It was a rainy day – April 4
Marian could feel her toes sinking into the mud. The wind blew raindrops at her, and they slid down her arms in cold rivulets. In the sky, a streak of white lightning ran jagged against the dark blue clouds, and somewhere out there, Robin was riding to meet her with gold in his saddlebag and a grin on his face.
"Marian, come inside!" Much called, sticking his head outside the door of the lodge. "You're getting soaked! Do you want to catch cold?"
She turned to face him and laughed. He had one eyebrow raised and the other lowered, his arms crossed one over the other, and he looked the picture of disapproval. "You sound like my father, Much. You look a bit like him as well."
Much dropped his arms and frowned at her a little before shaking his head. "Well, do you want to explain to your father why a day in your room made you violently ill?"
"I'll be fine," she said, smiling. "I told Robin I'd wait here for him."
Little John came to the door then, opening it the whole way and taking up nearly the whole frame, pushing Much to the side. "You know, I don't think Robin would be deeply offended if you moved a few feet to get out of the rain."
"What happened between the two of you, anyway?" Will asked, maneuvering his way past Little John, pushing him over a bit, so he could stand in the doorway also. "You hardly seemed capable of separating this morning, and now you can't wait to see him again. I think Robin will get here whether or not you stand outside waiting. Is it necessary that you see him before the rest of us?"
Will raised an eyebrow.
She turned back into the rain as she smiled and felt her face flush. Something was different, a bit. She kissed Robin before he went. On the cheek, of course. But still – they had their fingers laced together while they walked through the forest and he explained about Lord Edmonton's vault and how it would be easy for him to get there and back in little more than an hour, and then they could have a glorious feast despite the rain. He liked the rain, anyway, he said, because it made him feel wild, like he could do anything. She understood the feeling, standing here in the middle of it.
She heard Much behind her, sighing before spoke. "I suppose you won't be swayed. Would you like a cloak, at least? Robin isn't exactly known for his punctuality."
"Well," Will said, before she could reply, "he did look rather eager to return when he left. All, 'I'll be back in an hour or less, get the venison cooked; we'll be eating before you can say poached deer.'"
"It's been over an hour since then," Much said. "He exaggerated about how fast he could do this. He always exaggerates when she's around."
This last was said in a whisper, but Marian heard it quite well and turned to smile at the men before they could say anything else. "I don't want a cloak," she said. "He ought to be here soon. Now why don't you either go back in or come out and actually talk to me? It's rather awkward with you all whispering from the doorway."
Will and Much looked a tad sheepish.
"I don't want to go out in the rain," Will said after a moment. "I had more than enough rain earlier. Roast venison, during a thunderstorm. Honestly."
He moved inside the lodge, and she looked at Much, but he shook his head and followed Will. Little John was still there, just behind the doorway, and he stepped outside, shutting the door behind him. "I'll join you for a moment, Marian."
She smiled as the large man came beside her. He was a good head taller than her, and he stood staring out into the forest and the rain.
"I like rain," she said.
"So does Robin," he said, glancing at her, "when he's not being depressed about everything. And the roof's not leaking."
She gave a loud laugh. She could picture him – easily picture him – staring gloomily into the rain and moaning about it ruining all his plans. But he was so adorable when he was worrying.
Little John looked at her. "You are different. You and him both. He doesn't usually have spur of the moment feasts and never right after a raid."
"I guess he must be feeling spontaneous."
She smiled. She did want to tell someone. Not that there was much to tell, but...she'd like to say what there was. Little John was as good a confidant as any. "We had a picnic. Marjorie made all the food, thank goodness. And he brought me flowers. A giant bouquet of them. I had to split them between three different vases. That's all, really. But generally he doesn't do anything like that. So..." She shrugged.
"You started acting like sweethearts?"
She laughed again. "It's...not quite like that."
"Of course not," Little John said. He winked at her. "Well, it's good to see Robin looking lively again. He was getting a bit difficult to be around."
"Really?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. Of course, she knew Robin could be difficult to be around, but generally when she saw him with his men, he tried to be the pillar of strength and reckless energy. And of course, he never talked about the relationship between him and herself.
Little John nodded. "Oh yes. I'll leave to your waiting."
He walked back to the lodge, and she was left alone. She was just beginning to shiver a little and think that maybe she wanted that cloak after all when she finally spotted Robin. Riding out of the forest at breakneck speed on the horse he'd borrowed from Much's father, hunched over the saddle. Hunched over the saddle. Too hunched.
Her heart beat once, and she couldn't move. He was closer now, and she could see that he was covered in mud from head to toe, his hair stained and matted with blood. Rivers of crimson coursed down his temple and around his eye, flowing, dripping.
When he was close enough, he swung out of the saddle and stumbled towards her. Before he reached her, he stopped and dropped his head down by his knees, breathing hard.
"Robin," she said, "you—you're bleeding." She held a trembling hand toward him but couldn't quite seem to reach.
"I know," he said, glancing up at her and looking back down at the ground. "I don't feel very well."
Little John came out of the lodge with Will and Much on heels. "What happened to you?" he asked.
Robin took a few more breaths before standing up straight. "A lot of things," he said, wiping a hand across his forehead. Some of the blood wiped off, but there was more to take its place, and Marian bit her lip – hard – just watching. "The raid wasn't as successful as I wanted it to be." He took another deep breath. "Will someone tie up the horse somewhere? And get the saddlebag. There's not much in it. But every penny counts."
The men stood staring for a moment. They were staring at the blood.
Robin raised an eyebrow at them. "Well, get to it," he said when no one moved.
Will and Much hurried to do his bidding, and Robin began limping toward the lodge. "I think I sprained my ankle," he said, as Little John and Marian followed him inside.
The lodge was crowded with the rest of the men, and they all stared as Robin entered, silence falling over the room. "Robin," Alan was the first to speak. "You look terrible. Are you...are you all right?"
Robin nodded. "Could someone get me a chair?" One was immediately pulled up for him, and he sat down heavily. "I didn't get more than a few pounds from the vault," he said. "The whole thing didn't go well. I got ambushed. Almost got shot in the head. It just grazed." He rubbed at some of the crusted blood in his hair.
Much and Will came in, and they stared again. The blood was so sharp and red against his skin.
"You shouldn't have gone alone," Will said. "But how did you—you said it would be easy."
Robin shrugged. "It wasn't. But it wasn't all bad." He grinned. "They gave me quite the chase. I felt like a real outlaw escaping and dashing off into the storm."
Will gave a small laugh, almost uncomfortably small, and Much smiled. "At least you're all right," he said. "We won't let you go anywhere yourself again."
Robin grinned. "Not anywhere? That'll get a bit tiring, won't it?" Some of the men laughed again, and he glanced around the room, ready to give orders again. "Someone want to get this blood off my face? And Little John, put the money with the rest of it. And let's get this feast started! You did prepare a feast, right?"
The lodge was suddenly bursting with motion. Little John picked up the saddlebag that Will and Much had brought in and took it into the back room. Marjorie started boiling water and looking for cloth to wash Robin's face. Will and Much went with Alan to see to the venison, and everyone else did their own jobs to get things prepared.
All Marian could do was stand and stare. If the arrow had been an inch to the right, or a bit farther down, or hit at a different angle, it wouldn't have mattered how long she stood waiting for Robin. He never would have come. He would have been lying dead in the mud somewhere, out in the cold rain, until they took his body and likely strung it up in town for everyone to see. He never would have come back.
With everyone at work, Robin finally gave her a glance that lasted longer than a moment. He smiled. "I see you waited for me, Marian, right where you said you would. I'm sorry I was a bit late."
She gave a tiny shake of her head. She wanted to touch him, to make sure he was really there. He'd told her before that what he did was dangerous, but she'd never really believed him until now. She'd never seen him bleed that much. "You—you're—" She bit her lip and quickly pulled another chair over and sat down beside him, staring at the wound on his head.
Robin's mouth twitched. "It's just blood, Marian," he said, giving a short laugh. "Head wounds bleed a lot, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're serious. Friar Tuck taught me that."
"But—" She still couldn't quite bring herself to speak. She reached out and almost touched his cheek, but she pulled her hand back before it reached.
Robin grabbed onto her hand and kissed it. "Anyway, I came back, didn't I?"
"But—what if you don't?" she asked. "What if someday you never come back, and—and you die out there somewhere, all alone, and—you leave me alone." She was almost crying now. The tears were in her eyes and clouding over her vision. She felt afraid. More afraid than she'd ever been, even when those men had come looking for Robin and had a knife to her throat. At least he was there then. If either of them had died, they'd have died together.
When a tear finally spilled over and streamed down her cheek, Robin stood up quickly and winced at the pain in his ankle. But he didn't let it bother him more than a moment before he took both her hands and pulled her to her feet. "Marian," he said, looking into her eyes, "listen to me. I'm going to be very serious for a moment."
She nodded, biting her lip, waiting for him to say something awful.
"I might die any day," he said. "Any day, the sheriff, or Guy, or any of his men could come into Sherwood or pick me up on one of my raids, and I would hang as a traitor and a thief."
A few more tears spilled out, and Robin let go of one hand so she could wipe them away.
"Marian, I don't want you to be afraid for that," he went on. "I don't want to be the one you wait for that never comes home. But I want you to know that I...care about you. When I thought I might not make it...I kept thinking of you. I had to come back for you. And I'll always be there for you in any way I can. But I don't know how much that'll be." He paused, pursing his lips, and his eyes searched hers.
She nodded at him and then realized he expected her to say something. "I—I don't care," she said. She straightened the sleeves of his shirt, just wanting to touch him, somehow. "I..." She paused, looked into his eyes. "You're all I want," she said finally.
He stared at her for a long moment, with one of his rather stricken looks, and for a moment she thought he'd just walk away. But he didn't. He smiled. And then he kissed her, on the lips, and she kissed him back.
A cheer went up around the lodge, but all she cared about was the sound of his heartbeat.