|Rodger and Eleanor
Author: manxcatmom PM
Guy and Meg's son Rodger and Robin and Marian's daughter Eleanor have played together as friends, and fought with each other, for as long as they can remember. But as they grow up, and as changes come to their lives and family, will their feelings for each other change as well? Or will it be Guy and Marian all over again? The sequel to my S3 AU "A Friend Closer Than a Brother".Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Angst - Guy of Gisborne & Robin Hood - Chapters: 33 - Words: 93,390 - Reviews: 173 - Favs: 18 - Follows: 26 - Updated: 05-06-13 - Published: 08-09-11 - id: 7269439
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"…. NOR THE MIGHTY ONES THE BATTLE"
Half-way through supper, Rodger finally began to relax.
I'm with my family and my friends, so there's nothing to fear.
The talk around the several tables they occupied in one corner of the Trip centered on the victories achieved at the fair—Guy's third place win in the men's archery, Eleanor's daring try for the silver arrow, and Rodger's first place finish in the horse race.
Robin took a ribbing from nearly everyone for his choice to be a judge and not a contestant in the archery competition. Guy's smirk wasn't the only one he had to endure, nor was Guy the only one who twitted him about being "noble" for not taking the silver arrow once again. The teasing was most intolerable coming from Archer, who was nearly as good a shot as Robin.
"Why didn't you enter the contest, Archer?" countered Robin. "You could've won easily."
"What? And go up against my dear brother Guy?" answered Archer, with an accompanying affectionate slap on Guy's back. "Wouldn't dream of it. I respect him too much. Besides, I'm not a resident of these parts. This game's for you Nottingham lads."
He grinned at Eleanor. "And lasses," he added, as he extended his hand to her. Eleanor laughed and reached across the table to take her uncle's hand in a firm shake.
The subject of the boy who struck Rodger during the race did not come up again, to Rodger's relief. He wanted only to forget about him, and so, apparently, did everyone else.
His father hadn't recognized the boy as the same one he'd chased off in the marketplace. If Uncle Robin knew, and Rodger suspected that he did, he said nothing, and Rodger was thankful. The story of the murdered miner was not one that he wanted reopened.
Rodger did want to know more about his father's past, however, especially about his aunt Isabella, but she was the one topic his father avoided above all others. After the outpouring that day at the orphanage, his father had not been very forthcoming with much else, though Rodger plied him with questions at times when he seemed to be in a divulging mood.
Most of what he'd learned about his family in the last two years had come from Robin and Marian instead, and Allan a Dale. Now there was a story! Allan had acted as "Gisborne's man"? Right down to dressing like him? Rodger could scarcely imagine a more unlikely duo than his father and Allan, and yet they had once worked together for Sheriff Vaisey! Allan, for a time and for his own reasons, had betrayed his friends and cooperated with their enemies, which had angered Robin so much that he'd wanted to kill him!
It was so strange to picture this past life of theirs, now that they were at peace with each other. All the vengeful hate, the betrayals, the fights and near-killings, had happened between these people before he was born, but it was real and powerful, as real as the unbreakable bonds of friendship that now existed between them.
He looked around the table at those closest to him. Robin, the fearless leader of that small band of outlaws, who defied a brutal Sheriff and ended his reign of terror. Marian, who led her own crusade as the Nightwatchman. Little John and Much, loyal to Robin in the face of all dangers. Allan a Dale, who had come back to be with his friends once again.
And he thought of Will and Djaq, far away in Acre, whom he had never met except through the wonderful stories they told of them.
Rodger was proud to know these courageous, selfless men and women. He was proud of the shared history—his heritage from them—of their defense of the downtrodden of Nottingham, their generous, caring spirit and their love for justice. He looked forward, as he grew to manhood, to taking his place among them.
And, most of all, he was proud of his father—once Robin's hated enemy—who had joined up with the outlaws to bring down Sheriff Vaisey, and who then unmistakably demonstrated his determination to turn from his own bad course by facing his judgment with unflinching courage.
He had imagined that scene in the Great Hall many times since learning the story. He could see his father, in chains as he stood before King Richard, uttering not a word of either denial or excuse while his crimes were read out to the people of Nottingham.
'What he did that day took more guts than holding Nottingham's gate against our enemies at the siege,' Robin had said to him. 'He stood before the king's court and took full responsibility for his wrongs, knowing he would almost certainly be executed. I realized then that he was the bravest man I'd ever known, and I was proud to call him my friend.'
Rodger was proud to be the son of Sir Guy of Gisborne.
Robert of Mansfield had asked Eleanor of Locksley to dance with him that evening at the fair's closing festivities, and she'd said yes.
He smiled with anticipation as he walked the crowded main street of Nottingham late in the afternoon. There were plenty of other girls he could have asked, of course. They'd have given him a dance or two, and perhaps more if he were lucky, or persuasive. He knew how to be persuasive. He knew the right way to act, the right words to use. He'd had his way before with peasant girls from the villages, daughters of craftsmen and merchants in the town, and that very willing maidservant in his father's house, who'd been discreet enough keep her mouth shut about it afterward.
Those girls had been easy to persuade. Too easy, in fact. He'd grown bored with them. But Eleanor was different from the other girls. No coyly inviting smiles, no flirty glances from her. The woman in her was as yet slumbering. She, careless of dress and hair and feminine ways, was unaware even of her own beauty, which he could see would, someday soon, blossom into something truly breathtaking.
Eleanor demanded careful handling. She was the daughter of a nobleman, not a common strumpet in the street. He hadn't even kissed her yet. He'd worked hard to get her to agree to an innocent dance. Where would that dance lead? To a first kiss? And then what?
He would have to be patient. It would take time. But Eleanor would be his. He would be the one to awaken her womanly, passionate nature. Perhaps, if she pleased him, he'd even marry her eventually. He was sixteen. His father had been just seventeen, and his mother only Eleanor's age when they were married. And his future in-laws? None other than Robin of Locksley, the Earl of Huntingdon, and his wife Lady Marian. The prospect held great appeal. He stood to gain a pair of famous parents-in-law, and, as Eleanor was their only child, the full inheritance of the Locksley estate to add to his own.
Peter was the problem at present. If he would just keep away from Rodger! Robert knew Rodger as a casual acquaintance, but they were not friends. Perhaps it was because Rodger's name came up so frequently in his conversations with Eleanor. This irked him, even though she assured him there was nothing between her and Rodger other than friendship. Still, Rodger was Eleanor's friend, and as such, Robert saw the necessity, and the wisdom, of leaving him alone. If only he could get Peter to agree.
Robert often questioned why he sought out Peter's company in the first place. On the surface, they had nothing in common. He was the son of a wealthy former knight and the holder of a sizable estate, whereas Peter was the son of a carpenter and the grandson of a miner.
The first time he'd seen Peter, the boy and a couple of his cronies were playing a trick on a butcher in Nottingham. As the butcher wrapped up an order of meat for a customer, Peter distracted the man with questions, while his companions opened the package, smeared the meat with mud and manure, and wrapped it back up. The unsuspecting butcher handed the package to the unwitting customer as the three boys slinked off.
Robert caught them howling with laughter in a back alley. He knew it was a cruel trick, an underhanded joke at the butcher's expense, yet there was something so comical about it that he soon joined in their laughter, and fell in with their gang. Robert frequently accompanied his father on business in Nottingham, and on these occasions he had opportunity to hunt up Peter and the other boys, and join them in mischief-making and pranks of all kinds.
His own life, as the son and heir of a wealthy man, was tightly guarded and regulated much of the time, the course of his life already laid out in advance for him. Marry the girl approved by his parents, raise children, inherit the family lands, and run the estate. But he had no head for business, and no real interest in his father's beloved horses. He felt trapped and bored by it all.
Peter, on the other hand, was stubbornly disinterested in his father's carpentry business, and his mother had her hands full with Peter's younger siblings. He was therefore free to do as he pleased. It was this—Peter's disdain for rules and constraints, his apparently limitless freedom—that attracted Robert. His association with Peter gave him a taste of that envied freedom.
Peter was thirteen, nearly fourteen, but he was small and looked younger, and he used that to his advantage. A boy who people believed was only eleven or so could get away with more. Peter was clever, Robert had to admit, clever and cunning. But this drive for revenge for a grandfather he'd never known was something he couldn't understand. Why take it out on the killer's son?
Perhaps he ought to warn Rodger, since he was Eleanor's friend. Yes, it would be the right thing to do. That way, if Rodger chose to ignore the warning and suffered the consequences, it wouldn't be his fault, and Eleanor could have no cause to be angry with him. And if Rodger heeded the warning, Peter wouldn't find out who had tipped him off, for there would be no confrontation, and no chance for trouble.
Pleased with his decision, Robert walked toward the Trip, where Rodger and his family were eating supper. In sight of the inn, a young woman stepped out of the crowd toward him.
"Hello there, Robert!" she cooed. "It's been a while. Don't tell me you don't remember me?"
Remember her? How could he forget? The lovely daughter of one of Nottingham's castle guards. She'd been the first of his seductions, and one he looked back on with particular pleasure.
"Of course I remember you, Gwen."
She laughed and slipped her arm through his. He glanced in the direction of the inn. There was plenty of time. If he knew Peter, the boy would not risk confronting Rodger in broad daylight with his family nearby, not after his indiscretion at the race. He could warn Rodger later, at the dance. Besides, here was Gwen, who appeared to be in an accommodating mood. Just because Eleanor was as yet out of his reach didn't mean he had to live like a monk.
Unknown to Robert, from the shadows of a nearby building, Peter watched them as they strolled casually in the direction of Nottingham Castle, their heads together and Robert's arm around her waist.
Gwen did her job well, thought Peter. I'll remember to thank her later. He snorted contemptuously. As if I wouldn't guess he'd try to warn Rodger. But I can handle Robert easily enough. He fell for my trick. One twitch of her skirt and off he goes, the fool! Once Gwen finishes with him, all thought of warning Rodger will be driven completely out of his empty skull.
And Peter was right. By the time Robert and Gwen had caught up on old times, in a back room of the guard's barracks, Robert had quite forgotten Rodger of Gisborne.
The town square, filled to capacity, reverberated with the sounds of the evening celebration. Off to one side, musicians were tuning up their instruments. Bonfires had been lit around the periphery of the square, and eager dancers were already circling the flames, laughing and shouting.
Meg, after much verbal wrangling, had finally convinced Guy to shed his heavy leather coat for a more festive outfit. She and Marian had new dresses for the occasion, and so did Eleanor. As the music began, Robert led Eleanor by the hand to the circle of dancers.
Rodger's eyes followed her. Her dress was a warm shade of red. It fit closely in the bodice, but flared out at the hem and swirled around her ankles. Her hair, which Rodger seldom paid attention to as it was usually in a plait or piled messily on her head, now fell loosely down her back, thick and wavy, shimmering a rich, deep brown in the light of the fire, and crowned by a coronet of summer wildflowers.
Her partner clasped her about her slim waist, and she met Robert's eyes with a look Rodger had never seen on her face before. Robert's arm tightened possessively around Eleanor, and Rodger took note. His eyes narrowed as he watched them, and a new feeling awoke in his heart, part protectiveness, part—dare he admit it?—jealousy.
He told himself it was absurd to feel so. Eleanor was free to dance with anyone she chose. But why Robert? He'd never liked Robert of Mansfield, for reasons he could not explain. He had no great hankering for his sister, either, despite Eleanor's teasing, and despite the fact that Margaret was now inching her way toward him, favouring him with her honey-sweet smile in hopes that he would ask her to dance.
"Hello, Rodger!" Her greeting was followed by the inevitable giggle, and Rodger cringed inside. He knew what was expected of him as a gentleman—take her out for at least one dance. Okay, he could do that much. She was pretty, there was no denying that. If only there were more to her than her looks. Now Eleanor, she had a certain tang to her, a keen intelligence and ready wit that added spice to their relationship, platonic though it was.
"You were just wonderful in the archery contest yesterday," Margaret continued. "You shot your arrows so well. You must be so strong." She sighed. "Did you see me? I cheered for you."
Rodger hadn't seen her, but he'd heard all about the kiss Margaret supposedly blew at him.
"No, I'm sorry, but I didn't," he answered honestly.
She turned her rosebud mouth down in disappointment, but only for a moment. Her hands grasped his arm. He was startled and wanted to pull away, but he stopped himself. It would be rude. She was a young lady, after all.
"Oh, but Rodger, I heard what happened at the horse race! You could have fallen off! That nasty Peter! I don't like him at all. My father is so angry with him, and so is my brother. Are you okay? You've got a cut on your cheek!" She reached up to caress his face.
"Margaret, would you do me the honour of dancing with me?"
"Oh, yes!" Her wide blue eyes looked up at him adoringly, and he immediately regretted the request. Still, if he could keep her busy with the dance steps, there would be less opportunity for her to paw him any further.
Eleanor spotted them, as he expected, and flashed him a wide grin and a wink as he placed a tentative hand around Margaret's waist. Her hands, not so shy as his, went over his shoulders, and she pressed her body up against him as they circled the fire. Rodger soon began to sweat, and not just from the warm summer night or the bonfire. Perhaps dancing with Margaret wasn't such a good idea after all.
He gulped with relief as the dance ended. Eleanor left her partner to join up with Rodger, who had extricated himself from Margaret's clutches and sent her off to giggle and whisper with her girlfriends.
"That sure looked cozy," she remarked, her eyes sparkling with merriment.
"Same to you," he replied, his mouth twisted in a smirk.
"You dance wonderfully, Rodger, for someone who hates to dance."
"I'm a good boy, Eleanor. My mother trained me well."
She laughed. "And such a gentleman, too, to dance with Margaret. So, who's next? The same charming and lovely partner again, so she can get another feel of your big, broad shoulders?"
"You're going to pay for that."
"I tremble in fear before your wrath. Seriously, my dear, who's next? There's Bernice, over there by Robert. Oh, and there's Maeve. How about her? She's very pretty."
Rodger caught Eleanor's smile as she turned back to him. Her eyes were a warm green, flecked with golden brown. The soft ivory curves of her face, her nose with its dainty upturn, and her full lips, looked so different to him with the lustrous hair flowing around her features instead of pulled sharply back in a stiff plait. He stared at her as if seeing her for the first time as a young woman, and not the rough and tumble tomboy companion of his childhood.
She's beautiful, thought Rodger. Never mind Margaret. Eleanor is beautiful. How come I never noticed before?
"You're beautiful," he said out loud, without thinking.
The green eyes went wide with surprise.
"I-I mean, y-you look very nice," he stammered. His face flushed to his hairline. Eleanor looked away, but not before she caught something in those intense blue eyes that suddenly made her feel as shy as he.
"Why, Rodger!" she said archly, after a moment's awkward silence and a chance to regain her composure. "How kind of you to say so. Thank you! It must be the new dress. Do you like it?" She swished the skirt around playfully.
"Very lovely, my dear," he replied in the same tone of voice, and the momentary embarrassment at the blunder subsided as they both laughed.
"I'll take this opportunity to ask the same question back," said Rodger. "Who are you dancing with next? Are you already spoken for?"
"Not yet. Why?"
"I'm considering asking you, if you'll have me."
"I would be honoured, Sir Rodger of Gisborne, if you're actually asking me and not just considering it."
He smiled and gave her a bow. "The honour is mine, Lady Eleanor of Lockley, as long as you don't yell at me if I step on your toes."
"In those great big stomping boots of yours? I will yell, and loudly, so you'd best have a care for my toes!"
"Oh, shut up about the race already. Who cares?" Peter snarled at Robert.
"My father cares! He'll never ask you to ride his horses again, I can tell you. I've never seen you take a whip to a horse before. What got into you, anyway?"
"I won the race for him, didn't I? If the judges hadn't—"
"They did see, so no, you'd didn't win. You as much as handed the victory over to Rodger." Robert glared down at Peter, his face tight with anger.
Peter shrugged, looked out over the crowd of dancers, and turned back to Robert with a smile.
"Before you say anything more about me, Robert, you'd better have a care for your own interests."
"Are you threatening me? Because if you are—"
"No threat. It's real. Look."
"What? Is that—what is he doing?"
"Stealing your girl, I'd say. First your sister, now Eleanor."
"He can't dance with her! He knows Eleanor's mine!"
"Well, he is. Right in front of you, too. He's got your girl, Robert, and it looks as though he's rubbing it in your face."
"So, you still mad at me, or do you want to do something about that snot-nosed Gisborne bastard instead?"
"He can't do that! Eleanor's my girl! If I get my hands on him—"
Peter snickered. Robert was so easy. "Come with me. I've got a plan."
"Oh, Mama, really! You are too ridiculous!"
Eleanor and her mother sat together on Eleanor's bed late that evening. The fair, the dance, all were over for another year, but Eleanor's heart was light, her feet still dancing. Now Mama was trying to ruin everything by another lecture!
"Eleanor, listen to me. You need to be careful."
"Is this about Robert? He's nice! I like him!"
What was it Robin had said? 'It's just a crush, Marian. She'll get over it. Robert's harmless enough. And she'll likely fall in love a few dozen more times before she grows up and finds her true love.'
Marian wasn't so sure, about either Robert's harmlessness or her daughter merely having a crush on him. But he wasn't her immediate concern. Eleanor saw Robert only occasionally, whereas Rodger….
"Oh, no, don't tell me this is about Rodger. We only danced, Mama, and it's Rodger. Rodger! He's like my baby brother!"
"He's not your brother, Eleanor, and he's hardly a baby anymore. He's growing up, and so are you. And what you were doing yesterday, well, you're too old to be playing those sorts of games. It was okay when you were children, but—"
"Do you mean because we wrestled a bit? That was nothing!"
But Eleanor's face betrayed her as she remembered Rodger's arms encircling her, holding her in a way that she now saw was not entirely brotherly. The sudden realization of his strength, far greater than her own, as he lifted her off the ground, had frightened her, and yet—
"Perhaps it wasn't anything to you, but Rodger's not a little boy. You may not think of him as anything but a brother right now, but in the future, when you're both older—what I mean is—"
"You can't be serious! Rodger? I would never be interested in him!"
Marian could have bit her tongue in half after saying those words.
I thought it was all over between Guy and myself, but here it is, come back to haunt me. My daughter, who is so much like me, and Guy's son, so much like him. Is this really, deep down, what I want? For her and Rodger to grow up and fall in love and marry?
Yes, it is what I want. Why can't I admit it to myself? And I know why I want this—to set things right with Guy through them.
"Because, because—I don't know!" Eleanor cried as she rose from the bed and looked down at her mother. "I never think of him that way. And I'm sure he doesn't like me that way, either. I can't believe you, Mama! You've gone and spoiled everything!"
Before Marian could say anything more, Eleanor ran from the room and down the stairs. Marian sighed and rubbed her hand over her tired eyes. As she heard the front door open, and then slam shut, she wondered if she'd already said too much.
The dance, the feasting, were over. The Nottingham fair was over for another summer. The taverns were still full. Rodger, as he walked the main street, steered clear of the boisterous men who stumbled from the front entrances of those taverns and passed out in the dust, to the laughter of their equally drunk comrades. He was on his way to his grandfather's house.
It had been a good day, a satisfying day, despite the unsettling encounter with the Nottingham boy. A welt was rising on his cheek from the boy's whip, but it would heal. He'd won the race, he and Starlight.
He walked slowly, lingering in the warm glow of the lamp lights shining through the windows of the dwellings that lined the street. It was so seldom that he was alone, without family or friends around. His parents had gone home hours ago, and his grandfather and Jane weren't expecting him until late. He had all the time in the world.
He'd danced with Eleanor, and enjoyed it very much. Maybe there was nothing, after all, between her and that Robert of Mansfield. She deserved better. Not him. No, she would never care for him that way. But someone more worthy than Robert, at least.
He rounded the corner of the street. Four figures stepped out from the shadow of a building, and moved toward him.
He smiled politely and nodded. Then he stopped, stared, and started to walk rapidly away from them.
The four boys had other ideas. Rodger was soon surrounded.
"You're out late, Rodger of Gisborne," said Robert, in a voice that was anything but friendly. "And all alone, too."
"Robert." Rodger drew himself up to his full height. "Yes, it is late, so if you'll excuse me, I'm headed for my grandfather's house."
"That right?" mocked the boy from the race track, the one who had called his father a murderer. He stepped up to Rodger and shoved him in the chest. "You remember me?"
"What do you want?" Rodger felt a cold finger of fear curl around his heart and squeeze his gut painfully.
"I want you to pay, you bastard."
"Just leave me alone!"
"Leave you alone? Listen to him, lads. The baby wants us to leave him alone. Know what? I don't think so, not just now. You've got some business with us first, son of Gisborne."
"You've caused enough trouble for me already."
"I haven't even started yet, sissy boy!"
Rodger's arms were grabbed from behind by two of the boys. He had never seen either of them before, but they were brawny and nearly as tall as himself. One, perhaps, he could have shaken off, but not both. He struggled against them, while Peter sneered and Robert stood, silent and passive, to one side.
"Robert!" Rodger appealed. "Tell them to let me go!"
"He's not gonna listen to you," answered Peter, his chin thrust out aggressively. "You stole his girl."
"I never stole Eleanor! Robert, I only danced with her. We're friends, nothing more!"
Robert did not answer him. Peter went on. "And you tried to make a fool of me. You never will again, not after I'm done with you. Hold him tight, lads. It's payback time, Gisborne!"
The first blow hit him in the stomach. The wind rushed from his lungs. He doubled over in pain, but his head was snapped back by a fist under his jaw. Light exploded as Peter's hard fist connected with his left eye. Another blow to the stomach, then another. The pressure on his arms suddenly released, and he collapsed to the ground.
"All right, Peter, enough," he heard Robert say. The voice sounded faint and far away through the dull roar in his head. "You made your point. Leave him be."
Rodger couldn't move, could hardly breathe, but it wasn't over. He gasped in agony as a hard boot bashed against his ribs. The salt taste of blood filled his mouth. Hot fury surged through him, but before he could summon the strength to pull himself up and face his tormentors, the boot smashed him in the ribs again. Sharp pain radiated out from his chest. He gulped, but his lungs were empty of air, and soon, merciful darkness closed in on him.
"I think you killed him, Peter," murmured one of the boys as they gathered around Rodger's prone and bleeding form crumpled in the street.
"No, he's just out. The baby can't take it. He's a weakling, is all."
"He's not moving. I don't like this. You shouldn't have hit him so hard. What if he is dead?"
"Good enough for him."
"That'd make you a murderer, Peter."
"Aw, shut up! He's not dead, stupid!"
"Let's get out of here before someone comes."
"We shouldn't leave him here, it isn't right," said Robert.
"And do what, Robert?" scoffed Peter. "Take him home and nurse him? Come on, let's go. Fun's over."
He gave the limp body another vicious kick before he strode off down a dark alleyway, followed by his gang. Only Robert looked back over his shoulder at the injured and unconscious boy lying in the street. He hesitated for just a moment before he, too, disappeared back into the shadows.