Disclaimer: Unless Aunty Beeb leaves me some deeds, I don't own Robin Hood. And wouldn't until the collapse of the great British Broadcasting Company, that great pillar of entertainment and enlightenment that stands as a symbol for all that is good and British, which will be (hopefully) a very, very long time.
OK. First of all, I apologise for this shocking gap in updates. I would blame wilful Internet connections and time-consuming Biology coursework, but they are excuses I am trying to use to shield myself from the fact that I have not updated in a disgracefully long time. I am sorry.
And OK again, that Life on Mars reference was not wise! No, she's not in a coma, I simply meant the denial… Hopefully things will become more apparent in this and the next chapter.
Small note – the Mapperley Hospital mentioned here really is a mental health insitute in Nottingham. I take delight in little things like that. :D
reflect.clouds – No, she's not in a coma. Sorry for being misleading! And ta – realistic is what I'm hoping for, even if it means stuff is going to have to be a little stilted at times for its sake. I describe well? Thank you – I've always loved dressing things up with unnecessary florid language:D
emilyanne-xo – Rose's abrupt change in attitude should become clear in the next chapter, and thanks for the thing about John – I just thought he seemed to be a good judge of character, and he does hold an almost paternal authority in the group.
RixxiSpooks – Yeah – I've always thought that often when people do time-travel or alternate world-hopping and stuff like that, the characters accept it too easily. Rose isn't going to accept anything without a fight. Aha! I found out the meaning of that quite by accident but knew I had to put it in for you. I don't think I could ever be a novelist – I've been reading books again after a brief lull and it's shown me just how inadequate my own stories are… still, gives me something to strive for, doesn't it:D Ta to your Mum – what happened to our email thing? I never got a reply from you… probably the system lost it. Damn computers. :D
Zaedah – I can hear it from here:D Thank you very much for your praise – description is my baby and kind words about it are greatly appreciated! Sorry that these first few chapters don't lend themselves much to snap and wit as you put it, and neither does my stodgy imagination, but I am trying to work on that! I wanted to capture the more realistic things I thought they would be feeling, and thank you for understanding.
xXxSour-LemonxXx – Thank you very much! Sorry again for this terrible delay.
Maggie – Thanks for your praise – I hope some of your questions are answered in part here. And you really think my dialogue is fine? I'm so grateful for that – dialogue I find the hardest by far. I've also been trying to mentally train myself not to use 'OK' by accident anywhere!
It was bordering on mid-afternoon by the time the outlaws assembled again on the edge of town, all food and money stealthily delivered, but the June skies still bore the semblance of mid-morning, clinging to their youth. The group remained no less mystified by the strange girl in their midst but found her rather amusing. She skipped gaily through the woods, delighting in the touch of the trees and anything they said to her.
"We still only know your name," called Robin to the rust-clad figure wobbling her way along the top of a fallen log, deciding it was time to know more about their giddy charge. "Care to explain more?"
"Of course!" she cried, jumping neatly from the trunk and trotting over to them. "Full name: Rose Olivia Brenton. Nineteen years of age. I grew up on the Benchurch Estate and went to Nottingham Green Prep – worst years of my life, so I thought then…" Trailing off to nothing, Rose looked speculative, then viewed Robin and the gang with calculation that was almost sharp and accusatory to match her tone. "But I know all this already."
Robin bit his lip – she had seemed nearly normal for a moment, while Little John gave a small, almost pitying shake of the head. Determined to know more about the mysterious Rose, he tried to keep her going.
"Well, you may know, Rose," he remarked, careful to sound jovial but not overly so, "but we do not know, and we should like to know more." Still regarding them with something akin to suspicion, Rose's face betrayed her rapid thinking and she opened her mouth to say something but seemed to decide it wasn't worth it and with a half shrug carried on.
"Well, I left school at 16, after exams, and spent a year and a half doing waitress and bar work. Finally landed myself a job in Nottingham Local Council offices and I have held the dull position ever since. I live alone in my studio on the edge of town." Looking over her shoulder back at them, Rose frowned slightly. "Hm. My life story can be condensed into one short paragraph. That's rather depressing."
The gang had understood little of what she had recounted, but the fascination in the strange stranger pulled them again.
"What about family?" enquired Allan, drawing level with her. Rose had been examining a twig and smiling, but the happiness slid from her face and she was no longer looking at the branch but at something far away.
"Family?" she repeated quietly, as the others drew level to them on the path. "Well, no siblings or cousins or grandparents or anything like that. None that I knew of, anyway, or who knew of me. I had my mother, though." Each of the outlaws noticed her wry smile and the past tense; Much glanced at Allan, looking annoyed. Rose was still holding the twig in her pale fingers, seeing beyond everything before her.
"Mum… at times, she was wonderful. We would play Hide-and-Seek for hours around the park, she'd let me eat syrup from the tin; when I was little I thought it was great. So what if I had no dinner for a few days after she impulse-bought fabric – she'd be up all hours making beautiful curtains or blankets for my room or costumes for me to wear and it would make up for it all. But the rest of the time…" Her statement was left hanging in the air for a few moments like a lead weight on a thread. "Sometimes she honestly forgot I was there, but that was preferable to the times when she was angry and snapped at me and wouldn't eat, but drank a lot. It was when she'd meet me after school with the shiny, wild eyes, all excited, though, that I knew there was trouble ahead. She'd tell me how Gran had contacted her earlier – a message written in the dots of an orange rind, or something like that."
Rose snorted gently, and shook her head a little bitterly. "I should have seen it coming. She was always… different, before Gran died – confused and rash, sometimes, - but after… she became obsessed. With reaching Gran. With death in general. She'd do ridiculous things and not understand about the consequences, she'd be convinced there were people everywhere – 'Them', she called them." The capital 'T" was indisputable. "They were watching her, she said. They were out to get her. I learnt to deal with her panic fairly early on – generally, I would scout around for a bit and tell her confidently that They were nowhere in sight and she would usually calm down. But towards the end even I couldn't help her. Turned out she was right, in a way, about Them – someone must have said something, because suddenly there were welfare workers swarming around, scaring her, calling on her during the school day when I couldn't help her get rid of them. They took her away, the finest example of manic depression – " she glanced shrewdly at the outlaws – "madness – that Mapperley Hospital could wish for."
No-one noticed that they had all stopped walking, caught up completely in the story. She continued to her captivated audience, with perhaps an inch of acrid self-pity. "So I was left – the fourteen year old daughter of a crazy woman. I was taken into c– raised by another family who had two children of their own and couldn't have cared less about me. They wanted the money. I got out as soon as I could and now have myself a home, a job and a nice, normal life." Silence reigned for a few seconds in the still forest. Each outlaw chewed over the information; at times, this girl spoke an English that was foreign to them but they got the general gist, and recognised if not understood the quiet rancour of her last sentence. She had never mentioned a father. None of them asked.
It was Allan who first stirred from his reverie and was amused to se his companions scattered across the path like so many pensive statues. Slapping a hand on Much's shoulder, he sang out,
"What are we – paid thinkers or people with things to do? Come on, let's be getting back." Collectively, they jolted slightly, and to a chorus of murmured "Yes"s set off again down the track, chased and followed by the gold-blushed sunbeams.
Robin called a meeting of the gang back at the hideout as soon as Rose was out of earshot. She had been designated the washing up to get her out of the way for their discussion; a task she had been surprisingly eager to take on. Gathered together, they could hear faint singing floating on the air from the direction of the stream. Turning to his men, Robin had thoughtfulness and worry jostling for prominence across his face. In a low voice, he addressed them.
"Here's the issue, lads – what are we going to do with Rose?" A collective shrug ran like a tremor through the group.
"She's not a danger. She's not a spy." rumbled Little John, with the firmament his statements always possessed that strongly discouraged any disagreement. Robin nodded.
"I agree, John – but you cannot deny there's something very odd about her. Earlier, she didn't even seem to recognise Nottingham, though she claims to have been raised in Bonchurch, I gathered." A smattering of cogitative nods. "Speaking of which," continued Robin, "have any of you ever seen her before? Anywhere?"
"No…" said Much, slowly. "And she's not from Bonchurch, I assure you."
For a minute, no-one spoke; the lilting song fell gently about them. Allan, first to reach a conclusion, piped up.
"She acted really strange today, didn't she? And she told us she had a mad mother, maybe – maybe she's a bit affected, too, and –" At the fierce look directed his way, Allan began to protest. "Wait, listen, alright! If she's ill in the head herself, then we should help her, right? That's all I'm saying!"
"Could you be any more insensitive?" said Will, irked. Djaq spoke up, with something skin to sternness.
"It's not Allan's fault that he cannot say it properly, because he is right. If this girl cannot support herself for whatever reason, we must look after her until she can."
Each outlaw considered this (Allan nodding maddeningly) and they looked to their leader but he gave none of the affirmation that Djaq had expected. His lips were drawn worriedly to one side and Djaq could see what was preying on his mind: the extra food, chaperoning and other burdens that Rose would place on them. She spoke up severely.
"We cannot turn her away if she needs our help, Robin!" After a second of tense silence, Robin nodded resignedly.
"You're right, Djaq." Turning to Will, he said, "Will, go to her. Get her talking – shouldn't be too hard. See if you can find out anything more about our mysterious guest." The carpenter nodded.
"I'll go, if you like," said Much, sounding nonchalant. Robin's eyes crinkled at the corners with amusement.
"No, that's alright, my friend. I was hoping for you to start on one of your excellent stews." Laughter filled the camp again and Little John clapped a huge hand on Much's shoulder, chuckling.
"Oh, very funny," muttered the manservant with annoyance, stamping over to the kitchen area. "I've half a mind to poison you all!"
"Dinner as usual, then?" grinned Allan, then ducked to avoid the glare and the spoon that Much threw at him.
As Will approached the stream, it's splashing, rattling voice grew more distinct as did that of their charge. He slowed down to listen in curiosity – it was actually rather good. But nearing, he listened harder and realised it was like no song he had ever heard before; the rhythm was choppy and unusual and a good deal of the words were incomprehensible to him. It could be a foreign song, he pondered dubiously, trying to pretend it hadn't just added itself to the tottering pile of oddities stacked up against her. He strode over to where the girl knelt at the edge of the brook and then, feeling he might look a bit intimidating towering over her, crouched down instead and watched her pick up a handful of grit in a slender hand and begin to scour the inside of a black pot.
"Oh – hello!" Rose greeted him chirpily, pausing her scrubbing of the pot. "Will, isn't it?"
"Yes." He flashed her a small smile which she returned with a quite unnerving beam. Silence fell between them like a thick smother of snow as she recommenced cleaning. Well, what now? thought Will, shifting awkwardly in his uncomfortable crouching position and dropping his gaze to the water. Simple, pointless conversation with strangers had never come very easily to the quiet carpenter. He had hoped that perhaps she would begin talking of her own accord: he was without a clue as to what to say first. At least the strange girl seemed calmer than she had earlier that afternoon.
"I'm sorry." Will looked up and met her rueful gaze as she ventured almost apologetically "I can answer questions but I was never that good at making conversation." Will's eyes lit up slightly – she sounded far more sedate and sensible than before, and so would hopefully be easier to deal with. He smiled, glad to have found some common ground.
"Me neither." he told Rose, and kneeling beside her took a wooden plate and began rinsing.
Robin carefully pulled a leafy spray aside to gain a glimpse of the pair sitting cross-legged by the stream. The pots and pans, freshly washed, lay in a glistening jumble beside them as each dried the dishes with small pieces of cloth; frequent bursts of conversation and Rose's laughter could be heard back at camp. A rustle hissed its way closer behind Robin's back but he didn't turn, and a second later Much was crouching beside him, behind the bush.
"Should we go and fetch them, now? the manservant grumbled in his ear.
"No," said Robin, not looking round, "they'll come back when they're ready."
"But Master – it's taken them over half and hour!" Robin turned to face him, mouth part open in an amused smile.
"Is that jealousy I hear, Much?"
"No," muttered Much, disgruntled, and he stood and marched back to their base. Robin watched the two talking for a few seconds more – at least they appeared to be getting on well – then straightened up and headed back to the hideout with the shadow of a smile gracing his features.
Please review! Constructive criticism greatly appreciated, as if any form of encouragement:D