everything that rises must converge
People are like rivers. Sometimes they travel down hill, and others up—but they all converge at the ocean.
Robin was five when he saw her for the first time—swaddled in a little pink blanket, all eyes and no hair. Sheriff Fitzwalter asked if he wanted to hold the tiny, helpless thing, calling it a Marian. He gently wrapped Robin's arms around its body and then stood back, smiling along with the rest of the adults as he asked, "What do you think, young man?"
He gazed down at the baby, eyes wide as he felt it breathing in his arms, mouth working silently as if she were trying to speak. She curled into him, clinging to his warmth, gurgling happily as her tiny hands fisted in his shirt.
"She's so small," He murmured, so enchanted by this fierce little creature that he didn't see the startled, excited glance that passed between his parents and Sir and Lady Sheriff.
His mother bent down, her hands gently peeling back the cloth that had fallen across the infant's face. "She won't always be that way," she whispered to him. "She'll grow up to be big like me."
Robin smiled sweetly, his mind already churning. "Bet she won't be as pretty as you, Mum," he flattered slyly, letting her gently dislodge baby Marian from his arms. But rather than falling for his tricks she simply laughed, shaking her head at him.
"All right, now it's time for us to talk business. Why don't you run along and find Much?" His father suggested. Robin's eyes were still on the little pink bundle.
At the mention of business, Robin took off—he hated grown-up talk more than anything else in the whole world. Instantly, all thoughts of the tiny little face that had smiled up at him vanished from his mind, replaced instead with an epic plan for battle games.
She grew so slowly. It seemed to Robin that he was always waiting for Marian Fitzwalter—every holiday that her parents came to stay, he waited with high hopes that she would look suddenly taller and older, would finally be able to keep up and climb trees.
He had a different sort of fun with her, though—not like the kind he had with Much. But he found that she made a spectacular face when he pulled her hair and he had yet to beat her in hide-and-seek. He couldn't figure out how she always seemed to instinctively know where he was—it didn't matter where he hid, or how well; she would spin in a slow circle and zero in, somehow just knowing where to find him.
"Got you," she'd say with a cheerful, toothless grin before sticking her thumb back into its permanent location: her mouth. "I win."
Once, finally giving in to his thoughts, he burst out, "How do you always know where I am?"
She stared wordlessly up at him, shrugging expressively. It wasn't until he'd hoisted her onto his back and was carrying her piggyback that she giggled into his ear, "I just walk and there you are."
She'd always been a solemn creature, never contrary but smiling seldom. She was happy at her own—and never other's—pleasure. Most of his friends thought her stuck up and haughty, but Robin knew better. She was simply careful with her bits of joy, gifting them only on occasion.
He counted it as something of an honor that he was the only boy in Locksley or Knighton that could make her laugh.
During her visits she spent her time either following him around wordlessly, like an indifferent little shadow. While he rough-housed and played War she would wander off aimlessly, chasing butterflies or simply observing. He once caught her trying to do somersaults behind the barn, and only the sight of her fiercely determined face kept him from poking fun.
Usually he simply tried to lose her by moving quickly, but she was fast—often he and his friends would think her gone and then there she would be, standing silently nearby.
She sort of embarrassed him, to be honest. He didn't mind too much playing with her when he was at home, surrounded by only Much and his parents, but in front of his friends he didn't want her trailing after him.
"I'm going out with my friends today," he told her pointedly, awkwardly giving her a pat on the head. He never knew exactly how to react when she looked wordlessly up at him as if she was taking every word he said and turning it into a speech. "Stay here. Find someone else to play with."
She didn't answer for a second, appearing to contemplate his words. Then she gave a cheerful little shrug. "Okay, Robin," she said, all smiles, and to his great surprise her tone sounded almost . . . patronizing. She skipped wordlessly away, apparently unconcerned with his rebuff, and he watched her go with a flicker of a frown.
Feeling oddly as if he was missing half—or at least a shadow—of himself.
He was fifteen by the time they finally told him: they were to be married. Not for a good while yet, his mother hastened to assure him, plenty of time for him to 'sow his wild oats', as it may be. But ten-year-old Marian Fitzwalter would be his wife when she came of age.
Robin thought that it would make things more awkward, his knowing. But her tenth summer was the one that Marian chose to break out of her quiet little shell, entering Locksley as if she owned it. She still didn't smile often, but had broken her vow of silence, chattering on and making friends with everyone. Instead of simply trailing after him, Marian watched from behind a book or her embroidery, and he could swear that she was . . . memorizing.
Frankly, he was just glad she wasn't shadowing him anymore.
Still, he didn't quite know how to deal with this new Marian—he was used to the solemn, reserved ghost of a creature. Now that girl had been traded in for this new gung-ho, devil-may-care warrior child. Her knees were constantly scraped and her dresses torn—he was almost positive that she lost one of every pair of ribbons she wore in her hair.
He had to learn to share her smiles, because she dealt them out like candy, tossing laughter and impish little giggles at whoever might be nearby. She charmed her way through his friends and even Much, and soon they were asking after her, treating her like one of them, like a favored little sister.
Suddenly the servants were calling her "that lovely Lady Marian" and when he dared her to swim in Locksley pond she did, without hesitation.
Later, while her mother and father were scolding her for ruining yet another dress, she glanced over at him and—he swears it, to this day—the cheeky little devil winked.
He traveled to Knighton to celebrate her fourteenth birthday—his mother bought her a gift and he signed his name on it—and he tried not to be bored at the party.
She leaned her chin on her palm and made faces at him all through dinner (faces he tried hard not to laugh at, because he was nineteen and too old for such games). Afterward, their parents went outside to talk and he tugged her hair—for old times' sake.
"Did you know we're going to be married?" She asked him, her tone deceptively disinterested. He'd grown used enough to her by now and leaned back on his elbows, watching the firelight dancing on her dark hair.
He smiled faintly, not sure what else he was supposed to do. "Yes."
She didn't look at him but just gave one, sharp nod. Then she turned, a teasing little grin on her mouth. "Frankly, I'm disappointed," she told him, straight-faced. "I was hoping for someone more handsome."
He raised an eyebrow at her, tilting his head. Was she . . . flirting with him? "You'll remain a maid a long time if that's what you're looking for," he retorted with a smirk.
Marian took a step forward, hands on her hips as she studied him. "I don't know, Much has gotten awfully good-looking," she told him breezily, and he choked on his own tongue.
"What?!" He stuttered, gaping. "You fancy Much?"
Then she was giggling, hand pressed over her mouth. "You should have seen your face!" She cried, and he found himself laughing with her. "Priceless."
He lunged for her, tickling her sides with practiced ease. She let him, for a bit, and then wiggled out of his grasp. "I'm much too old for that sort of thing," she scolded, bossing him with a flick of her hair. He felt oddly sad at her words. "And anyway, I ought to be heading to bed. A girl needs her beauty sleep."
"And you certainly need a lot," he joked.
She glared at him, punching his shoulder with enough force to make him wince. "Goodnight, Locksley."
He watched her walk up the stairs, only rubbing his shoulder once she'd gone.
Marian was sixteen when her mother died. She succumbed to an illness that slipped in through an open window one winter night. Sir Edward locked himself in his room and didn't emerge for days—as for Marian, all the spirit and pluck seemed to bleed out of her as she simply sat, staring at nothing.
Robin couldn't decide which was worse.
Just when he'd become used to—and indeed, very fond of—the new, gutsy Marian Fitzwalter she reverted suddenly back into her old self: somber, quiet, observant. She watched with dark eyes as life went on around her, dazedly observing the pulsing heart of Knighton.
That was how he found her the night before he left for Locksley—palms folded docilely in her lap, hair down, not blinking as she stared at the fireplace.
He took a seat beside her, pretending not to notice the uneven pattern of her breath. "Marian," he murmured, not looking at her, not knowing how to finish his sentence. She didn't answer. He tried again, "I wish…"
There were a million things that he didn't know how to say. I'm sorry for your loss. Don't be sad. I want you to stop crying. Please.
She sighed, the sound tiny and reminiscent of the little girl that used to follow him around. She said, "Do you know what I wish?" She looked at him. Her eyes were bright. "I wish I hadn't always been so terrible." Her voice broke and he took her hand, not sure what else to do. "I wish I'd been more ladylike—and that I hadn't always torn my dresses and rode sidesaddle and learned to embroider properly—and I wish that I'd been sweet and domestic and not gotten into a fistfight with that horrid Sarah Whats-her-face—"
And then she was crying, water pouring out of her eyes for what he thought might be the first time. She curled into him, letting him wrap his arms around her, hands fisting into his shirt. "I wish I'd been good for her," she cried.
She reminded him of the baby he held so many years ago—so small and vulnerable and trusting, completely at home against his chest. "Your mother loved you," he said, forcefully, half-wanting her to fall inside of him so that he could protect her. "She wouldn't have changed a single thing about you."
He wasn't sure if she believed him but she didn't argue, simply laid against him until her tears petered out and her hiccups stopped. They stayed sitting that way for a long time—until her breath evened and her swollen eyes fell shut.
He carried her to her room, placing her beneath the sheets and gently tucking them against her chin. Looking down at her, in that light, he didn't see the quiet child he'd known. He didn't even see the saucy young girl she'd turned into. He simply saw Marian—saw her standing on the cusp of womanhood with no one but her father to guide her.
Her father, and him.
He watched with mild amusement as she aimed the darts and threw them; they flew with deadly accuracy at the target. "Envisioning my face?" He asked lightly, stepping into her room.
She turned, a smile already lighting her face at the sound of his voice. Marian's hair spilled down off of her shoulders as she looked at him. "Is it June already?" She asked lightly, moving toward him with far more grace than he remembered her having. "I could have sworn it May."
He laughed, taking her hand and pressing the skin to his lips.
He started. This hand was not the one he remembered, callused and cracked from fights and trouble; this hand was smooth and soft, pale and delicate and now sliding against his fingers as she pulled free. "Much and I have business in Nottingham. I heard a detour calling my name."
"Robin of Locksley," she teased, winking at him, "When does distractionnot call your name?"
He grinned. "You have me there." Then, looking over her shoulder, "So what's all this, then?"
She blushed, nervously tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Oh, I—nothing." Hastily, Marian dropped the two remaining darts into her pocket.
"I'm not letting you get away that easily," he teased, grabbing her arm as she made to walk passed him. She didn't look up. "Marian?"
She gave in, huffing crossly. "Oh, all right then. I saw you and Much playing a few summers back and thought I might learn." She hesitated. "Don't tell my father."
He grinned, knowing an opportunity when he saw one. "All right. On one condition." She looked warily up at him. "There are two darts left. We both throw one. If you are closer to the bull's eye, then we never have to speak of this again—to anybody. But if I win…" he pretended to think. "Then I get a kiss."
She blinked, genuinely surprised as her eyebrows shot up. "Well, all right," she agreed reluctantly. "But for future reference, I do not sell my kisses." She handed him a dart and took one for herself, aiming and then letting go with startling fluidity. The dart bit deep into the target, a mere inch from the center. She smirked at him. "Your turn, Locksley."
He didn't look as he threw. It landed square in the middle. Marian gaped for a second, and then laughed. "Well, serves me right I suppose. I should have known better. You've been practicing practically since birth." She shook her head. "Well, come here then, bend your head."
He obliged and she pressed a single, feather-light kiss to his cheek.
Her scent wrapped around him, looping its tendrils around his hands and lifting them without his consent. He found himself gently resisting as she pulled away, and bringing his mouth—cautiously—to meet hers.
At first she didn't do anything—she didn't respond or pull away. But after a moment, he felt her mouth slowly begin to work against his. She slid her hands up his arms to his shoulders and stepped closer to him. He wrapped himself around her.
Only when he was desperate for breath did he pull away. He looked down at her; her eyes will closed, mouth-half open as the color in her cheeks slowly evened. When she did open her eyes, it was a slow and blinking affair.
He was half-afraid that she would punch him, but instead she merely smiled. "I offered you one kiss, Robin of Locksley," she threatened him teasingly. "You stole two."
"Perhaps I could give one back," he offered, and bent his head again.
The next year passed quickly. Robin found it much easier than expected to maneuver through the hazy, murky waters of romance with Marian—often he saw in her the mild, solemn child she'd once been but mostly her fierce, independent nature took over. She insisted he give her archery lessons (that usually ended with them lying in the grass, talking or … not) and she could still beat him in a horse race.
He never told her that he loved her, but he suspected that perhaps he did.
When he turned twenty-one he received the summons from the King. A formal request, it said. For one member of the Locksley family.
His mother cried, insisting that they could find a way out of it. But Robin felt something stir within him at the words. Something that jumped and ached and clawed.
His father had died years ago at home, in his bed, a tired old man. Robin did not want to end up the same.
He promised Marian he would return in a few months. He told her that if she felt it necessary, she could terminate their engagement at any time while he was away.
She told him flatly that if he walked out of Knighton on his way to Jerusalem than he would end the betrothal without any help from her.
He'd hesitated at the end of her walk. He could feel her in the doorway, watching him with her piercing, dark eyes, waiting for him to decide. He could keep waking or turn around. She would wait for him to take the twenty strides back to Knighton, but should he walk the longer path she would go inside and make supper and forget all about Robin of Locksley.
And God but save him, he chose the road.
He walked for five years. He never needed orders or explanation of the territory; he never feared the arrows and swords. He walked and Much followed, sometimes backed by a regiment and hundreds of swords, others alone.
It didn't matter where he went. It was like when they were children playing hide and seek—if he walked for long enough, there she would be.