the manor that would one day be my home. Beside him I was determined not to look at him at all in protest. My noble fiancé continued to find my irritation amusing, even as he led me into the hall. While I tried to maintain a courtly manner, the moment I saw my father, I was a child again. I ran to his arms, which he opened accommodatingly. Sir Phillip let me go to him, following behind at a leisurely pace.

The men had finished their meal some time ago and moved on to a lazy drink. My father sat at the head of the table. The others murmured around them. No doubt they had heard rumours of my betrothal to a nobleman, the nobleman who's arm I had just arrived on and confirmed the rumours with. Well, they would certainly hear of it sooner or later and given that I would never return with them to the forest, they might as well see it with their own eyes.

A man moved to let me sit beside him but I simply knelt and sat at my father's feet. Sir Phillip shot me an amused look and took the empty seat himself. My father took hold of my hand and would not let it go. It was the only indicator that he was deeply worried about my brother.

"I hope, Sir Phillip, that my daughter has been amiable." He squeezed my hand affectionately.

Sir Phillip reached for a nearby mug of ale and sat back. "As amiable as ever, Master Wytheholde."

My attention snapped in his direction. He caught my eye and winked at me. I set my jaw and turned my attention back to my father. "Are you well, father? I was so worried when Robin took us away. Oh, Robby. He was so… Robby was so foolish. He should never –"

"Hush," My father's tone was sharp. "Robin Hood will do right by him."

"Robin Hood?" I pulled my hand away from him. Robin Hood would save my brother, that much I knew, but the way he said it, as Robert had been in the right, as if this was the way of things, it set me off. His complete faith in 'Robin Hood' always came before everything else. I was tired of it.

"Flower," Sir Phillip warned behind me.

"If he hadn't been foolish enough to rob, Robin Hood wouldn't have to save him from the hang man's noose." I was pulling back, finding the ground through my skirts to stand up. "Father, will you even scold him for it when he returns?"

My father's face was hard and one I knew well. It was the face he always turned toward me when I spoke ill of the outlaws. "Daughter, this isn't appropriate conversation-"

I backed up until I felt Sir Phillip's seat behind me. "Then when, father?"

A hand wrapped around my wrist. Sir Phillip brought my hand up and kissed the back of it. It shocked me enough to spin me around, which I suspect, was the purpose of the action. When he earned my gaze, he dropped my hand. "Let's focus on bringing your brother home, my flower. Then you can put an arrow through him."

I was beginning to hate that nickname, especially in front of these men who were busying themselves with their mugs and other wares. Each face refused to look at me, which was fine by me. Even my father had clearly finished with whatever conversation we were previously having. "Yes, bring him home. Bring him home so I may whip him for being such a ridiculous outlaw." Tears were threatening behind my eyes. "It is obvious you will not. You've all but shoved him toward the noose."

My father shot to his feet. "Elena." If he was any other man, I might have thought he would have hit me, but as angry as my father got, he never laid a hand on either of us. Even when Robert was insufferable.

Nevertheless, Sir Phillip stood. He was a towering shadow behind me. He moved gently around me, a barrier between me and my weak father. "It's been a long day and I suspect very trying. Mistress Elena is simply tired. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I believe I will see her safely to bed."

There was bowing and a gentle hand on my elbow. I glanced once over my shoulder to see my father slumping back into his chair and snatching up his ale. He looked old in the flickering candle light with shadows dancing across his face. The other men were leaning forward, some to speak with him and others whispering, undoubtly about myself and Sir Phillip.

The darkened halls were foreign to me and I relied heavily on Sir Phillip to guide me through. Maybe it was the darkness or maybe it truly was the excitement, but I felt the control I had over my emotions and tears slip away. I used the darkness to hide the tears that fell down my cheeks, but I made the mistake of sniffling, even once.

"Elena?" He stopped, turned me toward him. When he saw the glisten of tears on my cheeks, he took my arms gently in his hands. "Oh, Elena. We'll set this right with your brother and your father."

I shook my head. "You don't understand my father."

Sir Phillip used a thumb to wipe away a stray tear. "Maybe not, but I'm the bastard son of a king who barely acknowledged my existence. I understand wanting to make him proud."

"My lord, this is such a horrid mess." And I completely lost my control. To hide my weakness, I covered my face in my hands.

My betrothed drew me to him, holding me close as I sobbed. Once my face was buried in his broad chest, I cling to him like a child. He did nothing more than hold me and coo soft words of encouragement. What I had told both Robert and Eva was true: this man had a good heart. Even after the tears had stopped he continued to hold me close. My hands were still clutching at his jerkin. A moment longer, when we were both sure I was able to stand on my own, he pulled away with a quick kiss into my black hair.

We walked the rest of the way in silence until we reached my chamber door. He threw it open grandly and swept a bow that was comical. "Your chamber, my lady." I could not help but smile. "Ah, I think I like you best when you smile. It is so much better than the scowls you usually grace me with."

"I do not scowl at you always."

"You do," he tapped my nose smartly to which I narrowed my eyes. "Like such."

I swatted at him, an action I'd see Eva use with young men who had teased her. "Not without cause."

He moved out of my reach easily. "Then my very presence gives you cause."

Here, I answered him seriously. "No, my lord. I find your presence to be very… comforting."

There was a smile that reached the corners of his eyes. He leaned forward until his lips brushed my cheek in a chaste kiss. "I'm glad," he whispered when he was still close. For a moment he lingered there but moved swiftly back, blinking quickly. "I bid you good night, my flower." Then he took my hand, kissed it and departed.