Will stumbled back into camp, little Ailith clutched protectively in his arms, his eyes darting around in search of the rest of the outlaws. He was met by all four at once, each of them throwing down what they were doing when they saw his wild-eyed expression and the bawling child.
"Want Mum!" Ailith screamed, bunching her hands into miniscule fists and punching Will in the chest. He barely felt the weak blows, but he understood what the baby was feeling. He wanted Morgan back. too. He didn't want her to be at the mercy of the Sheriff and Gisborne and was determined to head back to where he'd left her and see what had happened. First, however, he needed to gather the gang and leave Ailith in the safety of the camp.
"Yes, little one," Will nodded, "We'll get her back."
"Where's Morgan?" Robin asked immediately, his leader instinct kicking in when he saw that one of his comrades was missing.
"We were found by some guards. Morgan went to distract them, so I could get Ailith back to safety. I don't know what happened after that," Will replied, filling them in. "We need to go back and see if she was captured."
"Yes, we do," Robin declared in agreement, "But who's volunteering to stay here and care for Ailith?"
"I will," Much raised a tentative hand, looking slightly dubiously at the toddler who was red in the face and tearstained, "Or maybe….on second thoughts, maybe someone else should." He couldn't cope with upset women, let alone little children who were in distress.
"I volunteer to stay with you Much," Djaq stated, "I may be able to calm her with some herbs, but I am not good with children. That is your job. You don't need us all Robin, do you?"
"No, if you both stay then I know she will be in good hands," the outlaw leader smiled at them and then grabbed his bow off the ground, "Let's go."
"Here," Will carefully extricated Ailith's vice-like grip on his shirt which she had taken to clutching for comfort and warmth. He then handed the squawking babe over to Djaq, his eyes lingering a little longer than necessary on hers, deep brown meeting sparkling blue for several seconds.
"Mum!" Ailith shrieked again, looking up at the new person holding her with confused eyes. This woman was not her adopted mother, and therefore she would continue crying until her mum came back. She remembered the moment when she had been taken from Morgan, and the warm woman had kissed her on the head only to vanish again. She wanted her mum…or at least the man named Will, who smelt of fresh pine wood. He was nice too. But this stranger smelt odd, exotic even; it was a mixture of spice and herbs. "Mum! Will!"
The man called Will had gone though and her 'Mum' was nowhere insight. She was just left with the spice-smelling lady and the man with funny hat. They were not the best replacements the small girl could've hoped for.
Ailith cried out again, desperate for the others to return to her screams, but they didn't and she found herself being bounced and jiggled in a rather uncomfortable fashion in a feeble attempt to quiet her. It actually caused her to feel quite nauseous, and she shut her mouth to avoid shedding the contents of her stomach. She glared instead at the woman who was clutching her awkwardly.
"Ha, Djaq, you were making fun of how Morgan and I looked after Ailith, but you're no better," Much chuckled at the Saracen who scowled back.
"I am no mother, you take her," Djaq pushed the squealing child into the former manservant's hands, "I will make a sedative to calm her."
"Well, thank you very much," Much groaned as the infant was placed with him again. Where did the others get the idea that he was the mothering, caring type? It was ridiculous.
He was brought back to the present by a sharp pain in his hand however, and he yelped, looking down for the source of his hurt. Ailith had bitten him. There were small teeth marks from the very few she actually owned in his skin.
This bite seemed to have vented most of her upset as she wasn't making a racket and was sitting, albeit slightly tearful, calmly. Much, however, was not best pleased.
"No bite." Much shook his head at the toddler who stared innocently up at him with her huge expressive eyes. Her pink lips crinkled in a half smile and she reached out with a grubby hand to touch the man's face as if the tiny gesture would suffice as an apology for previous actions. Unfortunately, she misjudged her movement and ended up poking the former manservant right in the eye. "Ouch! Djaq! Help me; I'm being beaten by a baby." He turned from the little girl and made puppy eyes at the Saracen in a vain attempt to get her assistance.
"I see you have calmed her down. I guess you do not need me then," Djaq grinned.
"She's not here," John stated matter-of-factly.
"You don't say," Will muttered, his face dark with guilt because he shouldn't have allowed Morgan to be captured. He knew it wasn't exactly his fault, considering the young woman had given him Ailith and made her choice to be the distraction, but he couldn't help feeling responsible. He also knew that he shouldn't be taking his anger and remorse out on his friends, but Allan's sarcasm seemed to have rubbed off on him. The words came from his mouth before he could stop them. "Sorry, John. I'm just worried."
"It's alright," John muttered, accepting the apology with a nod. "We're all worried." Robin heaved a sigh, leading them towards Nottingham, wincing as Little John asked the inevitable question.
"Do you have a plan?"
"Yes," Robin nodded, but he faltered upon seeing the doubtful look on Will's and Little John's faces. "No, but I'm working on it."
"So good of you to grace us with your presence," the Sheriff grinned, laughing as one of the guards gagged the lovely, little blacksmith. As he'd come to expect, she'd entertained him with her usual string of threats. As entertaining as he found it, the Sheriff had more pressing matters to attend to.
"Now, I believe that you know something that I want to know," he started professionally, folding his hands in his lap as he continued. "You and the rest of your little friends always seem to know what's going on in that precious forest, so I'm sure that you met with a Saracen woman. She was carrying something very important."
"Djaq's part of the gang," Morgan managed around the gag, acting as if she'd never seen the messenger. The Sheriff chuckled with amusement, standing and walking around his desk, bending slightly so that he was eye level with her.
"Cute," he commented, the wicked smile never leaving his face as he back handed her across the face. He waited until she recovered from the blow, before whispering in her ear, "But not so cute that I wouldn't put a rope around your lovely, little neck." To his annoyance, she did not seem impressed with his threat.
"Let's take our guest to the war room. We can hang out. Maybe then she'll want to talk to us," he hissed, motioning to the guards as he began walking down the corridor. Morgan allowed herself to be led through the hall, wondering where they were going. She'd never been to the war room before.
The Sheriff turned into a large, circular room, a table with a replica of England on top decorating the center of the room. As per the Sheriff's orders, the table was quickly moved out of the way, revealing a trap door. Morgan frowned as the guards went to work, tying her hands in front of her. The rope, as it turned out, was threaded through an iron hoop near the ceiling. The guards began to turn a crank, and Morgan winced as she was jerked off of the ground, the rope grinding against her wrists as she swayed above the trap door. The Sheriff kicked the door open, revealing a pit.
"It's empty," Morgan observed, trying to ignore the pain in her wrists as she continued to move upwards.
"Yes. Empty," The Sheriff agreed. "We'll have to do something about that." He snapped his fingers, and several men walked in, leading five, very hungry looking dogs. The dogs were promptly lowered into the pit, where they all began to bark up at Morgan. "Do you want to talk to me now? Either that or I lower you into the dog pit. Mind you, they haven't eaten for days."
"Are those the only choices?" Morgan asked. "There isn't a third option, where I get to sit in the dungeons and rue the day that I crossed you?"
"Cute," The Sheriff mused. "I hate cute. Let's see what we can do about that." He pulled a peg from the crank, and Morgan felt her stomach move up to her throat as she plunged towards the dogs. At the last possible moment, the Sheriff stuck the peg back into the crank.
Morgan stifled her cry of pain as she stopped so suddenly that she felt a horrible pulling sensation in her shoulders. She was forced to lift her legs to keep them out of reach of the hounds, who were trying to jump up, their sharp teeth snapping together as they bit at her.
The Sheriff motioned to one of the guards, who quickly turned the crank, pulling Morgan back towards the ceiling.
Marian watched as the Sheriff went into the war room, leaving guards outside. Peering inside, she could see Morgan dangling in the air. She was instantly reminded of the day that the Sheriff had captured Robin. Allan had been called away by a less-than-happy Guy, who had instantly started yelling at the man, demanding to know where the child was, and why Allan hadn't found it yet. Sensing that it would take a while, Marian had gone back into the castle, trying to do some reconnaissance.
"Need some help?" Marian almost leapt out of her skin at the suddenness of Robin's voice in her ear, spinning on heel to face him. He, Will, and Little John were dressed as guards, glancing into the war room.
"The Sheriff is trying to get information from Morgan. He suspects that she knows about the child," Marian explained. "Allan is dealing with Guy, and he said that he had sort of half of a plan, but I can't help but think that we'll need more than that."
"This should be easy," Robin said under his breath, surveying the situation. "All we have to do is take care of the guards and sneak out of the castle before anyone notices."
"Easier said than done," Little John commented, nodding to indicate the Sheriff, who was having fun using Morgan as a human yo-yo. Robin frowned. If this kept up, she would dislocate her shoulders.
"We need to get the Sheriff out of that room," Will mumbled.
"That, I think we can manage," Robin replied.
The Sheriff laughed with glee as he sent Morgan falling once more, enjoying the mounting fear and frustration in her eyes as he waited longer and longer, allowing her to get closer and closer to the dogs. Suddenly, there was quite a commotion from outside, and he distinctly heard someone shout "My lord! Robin Hood is in the courtyard!"
"Looks like your leader is here to rescue you," he muttered at Morgan, who was currently more concerned with keeping her legs out of the reach of the dogs. The Sheriff decided that it was as good a place as any to leave her to think and stormed out of the room, muttering about everyone else's incompetence. He paused, turning to the guards.
"If she comes out of this room, shoot her," he instructed, heading towards the general commotion. The guard nodded.
Robin and Little John made quick work of the guards in the courtyard, and they were quite pleased with themselves when the Sheriff and Gisborne exited that castle. Gisborne drew his sword, inserting himself in the fight, determined to keep the outlaws from reaching the portcullis.
"Coming here was a big mistake, Hood. Gizzy's in a rather foul mood," The Sheriff taunted from the steps. "Seems finding a two year old is too much for him to handle." Guy ignored the fact that the Sheriff was berating him, focusing instead on his efforts to remove Robin's head from the rest of his body.
"Looking to adopt, Sheriff?" Robin asked, stepping out of the way of a particularly vicious looking strike. The Sheriff chuckled.
"Cute," he muttered. "As I was just telling your lovely, little friend, I hate cute. I assume that's why you're here. To rescue the lovely, little blacksmith?"
"Very perceptive of you," Robin returned, further agitating the Sheriff. The older man hadn't even noticed that Allan had slipped away.
The guard waited until the Sheriff had rounded the corner before taking off his helmet, unveiling a relieved Will Scarlet. The other guard grinned, taking off her own disguise, revealing a pleased looking Marian. They ducked into the room, where Morgan had already started her escape attempt, swinging her body, trying to set her feet down on the ground beside the pit.
"Morgan," Will smiled, repressing the urge to laugh as Morgan kicked her too-short legs, trying to get a foothold. Morgan turned to face the carpenter, a wide grin on her face.
"Will! How's everything?" she asked as Will grabbed her around the middle, pulling her to safety. He made sure that she could stand on her own before untying her wrists.
"I suppose it's all gone swimmingly so far," Will muttered. "Unfortunately, Robin only had half of a plan, and it didn't cover how we were going to get out." Will and Morgan deferred to Marian, who simply shrugged, checking to make sure that Morgan hadn't dislocated anything in the Sheriff's information gathering effort.
"Not being funny," Allan smiled from the doorway, "but I think I have sort of half of a plan."
"Move! Out of the way!" Allan shouted as he and Will carried the stretcher between them. Marian held Morgan's hand, holding a wet rag to her forehead as they rushed along. A guard ran along with them, tapping Allan on the shoulder.
"What's this caper, Allan?" he asked, trying to peek at the very pregnant looking Morgan, his eyes bugging out of his head.
"Renton! Can't you see this woman is pregnant?" Allan asked, sparing the man a subtle wink as they continued to plow through the passageways of the castle. The guards and servers were quick to get out of the way as Morgan wailed in pain, Allan told them to move, and Renton jumped into the ruckus.
"We need to get her to a midwife!" he hollered, "Someone call her husband!" Marian tried not to laugh as Allan discretely smacked Renton in the arm. The guard only grinned before continuing to call out to the various people as they passed.
"I suppose we have Ailith to thank for this sort of half of a plan," Will whispered to Allan, who nodded as they ran out of the town, passing through the castle walls without being questioned.
Robin and Little John stalled for as long as they could before dashing out of the castle, waiting in the edge of the woods. To their relief, a small entourage of people soon spilled out of Nottingham. Three of them ducked back inside, while the two that Robin recognized as Will and Morgan pushed forward. Will was pulling Morgan along, and Morgan seemed to be removing something from under her shirt.
"Is that a sack of flour?" Little John asked as they approached.
"Congratulations. It's a boy," Morgan laughed, tossing the sack to Little John, continuing back towards the camp without stopping.
"Luckily enough, Allan's half of a plan picked up where yours left off," Will explained to Robin as they ran. "And Marian's thought of a place to send Ailith."
"I don't want her to go," Morgan crossed her arms, aware that she was acting like a petulant child but not caring because it was important, "I was told to 'watch over and protect' her. Therefore, shouldn't I continue my promise?"
"Morgan, it is just not feasible for her to stay here with us," Robin shook his head, understanding the woman's reluctance to release the child, for he too had grown attached to her.
"Yes, and I get that but….but….I don't want her to go," Morgan stated again, not being able to come up with a worthy argument so returning to her original point, "Anyway, why can't you find here somewhere in England? At least then I could've visited her. But no, you had to go and send her there."
"Morgan, the Sheriff and Prince John are in search of this little girl. She needs somewhere safe to grow up, and they won't know she's in a completely different country."
"But why do they care about her? We've already found out that King Richard isn't going to marry her mother so therefore she is illegitimate and not entitled to the throne. Why can't they leave her alone?"
"It's not as simple as that," Robin retorted, "Those two don't care whether or not the King is marrying the mother. All they see is a threat, and they will wipe out that threat no matter what. We need to get Quinn to a safe place."
"Don't call her that," Morgan growled, uncharacteristically angry.
"Quinn is her real name. She was christened that, so shouldn't we call her by her true name? Anyway, it doesn't matter what her name is, what matters is that a courier is waiting to meet us on the Great North Road so he can take the babe."
"Hey, guys, the arguing really isn't helping matters," Much hopped in at that moment, "I mean, you're upsetting Ailith."
The former manservant gestured over to the tiny girl that was sat on Will's lap. Her lower lip was trembling as she watched the shouting adults. The carpenter was trying and failing to cheer her up with some wooden figurines, but she just ignored him. She just watched Morgan and Robin with big, upset eyes, a small trickle of tears escaping her eyes.
She didn't like them being angry, she had a feeling it was her fault, and she wanted to make it better, reverse whatever she had done to make them mad. Her 'Mum' looked upset, and the little girl couldn't understand why. Whatever it was, Ailith was sure she could make her happier. Usually she could make a grown-up smile if she gave them her biggest grin and hugged them tight. Ailith wondered whether it would help this time.
Reaching out, the tiny child flexed her fingers towards Morgan and the young woman melted, immediately hurrying over and, after a nod of agreement by Will, gathered the tearful toddler into her slender arms. Ailith then rewarded her with a huge, dazzling smile that made her eyes twinkle and tried to wrap her small chubby arms around Morgan's body – obviously she couldn't envelop the woman completely in a hug, but it still calmed the blacksmith immensely.
Robin came over and joined them, a small, sad smile on his face. They looked so comfortable together; a mother a baby, but it was not to be. Ailith, or Quinn, as they had discovered the name was from King Richard's messenger, needed somewhere safe. To grow up and in the depths of Sherwood Forest with a group of outlaws was not it. It wrenched at his heart to be separating the pair but he knew it was for the best.
"Morgan, we need to go," the outlaw leader spoke softly.
"I know…I know, give me a moment," Morgan waved him off, viciously wiping away a stray tear that had escaped. She wouldn't cry. Not in front of Ailith.
"You know, you can carry her there. Have some more time," Robin suggested and received a nod in reply.
"Ok, then, let's go," Much clapped his hands together and grabbed the bag of things they'd acquired that Ailith might need for her journey. In it were clothes, food and some toys.
The group of outlaws reached the Great North Road, emerging from the darkness of the trees in the forest to the lone man that waited with his horse. The rest of the track was deserted save for this dark cloaked stranger.
"Shouldn't there be more of a guard? I mean, she's in lots of danger and she needs protection," Morgan whispered to Will, puzzled.
"No, this way the messenger is less conspicuous. He won't be questioned and he can travel much faster."
"But how do we know it's the right guy. What if the Sheriff found out and has sent a fake? I'm not giving Ailith to him if we don't know."
"There's a password. Robin will ask him a question and if he answers correctly then we will give him Ailith. If not, we will kill him," Will said simply, "We won't risk the little girls safety. We care for her too."
"All right," Morgan nodded, her worries quenched.
Robin approached the figure cautiously, his sword sheathed and ready for him to pull out swiftly should it be needed. He nodded in greeting and then spoke, Morgan could barely pick up the quiet words but she understood from the tone it was a question.
"That horse is a fine mare, what is her name?"
"Ebony." The man replied with ease, and Robin grinned. That was the right answer.
"We have the babe," the outlaw leader stated, gesturing to Ailith.
"I can see that," the man answered, pulling his hood back to reveal a young but scarred face. Robin could tell immediately that this man had been in many battles and that the King's child would be well protected whilst travelling with him. "My name is Conan, pleased to meet you at last Robin of Locksley, it's an honour."
"Yes, we have heard great things of you all over Britain. I hope you continue to fight against the injustices of the world. You are an inspiration to everyone. I am glad to be doing something to help you," Conan spoke with complete sincerity, "But I really must be moving with the child. Can I take her?"
"Yes. Morgan, can you bring Ailith over?"
Morgan heard the end of this exchange, for Robin had raised his voice to call her. She felt her whole body freeze. She didn't want to give Ailith to this man no matter how safe she would be. It seemed wrong after she promised that Saracen woman to look after the girl.
Though, she knew Robin was right, as usual, Ailith need security and protection, so she could grow up in a safe and happy environment. She also knew that no matter how much she had grown to love the toddler and how much she thought the little girl liked her, Ailith was at the age she would grow attached to anyone and would move on quickly. It would just be Morgan that would be left feeling at a loss.
Walking slowly over, Ailith balanced on her hip, Morgan bit her lip hard and fought back tears that were threatening to overflow. She saw the man's face up close for the first time and had to admit he seemed friendly enough, but still she didn't want to give the toddler to him.
"Morgan, are you going to hand him Ailith?" Robin questioned, watching the woman, aware of the inner turmoil raging in her head. He could see the emotion in her eyes as she reluctantly kissed the small child on the head and carefully passed her to Conan.
"I'll take good care of her, you can be sure of that," the young man smiled gently at the obviously saddened woman.
"Make sure you do, or you'll have me to answer to with a sharp sword," Morgan announced before stroking Ailith's soft, dark hair one last time and heading back to the others. She stood beside Will and the young carpenter tenderly placed one arm round her shoulders in an act of brotherly comfort.
Conan turned and placed Ailith in a pouch that had been fashioned to hang off his torso. She wriggled slightly but soon settled in beside the warmth of the man and the steady rhythm of his beating heart. Once he'd done this, the man climbed gracefully onto his horse and waved the outlaws goodbye before cantering off.
Morgan knew that was the last she would ever see of little Ailith. It made her want to be with Allan even more at this moment in time.
A messenger hurried into the main room of his master's house and coughed loudly to get the man's attention. The man in question who had been pouring over his desk where several accounts were laid out looked up, startled.
Fredrick, a package has been sent to you.'
"From whom?" the curly haired man asked, curiously.
"Well bring it here." The servant clicked his fingers, and in came a cloaked young man with a baby cradled in his arms. "Ah, that was not quite what I expected when I said if he needed help come to Germany." Count Fredrick mused good-naturedly. "Who are you?"
"I am Conan. I was given the task of bringing the child here safely. But if you don't mind, my Count, I must return to England."
"Of course, bring the infant here then," the German ordered.
Conan did as he was told and handed the little toddler over into the hands of her new guardian.
"Look after her. There is a young woman in England that will have your head on a platter if any harm comes to her."
"Ha, ha," Count Fredrick snickered, "And what is the child's name?"
"Why, I believe she is called Ailith."
The End! I just want to take the opportunity to say that writing this story was a blast, and it was a privilege to be able to write with someone as talented as Rixxi.
Yay for continuity!
We hope that you've enjoyed this story.
Big thanks to unglittering gold, toad-in-the-hole, Gwenyth Hunter, Stripysockz, PetiteDiable, Liz4, scorpiagirl93, Gewher, Dean Parker, Gilari, The-Little-White-Fox, MissWed, KeepingAmused, Bambyie-Tear, ImaginingThings, ZebraBlonde, BeckyScarlett, GlitteringEtiquette, Kates Master, beastar2, Saffron Marchbanks, and Gwenwhyfar for the reviews!