Robin's grip on Kate tightened as he forced his horse forward catching up with Marion.
"Look ahead." She called. "Do you see what I see?"
"I see them." Robin smiled as he gazed upon a very welcomed sight. Much, Allan and Will returning from the market, their one horse laden with all their provisions for tonight's festival.
Robin and Marion slowed their horses down enough to drop Kate and Ronan into the very confused arms of Much and Allan with a quick vow that Kate would explain.
The merry men stared at the retreating back of their friends, racing to the forest.
"I don't remember volunteering to baby-sit." Allan replied slowly while Much looked to Kate for an explanation.
"Show time." The Sheriff grinned as he watched the twins abandon the bowl and took up playing with sticks. "You know what to do."
Guy of Gisborne speared his horse in the ribs in order to move into the clearing were the eldest sons of Locksley played.
"Take that Guy!"
The use of his name momentarily stopped him in his tracks.
"Oh no cursed outlaw! I …have been…defeated!" and with that one twin collapsed to his knees, giving an exaggerating cry of death.
Guy's fists tightened at his so-called 'death'
"Smile, Gisborne, remember you are not the bad guy here!" a voice hissed in his head. He put on a smile trotting towards Roy and Charles who dropped their swords, disguised to the untrained eye as sticks and stared at the new visitor of the forest.
"Boys as young as yourself should not be left alone" Had he uttered any other statement he could not have caused more offence.
The offended boys huffed. At once they pouted.
"We are nine years old. Nearly ten."
"Besides we can take care of ourselves"
"Their mother's sons." Guy muttered and so they could hear, "Oh I'm sure you can, with those twigs of yours."
Charles glared, while Roy looked at the ground ashamed.
"Father will not let us have real swords. He says we are too young."
"That did not stop him at your age."
"You know our father?"
"Quite well we are old acquaintances."
"Then you must know of our mother, Marion of Locksley."
"Well, I'm Roy and this is my brother Charles"
"I am Gu-Gerald. Gerald of Kent."
An awkward silence arose from the informal introduction, broken suddenly by Gisborne or Gerald clapping his hands together.
"Say, how about I teach you how to duel with real swords?"
"Our father was to teach us…"
"…but he was sent away before our training could commence."
"Well, I'm here and I know quite a thing or two about combat. I was in the crusades."
"Would I lie to you?"
"You fought along the king?"
"Oh yes. You could say that in my presence, his very life hung in the balance."
The twins stared with hero-worshipped eyes at Gerald.
"Father would never have done something so brave."
"Would he not?"
"No. He is merely a noble by birth. He has never left England to our knowledge."
Roy balanced from foot to foot, clearly full of unease by Charles' words about their father. He knew Charles was angered by the fact that his friends had all begun their training in combat and he was still lagging behind. Yet Roy understood that Robin had been sent away by the King on official business possibly another meeting of the nobles. He knew it was important.
"Interesting and yet you hope to learn how to use a sword from a man who was never at war."
"What has being at war got to do with our training?" Roy questioned, hoping to defend his father. Charles sent a glare to Roy, mortified that he tried to argue with a true and noble warrior.
Gerald smirked and in the flash of an eye, had his sword at Roy's throat.
"It is the feeling of seeing a man fear his death in front of your eyes. Of knowing that his life is in your hands. You couldn't even begin to imagine that kind of power." Charles was amazed at the skill the man posed and Roy stared up at him with defiant eyes.
A silence bored heavily on the twins when Gerald removed his sword. Charles wishing to learn more from this war veteran. Roy wishing he could get Djaq and Charles away from this villain.
"W-will you teach us how to battle?" Charles questioned.
Guy gave another smirk.
"Meet my here at sundown." And without giving the twins a chance to argue he rode off, back into the forest, back into the shadows.
"Is this not good fortune on our part?"
"I do not know. Perhaps we should discuss this with mother and father."
"They will never let us go! Come Roy, be realistic. If they knew we were to be battling with real swords, they would never let us see Gerald again."
"Maybe that is not such a bad idea."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Charles, there is something about him. Can't you sense it? He is not a nice man!"
"Well I like him. At least he believes we are capable of something." It was at this point that Roy realised how much Charles resented their father for not spending time with them, for being away for so long. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he nearly missed his brother's next words.
"And I will go tonight, with or without you!"
This shocked Roy for rarely was one Locksley twin seen without the other. He feared for his brother and he knew he could not allow him to go alone tonight.
"N-no. I'll come too." He said in a small voice.
"Good. And be sure to remain silent about Gerald. Father would not approve of us learning combat from anyone other than him."
"I'll hold my tongue."
"See that you do. Look ahead Djaq is returning."
Djaq ran to the boys, their parents not far behind. She was out of breath and leaning on her knees.
"Thank God, they are safe!" Marion breathed next to Robin.
He nodded, eyes still scanning the area.
"We must not speak of Kate's meeting with you-know-who." He decided. Marion looked hesitant.
"They are in danger, Robin. They have a right to know. It is our duty to protect them."
"I agree. Yes. Even if it is from themselves. We must keep it secret Marion."
"Have we not kept enough secrets from them Robin?"
"Marion please, it is for their own good."
"Very well. I'll remain silent but on your head be it if this gets them into any more danger." She shoved past him, towards her sons.
"I know." And putting on a smile he followed her.
"Boys time to go."
"But father," Charles moaned.
"No. Come, we have a feast to prepare for tonight. King Richard shall be attending."
Charles glowered at his father but was silent like his brother.
So with Marion and Djaq on their own horse and Robin leading the twins on the other, they set off home.
"Are you sure you saw no one?" Marion questioned Djaq.
"No one. The forest was empty."
'What game are you and your master playing Gisborne?' she wondered. She looked ahead to where the males of Locksley were.
'And what are the consequences to be if we lose?'
Robin glanced at his boys. Charles looked away huffing at how his lesson was cut short.
Roy had his head down, staring intently at the saddle fingering a lock of the horse's mane.
"You look troubled Roy. Did the lesson not go well?"
Roy jumped on hearing his father's voice, he felt his brother's hold on him tighten.
"I am fine, merely tired." Roy felt Charles grip loosen.
"As am I father. Perhaps we could go to bed early tonight."
"Do you not wish to join the feast tonight?"
Both boys shook their heads.
"Very well, you two are excused tonight. Charles, why don't you go and accompany your mother on the other horse."
Charles scowled at being given an order but hopped off the horse and raced to his mother.
Robin leaped up on the horse taking Charles' place.
"Roy are you sure you are well? Perhaps you should try to sleep." He took the reins of the horse from the weak hold Roy had on them.
"Alright." And with that Roy leant his head back on his father's chest and closed his eyes.
Despite the physical closeness of the two, they could never have been further apart. Worlds stood between them, a barrier of secrets, and a wall of lies.
"Please..." Kate began and Much momentarily stopped brushing her hair.
"Please tell me what is going on." Allan stopped playing with Ronan and looked at the situation unfolding in front of him. Will returned to staring out the window but he was listening intently to what was being said
"Nothing Kate. Your parents are merely fetching your brothers for the feast tonight."
Much calmly replied. Kate knew he was lying. She saw the looks her elders shared after she told them of her meeting with the man in black. She knew that they knew what was happening. She felt like she had been given a few chapters from a book and was desperate to read the whole story.
"Please do not lie to me, uncle Much."
"You truly wish to know?"
"I wish to know what has my most peaceful uncles reaching for their weapons at the slightest sound. What has my mother, who banished the monsters in my room, pacing outside my bedroom door at night and what has put the fear in the eyes of my father who fears nothing."
Much stared at Kate, surprised at all she knew and saw. His look was mirrored by Will and Allan. Ronan however was enjoying the funny faces his uncles were pulling and began to clap his hands in amusement as he chanted 'Kate. Kate.' Kate smiled, slightly embarrassed by her passionate speech. Eventually Much spoke.
"Kate. It is not my place to tell you."
"You are family. You know. I am a part of this family and I have a right to know."
The three men stared at each other. She was right. Much sighed.
"Kate. Do you remember the stories your mother and father told you at night?"
"About the Hooded Outlaw and the Nightwatchman?" She smiled at the memories those wonderful stories blessed upon her. Those stories that she holds dear to her heart to this very day.
"What of them?"