The final battle ended in September. Some may find it strange, to begin with an end. But I can think no place better. For now I look upon, my comrades, the men and women who fought along side me, my fellow gang members, my friends. Right now, there is triumph, but there is also pain as folk reflect upon their wounds, and more importantly, their fallen comrades. Yet I remember when we were all fresh-faced young outlaws, thinking that they could save England by stealing a few taxes from the rich and giving to the poor. I remember each friend's journey as they grew. And more importantly, I remember those lost along the way. There are far too many of these you see.
So as I recall so much, I think it only proper that I be the one to write it all down. So here it is. It is not my journey, but all of ours. And mainly, the journey of Robin Hood.
I suppose that I best know my audience and begin with the day that Robin's path crossed my own. It is also, incidentally, the day he met Marian. The day it all began I suppose.
But first, let it be known that I, Allen A Dale, was never a believer in true love. Every tale that told of the hero rescuing the beautiful maiden makes me sick to my stomach. So of course I must feel slight annoyance at these two for making me contradict my own beliefs. It therefore pains to have to write their tale, as it is probable that they will take over. Such an action is rather normal for them.
It began simple enough. There was once two young boys, roughing the bustling streets of Nottingham to indulge is young childhood games. This was a time of prosperity, under the rule of Richard the Lionheart. During this time, it was a regular occurrence for the market to be alive with the business of tradesmen and customers rather than the dead silence of later years. The noise and chaos of the market had no effect on these young boys. Their only thoughts were of how much mud they could cover the other in. So far, the competition seemed evenly matched. As you could have guessed, one of these boys was Robin. The smaller, brunette one. Thanks to the mud, there was no sign of the future looks that would make many a woman swoon. The only thing that the mud seemed unable to ruin was those eyes, bright green, often wearing a look that showed much thought happening in that mind of his. At this time, he lived on the street. He was alone after his Mother died when he was only six. But even then, he was resourceful. Perhaps, one could say that his training in theft began at this early stage. It could definitely explain the skill, which always seemed to come at ease. Whatever the reason, he had managed to survive on his own for over four years.
But back to the point of this minor tale. The game at hand would have been perfectly fine, if it had not been for young Marian walking past at the time. And trouble always has a way of finding that girl. Therefore, it made sense that a stray mud ball was flung off course and flew toward her expensive new gown. But Robin, being the chivalrous young boy he was, would ever allow such an action. Leaping forward, he pushed her to the side, taking the mud ball upon himself. Ever the joker, he fell to the ground, moaning in false pain crying, "I've been hit! I don't think I'll ever walk again."
Marian giggled despite herself. She didn't find the joke particularly humorous but there was something about the boy that made her want to remain as long as she could. She knelt down, seemingly following the jest and inspecting his 'wounds.' He considered this quite the victory for even at the age of seven, Marian was beautiful. In a crowd, ones eyes could not help but be drawn to that golden hair. The bright blue of her new gown served well to accentuate the beauty of her eyes and the tint of her rosy cheeks. But behind that perfect face, there was a soul that longed for mischief. So while Robin inwardly congratulated himself, she took advantage of his distraction, scooped up a handful of mud and dropped in on his face. "It can be your punishment," she laughed as he sputtered. "Next time, watch where you throw your mud."
She was foolish to laugh. Robin hated to lose and now she was the one distracted. Momentarily, her new dress had suffered and was completely ruined by his mud toss. Now she was the one at a loss for words while he laughed. But it would take a lot more than that to silence her. She had always been the kind of girl who was a small step away from believing that a new gown was worthy of a national holiday. I have known no one other than Robin who could get away with such a crime. It was always slightly hypocritical in that way that she had ruined many a gown herself from physical activity, which was frowned upon by all who believed her to be the perfect young lady. But nonetheless, Robin had to pay that day.
Many a horrified villager ran for their lives as the mud flew wildly about as each child thoroughly enjoyed ferociously attacking the other. This happiness had little to do with the fun of revenge. For Robin, it was a way of escaping his poverty through such a simple act of humour. For Marian, it was a chance to experience friendship. Many describe her as strong willed. This was a nice way of stating that she was a horribly bossy child which resulted in many other children tiring of being ordered about and fleeing.
Finally the complaints of the people were responded to and a nearby guard attempted to break up the mini war. "Oi!" he called across and each child panicked. The blonde boy, who had been part of the original game, had clearly had enough, being ignored once Robin and Marian had met and now with the threat of trouble. He was gone in almost an instant. Robin and Marian remained, refusing to show fear. Thanks to the unfortunate amount of grime inflicted upon her, Marian was unrecognizable as a noble and the guard saw only two street children causing mischief upon his sector. Each stride he took resulted in his anger growing and when he finally reached them, he seemed to have reached the peak of fury. "What do you think you're doing? You scum are exactly the thing that's gone wrong with Nottingham," he yelled at them, resulting in Marian reeling back ever so slightly and Robin leaping in front of her. Each jerk of his hands resulted in the children leaping backwards, preparing for the strike that was clearly approaching.
"You leave her alone, you hear?" Robin yelled at him, puffing out his chest and appearing as brave as he possibly could. Most of this courage was genuine. When there were people to protect, Robin never thought anything of himself.
The guard only laughed. "You're in for a right striking," he threatened in a horrid tone. He was thrown off when he saw Robin stand his ground. Never before had a child of the streets shown such bravery. But this was not the kind of guard who was easily impressed. His arm was raised in a fast motion that could only be followed by the strongest of punches.
A single voice rang out calling, "stop at once!" There was something in the voice that made the guard drop his hand instantly. Turning in horror, he laid eyes upon King Richard. He was on his knees in a faster motion than ever before, head bowed to the ground in the shame. King Richard the Lion Heart was, after all, the greatest King that England had ever seen. During his rule, the people lived in peace and prosperity, despite the fact that we barley saw him. Some say he longed for the fight, fascinating over tales of the crusades and other past epic battles. He still had the ability to rule with a fair but kind hand and the people loved him for it.
"Marian," he called out and she quickly ran to his side. Surprising all present, he knelt down to her level and in a gentle voice he asked her, "Are you alright?" To this, she nodded. "Did that man hurt you?" To this she shook her head. It was clear that the guard had seen the error of his ways and was shaking in worry. King Richard turned back to him. He was clearly angered. "You dare to lay a hand on my niece," he said. His tone was calm but the man still shook. He had no time to respond before the King spoke again. "Do you see who you were just yelling at?"
The man stuttered out, "your niece?" It was interesting for Robin to see how quickly a man shrunk down to size when faced with superiority.
It had not been the answer that the King was looking for. "Oh contrare. These are children. You know what children look like, yes? Here is a clue. They are not the same as criminals and evil folk who should be treated in the manor you just showed. I feel that you need to be taught about the appropriate times to show mercy." The man shook even more and finally King Richard weakened. "Times such as now. Be on your way but I expect to never see you treating anyone undeserving in such a way ever again."
The guard ran away at a rather incredible speed. Quite a considerable crowd had gathered, most hoping to see someone punished. King Richard addressed them, saying, "I hope the you have all learnt the same lesson. And I apologize for the scene and hope that you can return to your every day tasks." He was a man of few words but he had no need for them. Everyone respected him enough to follow his orders instantly and once again the market place was bustling with regular business.
Turning back to his niece, the few people still observing saw a very different side to the King. A great paternal instinct seemed to take over as he brushed as much mud off of her face as he could. "Come," he said kindly, "we best you get cleaned up before your Mother sees." Then taking her hand, he led her back to where one could see his carriage.
She was obviously not ready to depart, struggling to look back at Robin. This did not go unnoticed by the King who was surprised. "Who is that?" he asked her.
"My friend," she said, bring a smile to not only her face but Robin's as well.
King Richard took in Robin's appearance, or at least the small parts he could see behind the mud. What could not be hidden was his small size as lack of food was clearly shown. Far too many bones were visible. Putting on his most gentle tone, the King approached him and asked, "What is your name child?"
Robin paused before responding. In the past, direct words with such nobility had been punished. And these times had been for interaction with folk far less important than the King of England. "Robin," he said simply, unsure of how to address such a man, as well as being at a loss over whether he even should.
Seeing his fear and uncertainty, King Richard spoke even softer. "Well Robin, I feel I should thank you. I saw how you protected Marian and that was very brave of you. Now where is your family? I want to thank them too." Robin said nothing, looking down to the ground. It took no genius to see that he was completely alone.
King Richard looked to Robin and then to Marian. He knew of Marian's trouble with other children and seemed impressed that she had not scared Robin away yet. Part of the trouble with her friendships was that no one had shown the bravery to stand up to her. Looking at both children, Richard suspected that he may have found someone quite capable of keeping her in line.
And so it was decided. Robin was to return to Nottingham castle with Marian to be her playmate. It was difficult to see who was more excited at the idea.
I still remember the day I met Robin. It was shortly after he came to live in the castle, during of my regular visits. Marian was my cousin you see and my parents enjoyed living the privilege of their connections. My Father was brother to Marian's Mother who married King Richard's younger brother. Therefore it became a regular occurrence for me and my older sister Annie to visit Nottingham in the hopes of my parents gaining as much influence as they possibly could. I had previously disliked these visits thanks to how Marian had often acted. Do not get me wrong, I love her and think of her more as a sister. But the weeks grew long as I was ordered about. Some called her a free spirit. I believe that this translates to a blatant disregard to anyone's rules but that of her own. But I was pleasantly surprised during this visit. It seemed that Robin brought out the best in her and had a small sway that resulted in her being ever so slightly less annoying. She still believed everyone's actions to revolve around her but Robin seemed able to draw her back when she became a tad too bossy. She still controlled him with ease despite the years between them in age. She had that effect upon everyone. At this time, I was eleven and she was eight. But she was still clearly in charge of me. Manipulation was the art Robin used on her and I inwardly thanked him for it. Such action proved positive for my sister and I as we went the entire summer without the ordinary bruises and broken bones that normally came from Marian's games.
Not everyone was as thankful as I, namely Annie. She may have been my sister but I never thought much of her. Folk such as her liked to believe that they were better than everyone else and she hated the idea of being forced to play with anyone that was not nobility. The day she met Robin, she refused to acknowledge him. She had her nose in the air and muttered, "It amazes me. The type of filth they let into the castle."
Marian may have been a little brat at that stage of her life, but she had her good points. In this case, the points were how no one was allowed to say such things about her friend. I darted away as fast as I could, not wanting to around for the cross fire and when I returned, Annie was strangely silent, having clearly been put back in her place. She had clearly learnt, not to be kinder sadly. But she had learnt to hold her tongue around Marian and this was at least an improvement.
I liked Robin straight away, probably because Annie disliked him so much. I figured that anyone who could get under my sisters skin like that must be all right. However, we never spoke for a long time. This was in no way due to a shy factor of for lack of anything to say. Our problem was that we were around females for far too much time and they had quite a knack for talking. It was extremely difficult to get a word in edgeways and we settled happily in our given silence while being ordered about.
But one day, we found ourselves without the females who had previously demanded constant attention. And there was silence. With this silence came the realisation that we had never really spoken to each other. Rather than acknowledge how uncomfortable we both were, we both busied ourselves in whatever task we could find. I reached for a heavy book that lay nearby, ignoring the fact that I did not know anything I was reading. Nowadays, I consider myself to be quite the genius and hate to admit that at this time, I struggled with reading. But in all fairness, the book was in Latin and such words were completely unknown to me. But my hatred for uncomfortable situations won over and I continued.
"Is it a good book?" Robin asked me, surprising me with the sudden sound. It was strange to not hear the sudden interjection from a female after he dared to make a remark.
"Of course," I lied. "Do you really expect me to read anything but?" He smiled but once again neither of us had anything to say. "Would you like a turn?" I asked, offering the book to him. Robin was the same as me in the way that we both hated admitting weakness. So he took the book, pretending to be enthralled as he simply stared at the strange markings.
He did not have the same skill as me when it came to faking knowledge. Laughing, I told him, "You're holding it upside down!"
He laughed right back as I fell into his trap. "I held it the same way you did," he informed me.
"It is probably boring anyway," I managed to say as our laughter ceased. "Anything in Latin is bound to be uninteresting." This was true. Later in life, I did in fact finish the said book and without a doubt, it was the worst thing I have ever had to do.
Robin decided to disagree with me. "Not necessarily," he decided. "This word looks a little like 'dragon.' This book is now officially about dragons." And from this we had a wonderful afternoon attempting to decipher the book and rewriting it into our own exciting tale. This did well to bore the females when they returned but we enjoyed the intellectual conversation for a change. And our friendship grew from that day onward until I considered him to be my best friend.
For the first time, we had no wish to leave Nottingham when summer ended. So we requested to return in winter. And the following summer. This continued until eventually, we remained in Nottingham on a permanent basis for my parents passed quickly from sickness when I was twelve. I mourned them but did not feel deep sadness. There had never been a lot of love between us.
And that is how I spent my childhood. Loving life with my two best friends, and Annie. All the while, I continued to observe the relationship between Robin and Marian form and grow.
Their first milestone came during Marian's tenth birthday. These days had never been of great enjoyment to her. Such a fact would surprise many a person. After all, a birthday would be the one-day Marian would be allowed to act in her normal manner of considering herself the master of everyone. And normally she would love such a day, but only if she would be able to celebrate in a manner of her own choosing. You see, she found happiness in simple days in which she was allowed to be free and do whatever she pleased with Robin, Annie and myself. But birthdays had to be celebrated in a manner that reflected her status, and this generally meant that she was forced to be around other snooty girls who were far bossier than herself. Apparently, such a person can exist. But when Marian ordered us about, this was not done in cruelty but rather all in good humour. These other children wanted to show power of others and she hated them all.
Her day began happily enough, despite being awoken at the ordinary early hour. She had never been the kind of person who coped well with mornings. At any late hour of the night, she could be found buzzing about, full of energy. But mornings saw her barley able to keep her eyes open as she cursed the world. Her nursemaid Amelia had long struggled with the task of forcing the girl out of the warmth of her bed. On this particular morning, Amelia seemed to find the magic words as she said, "come on now. You have a big day ahead. And that young boy of yours stopped by earlier. I told him that he was mad for thinking you to be awake so early by your own warped standards. But he wanted to see you before the crowds came." Marian had shot out of bed before Amelia had the chance to finish and was already out of the door. "Mistress!" she called after her, "you are not yet dressed or anything!" Sighing, she smiled, knowing full well that she had no control over the situation.
Marian was far too excited to worry about pointless factors of appearance. Although she did quickly regret the choice of not reaching for a robe. The early winter air quickly pierced at her skin and she took the time to race back and quickly take her favourite blue robe to cover her nightgown. Amelia knew better than to try and stop her.
And then she was off again. Off to their favourite spot. The older part of the castle had always been the part Marian favoured. A large section in which people no longer resided. From the absence of others, she liked to consider it her own domain, where she could escape people, other than the favoured few that she liked to be around. It was not much a domain. Large holes had gradually been created through the walls and roof and vines and other undergrowth grew indoors. This only made Marian love the place more, thinking to be similar to a fairy tale castle. Few items of furniture and décor remained but served their purpose. A large portrait of William the Conqueror covered a large hole in the wall, which had long since been discovered by Marian. This hole lead to a garden, over run with vines but summer saw it overrun with beautiful roses which Marian had always favoured. Due the early stages of winter, no such flowers could be seen at present but Marian still loved every inch of the place.
Pushing back the portrait, she entered and leapt at Robin in a large hug. "Careful!" he said happily. "You always nearly bowl me over."
"Can I have my gift now?" she asked, gaining a sigh and more laughter from him.
"And here I was thinking that you were just happy to see me," he joked. Both knew that she genuinely was happy and cared little for gifts. They only made her uncomfortable at how much people would spend on her. This is why she loved Robin's gifts so much. He had no money so was unable to give her a pointless expensive gift which meant nothing to her. He on the other hand, was always embarrassed to give her his hand-made gifts. It was difficult in many ways, being a Saxon amongst Normans. But he had always managed to please her every year. This year he had formed had a necklace, carved from a pale pink stone. He hated giving it to her, knowing full well that she would be given dozens of necklaces, each covered in expensive jewels and gold. But she had never loved a necklace more and insisted on wearing it all day, even when her parents insisted that she not insult anyone by ignoring their gift. "I would simply have to change again when given the next one," she complained. "And I like this one more." She was quickly shushed but Robin heard and was finally happy with himself.
The morning was quickly processing and Marian knew full well that soon she would have return to her chambers and spend far too much time being dressed and changed into what others believed to be the ideal young Norman noble. "Can I just stay here all day?" she half- heartedly asked Robin as she sunk down on the roots of the large oak tree.
He sunk down beside her. "Your parents would have a fit. And they already care little for me."
"It could be worse. They could hate you as much as Annie hates you," she joked. They both laughed but not as much as they would on an ordinary day. Both dreaded re-joining the real world, as many a Norman would spend the day judging them or talking down to them.
But it was impossible to feel sadness in their special place. "Come on," Robin said, holding her hands and pulling her up. "We can help each other through. And if you don't go soon, Amelia will have a fit."
Knowing full well that this was true, they both rushed away. But they had been right about the kind of day that was ahead of them. It took a whole morning of countless servants racing about to make Marian reach the image that her Mother wished for. Amelia was blue in the face from all of the running, as she had never been the fittest of women. Eventually Marian's Mother took pity on her and Amelia collapsed onto Marian's bed, swearing to eat less in future. We all loved Amelia and considered her big boned rather than large. But a little more exercise would never hurt I suppose.
Eventually Marian was deemed ready. Her hair was pinned so tight that it made her head spin and the lavender dress was far too tight, making her struggle to breathe. "There will be important people present today Marian," her Mother said, ignoring the look of uncomfort on her daughters face. Instead, she took the time to list everything Marian should and should not do. "Now you know that your Father and I love you very much but we do wish that you would a little more Lady-like at the best of times. Times such as today. So I do not want you doing anything to embarrass yourself or this family. Now I have seen you at banquets and I implore that you eat in a more dignified manner. And sit straight while you do so. And for goodness sake, keep your shoes on for the entire night this time!"
"They pinch," Marian muttered.
"They are supposed to!" her Mother said, annoyed at being interrupted. "And never interrupt your elders when they are speaking. It shows disrespect." And it continued. Marian was sure that this talk doubled the time it had taken to get ready.
"My lady," Amelia interrupted politely and Marian sent her the most thankful look possible. "I think it is time to proceed to the banquet hall."
"Of course." And with one last look at Marian she left. This look portrayed a lot. It warned her that if she put one toe out of line, there would be consequences.
The moment her Mother left the room, Marian raced to the mirror and began to pull at sections of hair, hoping to loosen the pain. It was futile. And success would be punished. Amelia pulled her gently from the mirror. "You will be fine love," she said as she tucked back the one strand of hair that Marian had successfully pulled out. "It is just one day." She then pulled Marian into a deep hug. She then added, "and while you are seated, no one can see your feet. So feel free to slip your shoes off if you can be clever about it."
And so the horrid event began. First the greetings, where Marian had to pretend to take interest and show thanks to everyone who had come. She had always struggled with names and gained many a glare from her Mother upon saying a wrong name. This was to be followed by the banquet and other boring forms of interaction, which she hated. The only moment she enjoyed was when Robin and I appeared. Her Mother quickly shoved us along, not wanted us to bring out the real Marian. Annie was in her element, loving being around her true people. There was many a time that Marian wondered if her Mother favoured Annie over her as a daughter. She then spent a great deal of the afternoon daydreaming over the idea that her and Annie had been switched at birth. It was not the most wild of ideas. Both had long golden curls and blue eyes. But that is where the similarities stopped. Annie's constant sneer that she wore seemed to affect her entire face and every feature sharpened. She tried hard to appear beautiful and some would consider her so. But she was nothing compared to Marian. Their mannerisms were also vastly different. Annie's reflected Marian's Mothers far more. So Marian enjoyed her fantasy, despite her knowing that it could be just that. She liked to imagine me as her blood brother and she fancied the idea of being friends with Robin without the constant disapproval of her parents.
Both Robin and I would have done anything to help her during this banquet. We could see her quickly growing more and more bored and depressed. We knew that things would only worsen when the young Lady Catherine arrived. The pair had been enemies for many a year. To me, I never saw how their competition between the pair. Marian was far more beautiful and had far more status. And yet somehow, Catherine always had a way of making Marian feel horrid by the end of their conversations. Robin tensed when he saw the horrid girl approaching but we both knew there was nothing we could do.
Initially, it seemed that we had nothing to worry about. Both girls greeted each other with civility. It wasn't until later that evening when there was conflict. Around the time everyone began dancing, Catherine took her chance to brag about supposed conquests. "Oh it has been quite a year for me Marian," she said, all the while Marian did her best to edge away but knew that there was no escape. "I have already had three offers for my hand for when I come of age. Three! Can you imagine? Oh I suppose that you can't. From what I hear, your parents are struggling to find anyone who would want to marry you. You poor thing. I heard that they have lowered your dowry to practically nothing! The thought of it all!"
To be fair, Catherine was a few years older than Marian and it was still very early for Marian to receive future marriage requests. And the idea of a lowered dowry was a complete lie. None of us had any doubt that Marian would have no trouble at all finding a husband, even if she continued on her free spirited life style. Everyone but her Mother of course, but no one cared for her anyway. "You know Catherine," Marian said, forgetting to be civil, "It amazes me that you still manage to think and speak at the same time."
"There is no need to be hostile! I only mean to help you. Why, when I was your age, I had already kissed countless boys and received marriage proposals from practically all of them. I only think of you and how you may end up completely alone."
While we all had assured knowledge of the security of Marian, she herself did not and Catherine's words terrified her. "I have no wish to be married," she said, pretending to tire of the conversation. Catherine just laughed a horrid laugh.
And then Marian ran off. We finally had our opening. Robin ran after her and I sought revenge. Faking clumsiness, I ran into a nearby Lord whose goblet of wine went flying all over Catherine's pale ball gown. Her screams were extremely satisfying. "Oh how clumsy of me," I said, apologising to the Lord while blatantly ignoring Catherine. It grew increasingly more difficult to keep a smirk from my face but thankfully I managed.
Robin knew easily where to find her and ran to the previous meeting place. He had to stop twice to retrieve the shoes she thrown off as she ran. When he finally reached her, he said nothing, simply placing her shoes by the three and sitting down beside her again. "I hate balls," she said simply.
"I hate Catherine," he replied and gained a smile from her. "Whatever she told you, it is most definitely a lie."
"How do you know?" Marian asked, clearly not believing him. "She said that everyone wants to marry her. And that she has kissed all of these boys. It is probably true. She is very pretty."
Robin scoffed. "Well, considering that I am a boy, I think I speak for all of us when we say that none of us would go near her."
He was proud of himself as he gained the smallest of laughs. "But what if she is right and no one ever wants to marry me? I am ten now, and I've never kissed anyone."
She glared at Robin as he laughed at her. "I'm sorry," he said, "but you sound ridiculous. Ten is young! I am almost thirteen, have never kissed anyone and do you see me complaining?"
Suddenly her eyes lit up as she gained an idea. Robin quickly wondered if he would regret his words. "Robin," she demanded, "kiss me."
"Are you mad?" he said, wondering if she was joking.
"Quite the opposite. We're friends aren't we? So it wouldn't be so strange. And then I could be better then Catherine!"
"So you are mad," he decided.
"Please Robin! It can be your birthday present to me!"
"I already gave you your present! I worked really hard on that you know." Marian had never been one for begging and Robin knew this. Sighing he deeply, he finally said, "fine! But you are not allowed to start acting strange around me."
"You over estimate yourself!" she joked. But then she was forced to become serious. Neither had been kissed so neither had any idea of what to do. They stared at the other for a short while, hoping for the other to take charge. Finally, Marian shuddered and forced herself to lean forward. Robin tried not to be insulted and closed his eyes at the same moment she did. And then their lips met. They touch was softer than both had expected. The strangeness of the feeling had not been underestimated however and both wondered how long they were expected to stay still. Not long apparently as they practically leapt apart.
"Well that was strange," Marian concluded.
"So strange," Robin agreed.
"So I think we can safely agree to never put each other through that again?"
I laugh at the thought.
"We best get back soon," he finally said. "Your Mother is most probably having a fit. And besides, we have training tomorrow morning."
Our training is a whole other story
The beginning of our training occurred many years previous, during that summer when I first met Robin. Back when we were all still so very young. During this time, Marian was at the peek of her spirit and an order to not do something was instantly a demand from her that it had to be done. On that particular morning, Amelia had been ordered to pass on a message to us. "Do what you wish today but do not go near King Richard's chambers." This was a perfectly ordinary order. During the odd time that King Richard visited Nottingham, we were constantly told that the last thing he wanted to see were troublesome children who were always getting in the way. But this time was different. Sensing that something was afoot, Marian hung back, ever so carefully so that Amelia would not notice. Hidden near her doorway, she listened as Amelia happily spoke with the new serving maid Lilly. I urgently attempted to draw Marian away, but not for fear of being caught. The trouble was that Lilly had a way of making me nervous. I wasn't sure why, we had never spoken a word. She was more shy than I could ever be and often went unnoticed about her business, hiding in shadows with her dark skin and dark hair. But Marian knew nothing of this and happily continued to listen. Doing so in silence proved to be a problem. It seemed that Amelia had quite a bit to say about Marian that was not exactly flattering. But thankfully Robin managed to restrain her silently and the conversation turned to the visit of the King. "So I know that he is a good King," Amelia was saying, "but I do wish that he could find other reasons to visit one of his most thriving towns other than to test out possible weapons for a war that he has no business being a part of." I groaned inwardly as Marian's eyes instantly lit up at the idea of secret weapons. With this new light came the knowledge that we would now be forced to break into her quarters. Confirmation came when Marian sprinted away, obviously expecting us to follow.
"I am certainly not coming!" Annie puffed angrily when we finally caught up.
"And yet you're here," I said, not attempting to mask the amusement.
"Well I am just making sure that you forget this madness!" And then she was going through her normal process of pleading with her young cousin in the hopes that she would leave behind any inappropriate behaviour. Robin and I glanced at each other in exasperation over the way she never learnt that Marian would never abandon an idea and would only be more determined if something blocked her path. "We will get caught you know. And then we will all be in trouble, again. Especially now. You know how many guards the King will have? Even you could not possibly sneak past."
Marian sighed, also tired of the pointless speech that she received every day. "Annie do you ever have fun? Ever?"
"Fun is not the kind of things you make me do."
All debating was forced to halt as footsteps approached us. It was almost effortless to dart behind appropriate walls that gave us the benefit of a decent hiding place. Two men were quickly proceeding in the same direction we had been, discussing King Richard. "So we are all set in the great hall?" one was asking.
"Perfectly. I'm telling you, there is no way he can say no. Everyone else may as well stop presenting their weapons now for he can't say no to us."
"You really thing he would want his armies using a weapon that we stole from the people we are fighting against?"
"We didn't steal it! We looked at its design, learnt from it and improved it. I'm telling you, w=by the end of this year, everyone in the Holy Land will be using a Saracen bow. Now stop being foolish and hurry up. And relax for goodness sake."
And then they were gone. None of us waiting for our orders as we knew perfectly well that Marian would momentarily be running of to the great hall. Ro bin and I had no reason to complain. We wished to see this new bow as mush as she did. None of us had so much as held a bow before but we had all been fascinated by the archers we had seen at festivals.
I didn't know it at the time, but the first time Robin held that bow was an extremely monumental moment. He may have been ten at the time, but the bow still suiting him, leaving us wondering how he ever looked normal without it. Marian insisted that he be the one to steal it, seeming as just another bossy act but it was obvious that even she was nervous by what we were doing. Annie seemed close to simply collapsing with panic and was unable to keep her still as it flitted to and fro, waiting for a guard to come and catch us. Robin on the other hand, had never been calmer as something was right as he held that bow.
"Great, we came, we conquered, and lets go!" Annie said, desperately eager to flee. But Marian was far from ready, intrigued at whatever seemed different about Robin.
"I'll wager that you can't make it work," she told him and I saw a spark appear in his eyes. This was the first of many times I would see that. It was the spark of a challenge. A challenge that he was determined to win.
"Name the target," he said, just beginning to form that cocky smile which would haunt me many a time in years to come. That same smile could also be seen beginning to form on Marian. Looking around the room, with a dark smile she pointed toward King Richard's throne. He let out a small laugh at the supposed ease of the task. Annie and I both underwent a dropped jaw as we noted the distance of the throne at the far end of the hall.
"Just give it up," I said in my most calming tone, hoping to persuade Robin away. "You have never used a bow before. The arrow won't even leave the bow." What I failed to remember was that Robin could be just as stubborn as Marian, if not more. Pulling a bow from the quiver that lay beside the bow's stand, he took aim. Once again, seemed different about Robin. I like to think of it as the moment in which his destiny began. For the arrow went flying across the hall. He missed the throne of course, to have not done so would have been sheer absurdity. But the arrow did land on the podium on which the throne sat.
There was a moment of silence as the act sunk in as being true. "Well technically he missed," Annie said spitefully. We all ignored her.
An unknown figure was just as amazed as us. From his viewpoint from a balcony, Sir Wilfred observed one of the greatest feats of archery he had seen from someone of such an age in his entire life. And he had seen many an act. In his younger days, Wilfred had been one of the greatest Knights in the service of King Richard. But age had denoted this and now he was nothing more than a palace guard. But in Robin, he saw potential to be so much more. Finally, he had found the protégé he had always sought for.
He surprised us, coming from the shadows and saying, "do that again, but this time take a breath before your release. Clear your mind and see only the target." Annie let out a small squeal, seeing only the guard uniform and being unable to hear his words. No one minded at all when she fled the room. Robin meanwhile, did as he was told. Marian would have normally hated being ignored for such a period of time but even she had the sense to remain quiet and let Robin concentrate. His pause was long as he let go of his breath slowly. His concentration was unrivalled. This time, the arrow met its mark, flying straight into the throne. And as Annie would say, technically, it did only 'just' hit the throne, with barley an inch to spare. But archery was never some 'magic power' that Robin had been graced with. It was a natural born talent that had been spotted early and expanded with years of training. That training started the very same day.
Our days changed dramatically after that. Wilfred saw great potential in Robin and wished to train with him daily. What he did not realise was that with Robin, came Marian. And without them I had nothing else to do so I came. And Annie came, but only because I suspect that she enjoyed complaining the whole time that we would be caught. For years, we were constantly on archery and swordplay under Wilfred's wise guidance. Everyone but Annie of course. This training was not as fun as I initially thought it would be. Robin was an instant success of course. And he also gained extra training that we did not as it was still a requirement for Marian and I to met with our tutors. By the end of the first year, Robin could have easily defeated the majority of the palace guards in battle, despite being over half their age. Such news was not acceptable to Marian. No one was allowed to be better than her in any area which resulted in her working all the harder. I enjoyed knowing the basics and sat back, watching them fight for the title of being the best. Each fight showed slow progression as each became slowly more talented and at the same, extremely more dedicated. I personally suspect however that Robin could have beaten Marian at any point. But he always went a little easier for her. All the while, Annie refused to even hold a sword and chose to sit and yell how bad we were. It was a good system.
Until Marian's parents decided to ruin everything.
A few months following Marian's twelve birthday, she did not come to a training session for the first time. It was normal for her to be absent at times when her parents came too close to discovering how we truly spent our days or if she had other things to attend such as added lessons. But she never missed anything without an explanation. We tried to continue on as normal, much to my dismay. You see, whenever Marian was absent, I was forced to fight Robin as a substitute. And he saw no reason to go easy on me.
Aside from the added bruises and pulled muscles, the day continued as normal. Then she did show up for dinner. This was completely unheard of to her Mother but she barley batted an eyelid. "She must still be sulking," she told us. "We decided that she is becoming to wild here in England. It is for her own good that we send her to France, where she can be taught skills that are far more appropriate to a lady of her stature." I did not wait for her to finish before I had bounded from the room to tell Robin. This may have been a mistake, I should have paused to finish my mouthful and had to pause to stop my own choking. But then I was running again, even more determined.
In barley any time, Robin had sprinted to their spot and was trying to act as calm as he could while entering. I decided to give them their space and wandered off alone. She was exactly where he had suspected, leaning against their tree, trying not to cry. She leapt up the instant she saw him, attempting to appear tough. But the look on his face made it obvious that she need not pretend around him. In the next moment she had raced over to him, leaping up to embrace him. "One day, you really will bowl me over," he joked but was hugging her just as tight.
"What am I going to do in France?" she said when she finally released him. "They have ways of making you obey! You should have seen my sister before she went there. She was worse than I ever was and now she is my Mother's dream child and married off to some disgusting Lord who she never sees but she doesn't care because she is happy! What if they do that to me! They will make me happy with misery."
"If there is anyone who can beat them, it will be you. You're the strongest person I know. Even if I let you win in archery and swordplay."
She laughed but there is only so much you can laugh when you are holding back tears. "Promise that you won't forget me."
She had no idea. "Such a thing is completely impossible," he told her honestly. Yet she still seemed uncertain. Turning away from her, he pulled his pocketknife and approached their tree. As she watched, he carved both of their names into the trunk. "There," he said with a flourish, "no we will both be in this very garden forever."
"Why is your name on top?" she joked but was obviously pleased. And then reality sunk back in. "I think I have to go and help pack now."
This was obviously not the case. I waited by the carriage the next morning with the rest of the family, waiting for her to arrive. "She never came back last night," Amelia informed us in an odd tone. It was obvious that she was holding back tears. It always interested me how Amelia acted so much more like a Mother to Marian than her real Mother ever could.
As if on cue, Marian's Mother began tapping her foot impatiently. "If that girl has done anything stupid," she muttered but trailed away when she saw her daughter approaching.
Marian always had to make a statement. Today, she showed everyone how much she obviously needed to leave. For just like on the day they met, both Robin and Marian were drenched in mud.
I hugged her regardless, while we both ignored the yelling that came from the distance. Annie refused but Marian hugged her anyway. The farewell between Marian and her parents interested me. Despite the mud, they held their daughter tight, making me wonder if I had focused on the negatives for far too long. There was love between them that I had previously missed.
With one last hug to Robin, she was gone. Just like that.
"Are you alright?" I asked him.
"It was strange," he told me. "I spent most of the night reassuring her that I would never forget her. But it will be the other way around."
He needn't have worried.
Within five years she would return.
Shortly after her return, they would be engaged.
What he should have been worried about was the time after that. For it would be shortly after their engagement that he would lose her.