Blow Your House Down

Chapter Two: Apples to Apples

It was one thing, Marian decided sullenly as she fidgeted beneath the layers of frills and lace of her new dress, that she wasn't allowed to roughhouse with Robin and Much anymore. She'd been expecting Rose to tire of mending countless dresses and covering bruises or cuts with additional satin. Her father's latest decree hardly came as a surprise—and if she was honest, Marian didn't feel too disappointed.

After all, they weren't ten-year-olds anymore and Robin was getting strong.

But it was an entirely different matter that she was now confined to the four walls of her room with no company other than a book and her embroidery when Robin got to go gallivanting off into Sherwood with Much and the village boys. She could outride any of them, Marian thought bitterly, and if it weren't for her dresses getting in the way all the time she could outrun them, too.

"Oh, for the love of God! Where has that boy got to?" Marian's ears pricked, her eyes stilling on the page as she strained to hear to the all-too-familiar voice of an exasperated Rose as the woman frantically lifted pillows and opened doors in her search. "I swear in the name of Sheriff Fitzwalter, I am going to give him such a beating when I find that little scoundrel. . . "

Marian grinned, snapping her book shut and tossing it onto her bed. She could smell an adventure a mile away, and Robin's absence meant only one thing: wonderful, devious, dangerous trouble.

She hesitated for a moment, remembering her father's stern words the week before, and then dropped off the windowsill and onto the pile of hay she and Robin had prepared for this specific purpose. Tiptoeing carefully passed the window, she peered round the side of the house just in time to see Much staggering toward town with an armful of green apples.

She scurried toward him, half-cross to have been excluded in whatever plan Robin had hatched. She hissed, "Much!"

He startled and the apples when flying, several conking him on the head before landing comfortably in the grass. He sighed miserably, picking them up with resignation. "Lady Marian," he greeted dully. "How are you this morning?"

She rolled her eyes at him, snatching several apples and piling them into her apron. "Fine," she said curtly, "But where's Robin? What's he doing? Why didn't you get me?"

Robin's playmate didn't answer for several seconds, just sighed longingly at the fruit in his arms. "He's in town," he began, "with some crazy plan to give apples to an apple-seller, which makes no sense . . . why would you give fruit to a fruit stand? He doesn't seem to understand the purpose of a market. 'It's where you buy food', I told him, but does he listen to me, Much, his best friend? Noooo . . ."

Marian swatted at him, hurrying Much along by quickening her own pace. "Never mind that," she scolded, "I can't believe he didn't invite me along! Who does he think he is? Like he can pull anything off without me!"

"You two have yet to pull anything without getting caught. Maybe if you could learn to work together and not always try to one-up each other you might accomplish something," he grumbled back, "Or need I remind you of yesterday—and last week—and the week before—and the month before—and last summer—and—"

"All right, all right," she interrupted sourly, "No need to rub it in. And I stand by the fact that yesterday was entirely Robin's fault. If he hadn't—"

"Yesterday was not my fault!" Robin swung down from a roof, landing lightly on his feet and grinning broadly at her. "Took you long enough to get here, what held you up?"

Marian scowled. "Yes, glad to be included," she snapped. "And you're welcome for carrying these stupid things."

He made a face at her, poking out his tongue. "Thought you were toobusy, doing all that reading," he retorted. "'Sides, if what you wore to dinner last night says anything then you're too prim and proper to help with pranking anyhow."

She straightened, shaking her apron. She wanted to shake a fist but she ran the risk of dropping the apples, and then Robin really might not let her help. So she settled, adding instead extra venom to her reply. "Rose put me in that dress, I didn't want to wear it! And anyway, she only said I had to be a lady because you got me in trouble for setting my canopy on fire, so it's your fault anyway!"

He shifted guiltily. "I am sorry about your canopy," he told her sincerely, and stuck out a hand. Careful of her cargo, she spat into her palm, and took the offer with smug finality. He grinned, impressed, and she let go before she started getting that hot, embarrassed feeling she sometimes did when he looked at her for too long.

"It's okay," she forgave easily. "So what's the plan?"

Robin smiled. He pointed across the square at a little apple stand, where a large man was selling only red apples. Marian could hear him bellowing from her position; he was shouting swearing as he stooped to pick up coins he'd dropped. "We're going to switch the apples," Robin explained with a wicked expression on his safe. "One by one, so he doesn't notice at first. By the time we're done they'll all be green!"

Marian laughed. "That'll show him to be so loud," she mocked. "But what'll you do with the traded apples?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. Give them away, I suppose."

"You wouldn't rather be at home embroidering?" Much entreated Marian. "We're all certain that this is how we want to spend an otherwise lovely afternoon? Think of it—we could be swimming, or riding, or, I don't know…something that won't get us all hanged?"

"They wouldn't hang us, I'm going to marry Marian," the other boy declared imperiously.

Marian faked a shudder. "Ew! In your dreams!" She laughed and avoided his good-natured punch, ducking through the crowd. Robin and Much trailed behind, crouching behind a storage box for cover. "All right. Much and I will create a distraction while you take the apples and hide under his stand so you can switch them while he's not looking. I'll go first," he added bravely. "Wish me luck!"

She kissed his cheek, quickly, her face hot. She thought for sure he would yell at her, but instead he just grinned charmingly and tossed an apple into the air. He strode confidently towards the vender. Marian couldn't hear what was said, but she watched with glee as the man's face darkened into a deeper and deeper red while Robin remained cool and calm, rocked back on his heels as he toyed with the apples at the man's stand.

After a few minutes, Much sighed heavily. "Tell my mum I loved her," he muttered, and marched after Robin, mud splashing up his legs. The two boys leapt at one another, tousling playfully. They careened dangerously close to the stand and the vender took a step away to avoid the flailing limbs.

Marian took the opportunity to beeline, apron curled around the apples, towards the table. She dove beneath the tablecloth and pulled her knees to her chest, holding her breath. She could see the seller's feet from the other side of the cloth but he didn't seem to have noticed her intrusion.

"Oi! You boys be careful, watch my apples!"

She began frantically switching out the apples, her hands moving so quick that she could barely keep track of them. Every time the seller took a step forward she froze, her whole body stiff as she tried not even to breath in case he notice.

"Sorry, sir, it's just that this idiot here—"

"Don't call me an idiot! You're the idiot!"

"Oh, jigger off!"

Suddenly the seller rounded the table, his huge feet splashing mud just shy of Marian's new dress. "All right, lads, that's it! You come here and I'll show you what's . . ." he trailed off wonderingly. Marian curled into the tightest ball she could, praying she wouldn't be seen. "What's—what's happened to my apples?" She stifled a giggle, watching the vender's feet pace back and forth across the table, his voice high pitched and frightened. "What . . . how . . . I don't . . . what magic is this?"

He turned swiftly. "I don't know what you did, but get away from here before I call the Sheriff!"

Marian watched as Robin's and Much's feet scampered from the stand. Her eyes darted about, looking for an escape route. But there was none; no matter which way she dove, the seller would see her and undoubtedly drag her back. So she stayed frozen beneath the table, praying he would leave for a minute and she could get away.

Panic started to set in. She couldn't get caught. She couldn't. Rose would find out and Daddy would find out and then they'd really never let her leave her room.

There was a shout; the vender's feet turned away from the table and she watched with amazement as Robin dove in next to her, curling his legs him and leaning against her to minimize space.

"Didn't think I'd leave you here, did you?" He whispered with a grin. She didn't even tease back, she was so happy to see him. He grabbed her hand and squeezed once before whipping his leg out and catching the seller's shin; the man toppled over. "Come on! Run, Marian, quick!" Robin pushed her from under the table and she scrambled for a second in the mud before finding hold and sprinting from the market as fast as her legs could carry her. She didn't stop running until she reached Knighton, where she clambered up the hay pile and back into her window. She inspected herself in the mirror—barely any dirt of mud, just a bit around the edges and that could easily be brushed off or cleansed with water.

She stuck her head out of the window. "Robin, it's safe, you can come up." There was no answer. She frowned, leaning out further. "Robin?"

Her eyes widened as she gazed down the path. The angry apple-seller had Robin by the ear and was dragging him down the path toward Knighton Hall, livid. Robin made three escape attempts but each was thwarted. Marian caught his eyes once and he offered a half-hearted, what-can-you-do? grin before resigning himself to his fate.

Her father came out the front door, hands on his hips. "Oh, for heaven's sake. What have you done now, Robin?"

Marian held her breath. "I tricked this nice man into thinking his apples had changed color," he explained shamelessly, a little smile hovering around the edges of his mouth.

Daddy sighed, rubbing his face with his hands. "Even when we try to keep you away from Marian you cause trouble. This is the last straw, son. I'm sorry. I have to send you home." Robin's eyes widened and all traces of humor fell of his face.

"What? But sir—"

Marian yelped, loudly enough to draw the attention of the small band below. She leapt out onto the hay and tumbled down to the ground, scrambling back onto her feet and taking her place at Robin's side with her chin in the air. "It's not his fault," she declared, ignoring Robin's incredulous look. "I made him do it."

Her father raised his eyebrows, shoulders sagging. "What?"

"I—I was angry that you said I wasn't allowed to leave my room, so I tricked Robin into switching the apples. I told him you'd ended my punishment early due to good behavior and that we should celebrate."

She held her breath, half-fearing she wouldn't be believed. For good measure she added quietly, "Please don't make him go, Daddy." Robin looked at her sharply but she made a point of ignoring him, pleading with her father. "I'll be good for the rest of the summer. I promise. I won't prank or fight or light anything on fire or ruin my dresses and I'll do embroidery and read every day like you want me to. Please."

Her father sighed, shaking his head slowly. "How many apples do you have now, sir?"

The seller shrugged. "'Bout the same amount, I'd say."

"More," Robin corrected. "We left you your original apples, too."

The Sheriff of Nottingham smile tiredly, giving in with an exasperated laugh. "All right. The boy can stay. But no more of this, do you understand?" Marian squealed, hurling herself into his arms and kissing his cheek several times over. "And don't think we aren't going to talk about you sneaking out today, young lady," he added, firmly but affectionately as he set her back down onto her own two feet.

He invited the seller in for an apologetic cup of tea and left Robin and Marian to themselves. They just looked at each other for a second until Robin muttered, "Thanks."

Marian smirked at him, laying a soft punch on his shoulder. "Didn't think I'd leave you here, did you?" She echoed.

Robin opened his mouth like he was going to say something when Much suddenly tumbled out of Marian's window and onto the hay. "What'd I miss?" He asked, breath heaving. "I ran back as fast as I could. Did we get caught?"

They shared a smile, hands brushing. Their fingers almost connected before Robin pulled away, red. "Marian saved us," he declared proudly, and after a pause added, "And admitted it was her fault that her canopy got set on fire."

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

"Did not!"

Much rolled his eyes. "Here we go," he muttered. "There is something very wrong with you two."