"And Safi, remember to..." But it was too late. The toddler had dashed away already, her black braid bouncing behind her.
Djaq gave a longsuffering sigh. Her small daughter was a handful at three and a half.
"Aaaaand, she's gone again," Will commented, coming up behind his wife and wrapping an arm around her waist.
"What a bundle of energy that child is!" Djaq said, leaning into Will.
"I wonder where she gets that from," Will said mildly. "Could it possibly be from her Mama, who was not only part of Robin Hood's gang, but who saved the King of England while pregnant with her second child?"
Djaq made a face.
"You make it sound so much more glamorous than it was," she said.
"That's our life, isn't it? Much less glamorous than the ballads make it out to be."
Djaq nodded in agreement.
"They only tell about the adventures and the glory and winning out against the Sheriff. They don't tell about the times when we were cold and hungry and getting rained on. Or the times we feared for our lives."
"Well it's all over now," Will reminded her. "The Lionheart has sorted everything out and the Sheriff has been sent to Aquitaine to spend his life in jail."
"I wouldn't be so sure, my Will," Djaq said, wrinkling her nose. "If there's anything that I have learned, it's that there is always a need for people to enforce justice."
The sound of giggling filled the air, and around the corner walked Robin with Safi tucked under his arm. She was wriggling delightedly, her bright green eyes alive with laughter.
"I think I've found something of yours," Robin called out.
"Mine?" Will said, inspecting the suspended little girl. "No, no I don't think this one is mine. You recognize her?" he asked Djaq.
"Oh no," Djaq said, carefully hiding her smile. "Not that one."
"Papa!" Safi scolded, as Robin handed her over. "Is me! Is your Safi!"
"Ohhhh. That Safi. Yes, I think I know her." Will laughed, kissing Safi's cheeks. She buried her head into his shoulder and giggled harder than ever.
"Honestly, Robin, you're worse than the children," Marian said, coming up behind him. Her hand hovered on her bump, which was just beginning to show underneath her dress.
"You wouldn't love me if I was anything else," Robin replied, grinning. He dropped to one knee and kissed her hand as lovers in plays did.
"Lucky for you, Locksley," Marian replied, smiling.
Djaq went up to greet her friend. She and Will lived close enough to Locksley Manor that it was an easy matter to walk from one house to the other. Recently, however, Marian had been so busy setting the house in order, and Robin with setting the entire estate in order, as well as trying to deal with his new role as the Sheriff of Nottingham, that there had hardly been any time for visiting.
"How are you feeling?" she asked Marian.
"Still a little nauseous in the mornings," Marian admitted. "But you said it would get better, so I live in hope."
Djaq grinned. As a mother of two, she felt quite the expert at these kinds of things.
"Will you help me pack the picnic basket?" she asked Marian.
"Djaq, I'm glad you're here. I wanted to… oh, hello Marian," Allan said, strolling up, his hands in his pockets. They had all been surprised when Allan had decided to stay. They had thought he would be off wandering again, but it seemed his time in Robin's gang had changed him. Allan was now Robin's chief man-at-arms, commanding the force of guards who had once plagued the gang. They weren't a bad sort, and Allan had helped whip them into shape.
Djaq shook her head good naturedly. Allan was always popping over to her and Will's house for some errand or another. Djaq guessed that he was lonely and that the cheerful little house, filled with happy children and good friends, was more comforting than his own empty quarters. Of course, she had been hearing rumors that he was spending more time with one of Nottingham's blacksmiths, a little wisp of a girl with a fiery temper and a strong will, and a rather strange propensity to climb trees… she would have to ask him about that later.
"What do you want now?" Will asked, mock-annoyed.
"I was just going to see if Djaq could lend me my favorite niece for an hour or two. But if I'm not wanted…"
"I wanna go with Unca Allan!" Safi declared, wriggling out of her father's grasp.
"Actually, we were all going to go out to the forest for some target practice. You want to come with us?" Robin asked.
"Yeah. Why not? I mean, if it's alright with my lady. What say you, lady?" Allan asked Safi.
She thought about it for a moment, her small face scrunched up in concentration.
"We can play another time?" she asked.
" 'Course. I'll even win a shooting contest for you, fair lady," Allan replied, offering Safi a flower sentimentally.
Safi giggled and tucked the flower behind her ear, nodding enthusiastically.
"Little John and My Lord and Lady of Bonchurch are going to meet us there," Robin said.
Marian elbowed Robin.
"Don't make fun of Much, Robin. He deserves to be an Earl after putting up with you for so many years."
"It just seems to strange that Much is an Earl."
"Not as strange as Robin being sheriff," Allan cut in.
Everyone laughed, and nodded in agreement.
It felt as if the gang had never been apart, despite their having disbanded after Richard had come back. They had their picnic in a clearing in Sherwood Forest and the promised archery tournament, which Robin naturally won. As was tradition, he gave his garland of woodland flowers to the Queen of the Tournament, who today was Safi. She grinned,and flushed with delight when he put the crown of flowers on her head, so that they shone out against her dark hair.
"For me, Unca Robin?" she asked, delighted.
"For you, fair queen," he replied.
Djaq shook her head. That girl was in a fair way of getting totally spoiled by her 'Uncles'.
They had all come back to Will and Djaq's house for supper and Much had cooked, just like old times. They had all teased him about it being squirrel stew, but it turned out to be just as good as it always was, seasoned with Djaq's herbs.
They sat around outside, laughing and joking. Eve, who was new to the circle of friends, was slightly shy. Djaq was working hard to put her at her ease as the evening wore on. Safi had been put to bed, clutching her crown of flowers, which she refused to be parted with.
A high wail pierced the night air, interrupting the talk
"Danny awake!" a small voice said from the doorway.
"You should be in bed," Djaq scolded.
"But Mama, Danny's crying," Safi pouted.
"I'll go get him, Lady," Rafi said, unfolding his tall frame.
Djaq shook her head.
"I will bring him out here and put this naughty girl to bed," she said. She hurried inside her tidy house, which still smelled like new timber, and scooped Dan out of his cradle. It had been a gift from Annie – the cradle her own child had slept in, but that she had no more use for. She had given it to Djaq to put Safi in and now Djaq used it for Dan.
As soon as baby Dan saw his mother, he stopped whimpering.
"You just wanted Mama to pay attention to you," Djaq accused, picking him up and rocking him. His skin was lighter than either Djaq's or Safi's but still had a dusky, exotic quality to it. At four months old, he had a shock of dark hair on his head already. His features were just like Will's, right down to his slanting smile. His dark eyes showed intelligence and understanding already.
"Are you in bed yet, Safi?" she asked without turning around.
"Yes, Mama," Safi said, scurrying to reach her room before Djaq could see her.
Djaq walked in and gave her daughter a kiss. Safi kissed her back, then kissed baby Dan as well.
"Love you, Mama and Danny," she said, her eyelids already beginning to droop.
"Love you too, little one," Djaq responded. She tucked Safi in one-handed then went back outside, Dan snuggled against her.
Djaq paused for a moment in the door of the house, Dan resting against her shoulder as she surveyed the scene in front of her. Everyone was sitting watching the evening grow darker. Much and Eve sat a little apart, lost in themselves in the usual way of newlyweds. Robin sat with one arm carelessly over Marian's shoulder, and his other hand resting on her growing bump. Allan, Little John, Will, and Rafi made up the rest of the circle.
"… yeah, only now Robin's the Sheriff instead of old Vaysey," Allan joked.
"I guess that makes you Gisborne, then," Robin retorted.
Rafi considered Allan carefully before shaking his head.
"Not enough kohl," he said.
"I'll never forget the fuss Gisborne made after you stole that ripped charter from him, Rafi. He never suspected you. He thought he had lost it at an inn that night and tore the place apart looking for it."
"Gave us the chance to relieve Vaysey of some of his hoarded wealth while all the guards were busy searching," Little John said, chuckling.
"True. And then there was the time that we…" Allan cut in, launching into another story.
Will came to stand beside Djaq, wrapping his arms around her.
He didn't say anything but Djaq knew they didn't need words to communicate. He was telling her he loved her with just a look, with the way his arms came around her, with the way he smiled tenderly at their son.
The stars were just beginning to show themselves in the twilight and a gentle English summer breeze was ruffling her hair. The gang laughed at one of Allan's jokes and the happy sound echoed in the still night. In her arms, Dan stirred in his sleep, wrinkling his tiny baby nose just as Will did when he was dreaming.
Djaq leaned forward and kissed his tiny nose, and leaned against Will's strong back.
This is my life, she thought. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Author's Note: Fade to black; roll credits. I would like to thank Liz4 for being my beta, and I am the Lev for allowing me to borrow her fantastic OC Morgan, if only for a passing mention (everybody go and read her Morgan Chronicles right now! Then you too will watch the show and end up saying "it was good, but where was Morgan?") If you can spot the reference, you get ten points. If you can't, read the Morgan Chronicles right now. And thank you to all of you wonderful readers, who have taken the time to read this story, and review it.
I have had a fantastic time writing this story, and reading your wonderful reviews. They have been so encouraging and have really helped me with my writing. I am going to miss writing Djaq… she feels so familiar to me now.