"So,what's the plan?" Hanton asked. Morgan ran her fingers through her hair, adjusting her headband.
"I don't know," she blurted out. "We can't just run out after them. They're going in different directions."
"It's like a stage," Luke proposed, fully expecting the confused stares he received. "I helped my dad and Will build a few of them. You have to use thick planks, because it the wood is too thin, it'll break. Those mercenaries are splitting into groups. Now, we've picked off a lot of them as it is. They'll be easier to take down."
"Luke, that's brilliant!" Morgan commented, hooking an arm around his neck and ruffling his hair, inspired by the metaphor, Luke's casual tone, or the combination thereof. "I'll take Luke and Hollis into the forest and cut off Ellingham. Renton, Tanner, Harold, go to Clun. Renton knows the quickest paths. Forrest, Hanton, take your men to Nettlestone. Those villages are the closest."
"What about Locksley?" Hanton asked.
"The people of Locksley have been cleared out for months. Anything that they destroy there can be replaced," Hollis pointed out. "Now, let's get going!"
Renton scowled. The mercenaries were going to beat them into Clun.
"We've got to do something," he muttered. Beside him, Tanner shifted impatiently. He'd been working with Renton for nearly three years, and he could count on one hand the number of days that had passed where he didn't mention his family. The thought of them being in the village, completely unaware of the danger, was probably driving him mad.
"Then let's do something," he spoke up. "Get the villagers out." With that, he ran from their hiding place, drawing his bow and shooting one of the mercenaries in the back. Renton rushed out after him, echoing his actions.
"Oy! Meatheads!" Tanner shouted, drawing the attention of the men. At first glance, he guessed that there were nearly thirty men. He glanced at Renton. "We need to run."
"There's a barn," Renton prompted, taking off towards said barn, looking to make sure that the mercenaries followed. Tanner ducked into the barn after him, shutting the door. "Now what, Tanner?"
"No idea," Tanner admitted. "I didn't have a plan."
"Oh," Renton sighed. He couldn't say that he was disappointed. He walked towards the back of the barn, trying to think up a plan. When nothing came to him, he kicked at a bench. To his surprise, the paneling fell away, revealing a small crawlspace. Renton looked over at Tanner.
"Room for one," he announced. Tanner nodded, taking the information in stride.
"Room for you," he amended.
"You're barely twenty years old," Renton hissed.
"You've got a wife and three children," Tanner countered, glancing at the small crawlspace. The mercenaries threw themselves against the door. The hinges creaked ominously, telling of the door's imminent collapse. They were running out of time.
"We shouldn't be fighting each other," Renton decided. "If you won't take the space, I'd be a coward to do so."
"Then we'll face them together," Tanner nodded encouragingly, drawing his sword.
"Together," Renton echoed. They were silent for a moment, the only noise coming from the mercenaries trying to enter the barn. Tanner let out a nervous laugh.
"There is a girl in Nottingham. Her name's Rosalind," he suddenly said. "She sells vegetables in the market. I hate vegetables, but I went every Wednesday and bought them, just so I could talk to her."
"You never told her," Renton finished. Tanner ran a hand through his hair, nodding his head.
"I didn't," he admitted. "Suppose it's too late to worry about it now."
"Perhaps not," Renton offered. "We might make it out of here."
"Yeah, and then the Sheriff will come back and give us all a pay raise," Tanner joked. "What about you, Rent? Anything to say?"
"I haven't seen my family for two weeks. I've only held my youngest daughter once. When I went back to the castle, I didn't say goodbye. I don't want to die like this. I want to be with Leah and Adam and Jill and little Elizabeth. They are my life." Renton's confession was wrought with regret. Tanner understood completely when he quickly changed the subject. "Take the front, Tanner."
The younger guard stepped forward, taking a deep breath and ignoring his shaking knees.
"I'm sorry that you didn't get to see them again," he apologized, though it was hardly his fault.
"It's alright," Renton replied softly. "I'm sorry, too." Tanner was about to point out that his hesitations with Rosalind were hardly Renton's fault, but the hilt of Renton's sword soundly connected with the back of his head. Renton caught the younger man as he slumped to the ground, dragging him to the crawlspace.
"Be safe. Take care of them for me," he whispered, closing the trick door. He crossed himself before turning back to the door, holding his sword at the ready. As the barn door splintered, and the mercenaries poured inside, he charged forward, screaming his allegiance at the top of his lungs.
"FOR MY FAMILY! MY ENGLAND!"
They were good, Harold thought, but he knew he was better. Renton and Tanner's distraction had bought them enough time to clear out the villagers. It tugged at his heartstrings when he caught sight of a woman with a baby, two children at her heels. One of the guards had pointed her out and told Harold that she was Renton's wife. When the mercenaries returned, lesser in number, all he could think about was the look on the woman's face when she learned of the great sacrifice her husband had made.
He shook his head. Renton and Tanner hadn't returned, but they could've survived. Even as he thought it, he muttered a quick prayer for their souls and launched himself into a full-on attack. As Luke had guessed, the mercenaries had spread themselves too thin. They were so few in number that the men with Harold wiped them out with relative ease. Still, Harold couldn't help but notice that several of the fallen were on his side. He hoped that Forrest and Hanton were at least faring as well as he was.
The mercenaries were surprised to find that Nettlestone was absolutely empty. The doors to the cottages were flung open, and there were water buckets scattered about. The villagers, where ever they were, had left in a hurry, as if they'd known.
"How could they know that we were coming?" someone asked.
"They're here!" one of them realized, drawing his sword.
"What are you going on about, Troy?" another asked.
"The men that ambushed us," the first snapped. "They must've cut through the forest. They're here; they're hiding!"
"Then we'll find them," the second barked, signaling for the men to spread out.
"I don't like this," Troy muttered. "They could be anywhere."
"They could be right behind you," a voice suddenly whispered.
Hollis pulled the arrow back, finding comfort in the familiar feel of the bowstring's resistance. He was on his last arrow, having gone through his own supply as well as Luke's and most of Morgan's. Luke preferred to use his throwing axe, and Morgan recognized Hollis as the better shot. She put a hand on his shoulder and smiled gently, suddenly remembering the first time that she'd met him. He'd been rather timid, nervous and a bit awkward. He'd grown since then, transforming into a confident young man, if not a slightly arrogant one. Luke, too, had truly found his element. He had become more than just "Will's little brother," defining his character with a balance of passion and practicality.
"Whatever happens, I'm proud of you both," Morgan said, feeling that she'd regret it if she didn't.
"Hey, don't get all gooey and girly on us," Luke grinned. Hollis would've joined in, but he had spotted their target.
"Hold!" he commanded as they caught up to Ellingham. The man stopped in his tracks, which surprised the three outlaws. Hollis tried not to show it. "Put your hands up and turn around!" He watched as the mercenary complied.
"Now, give me one good reason not to kill you were you stand!" Hollis barked.
"Because you are Robin Hood," Ellingham sneered mockingly. "You don't kill unless it is absolutely necessary, remember?"
"Oh, let's think on that," Luke scoffed. "You're threatening the lives of everyone in Nottingham. I dunno, I think that this counts as necessary!" His hand moved to the small throwing axe at his side. Ellingham's gaze deviated from the tiny group for a split second, but it was enough of a tell that Luke had time to spin around before several of Ellingham's elites jumped out from behind a tree.
He threw his axe into the nearest one, though he wasn't quite quick enough to dodge the arrow to his arm. His stifled grunt of pain alerted Hollis and Morgan. Hollis sent his arrow into another, and Morgan's hunting knife soon found itself embedded in someone's stomach. Luke shifted uneasily, wincing as he ripped the arrow from his arm. Morgan turned around to face Ellingham, expecting to see him running away. To her chagrin, he'd drawn his bow, pointing it straight at her.
Later, when she would lie awake, trying to stave off the nightmares, she would wonder what she could've done differently. She would wonder what could've been had she acted instead of freezing up. Had she ducked instead of watching as he stepped in front of her. Hollis' eyes widened as the arrow pierced his chest. The pain-riddled cry caught in his throat as he allowed himself to fall backwards. Morgan caught him and lowered him to the ground, her mind toggling between the present and the painful memories of Michael.
"I'm not going to cry. You told me not to," Hollis rasped. Morgan made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob.
"Why did you do that?" she sputtered, her own voice sounding distant and alien. Hollis grinned up at her, despite the overwhelming pain that originated from the fatal wound and shafted through his entire chest.
"You don't let the people you love get shot by mercenaries," he reasoned simply, shuddering as the words caused him greater pain. Her thoughts were muddled, but his admission rang through her head with terrifying clarity.
"Don't leave me," she pleaded, running the pad of her thumb up his jaw-line, as if trying to coax his spirit into staying. Hollis wrapped a hand around hers, giving it a gentle squeeze.
"I won't," he promised, though the light was already fading from his eyes. "By the way, Luke has a huge crush on Lady Marian." He began to laugh, but it quickly faded into silence. She cradled him until it was over, when the horrible silence was broken by Ellingham's victorious chuckle.
"Wait until people find out about this," he declared. "One of Robin Hood's gang couldn't even protect a child!" Luke, who had remained silent since the arrow had plunged into his arm, glared at the mercenary.
"Hollis wasn't a child. He was a hero," he corrected, every syllable wavering with rage. He was barely aware that Harold had finally caught up with them, skidding to a stop behind Ellingham. He said nothing but held his swords aloft, ready to cut off the mercenary's escape.
"Morgan? You alright?" he asked hesitantly.
Morgan couldn't form the words. She couldn't cry out. She supposed that it was okay, because in that moment, she wasn't interested in talking. In one, fluid motion, she picked the last arrow, the only one she hadn't given to Hollis, from her quiver and notched it in her bow, pulling back that bowstring. She'd never been a remarkable shot, especially not when compared to Robin or Allan, but facts like that tended not to matter when she was only five feet away from her target. Ellingham's body crumpled to the ground, the arrow protruding from the exact center of the circular mark on his forehead. Finally, her tongue loosened.
"Are you alright, Luke?" she asked quietly. Luke held his arm, applying pressure to his wound. He nodded, electing not to say anything, unable to stop his gaze from settling on the dead bodies on the ground in front of him. Morgan knelt at his side, her reactions directly opposing his. She focused on him, helping him to his feet. He noticed that she was shaking, and apparently, so did Harold.
"He needs to take care of his wound," he noted.
"I'm fine," Luke grumbled, a mix of emotions already swirling through his head. Suddenly, more than anything, he wanted Will. Unfortunately, Will was not there. Luke reflected on the unfamiliar situation. While he'd never run down a mercenary in the forest or gotten stabbed in the arm, he had lost loved ones before. When his mother had passed, Will was there to tell him that it would be alright. When his father had been murdered, Will had held him and helped him calm down. Now, with his best friend dead on the ground a few feet away, and Will halfway across the world, he felt suddenly empty. He stole a glance at Harold, who looked back at him.
"You're not going to be fine if you don't get that arm checked out," he reasoned.
"I'm fine," Luke repeated pointedly. "Tend to her first."
"I don't need tending to," Morgan mumbled quietly, cutting the messenger off before he could start. "How many?" Harold shut his mouth. He didn't want to tell her how many they'd lost. The number was far lower than they'd expected, but each death was one too many.
"How many, Harold?" There was an urgency in her tone that stirred him to answer.
"Six of the village men. Thirteen of Forrest and Hanton's men. Twenty-two of the guard," he rattled off, though he paused, as if there was more to say.
"What is it?" Morgan asked, afraid of his answer.
"Renton," Harold finally said. "Renton's dead."
"I'll tell his family," Morgan replied, forcing herself not to cry.
"And Hollis?" Harold asked, kneeling by the boy's body.
"I'll take him home," she managed before her voice cracked.
Her heart pounded in her ears as she stepped through Clun, which was buzzing with activity. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as she spotted Leah. Adam saw Morgan first and quickly darted over to her.
"Morgan! I heard there was a fight, and that my dad was very brave!" he smiled widely. Morgan patted him on the head, though she didn't stop walking until she reached his mother.
"Oh, Morgan, thank God! We heard that there'd been deaths," Leah blurted, shifting Elizabeth in her arms. "Where is he? Where's my Renton?" Morgan opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. She felt like a child, trying to scramble for an answer that she didn't want to give. Her silence seemed to speak for her.
"No," Leah gasped. "No!" Jill tugged at her mother's skirt.
"Mummy, what's wrong? When's daddy coming home?" she asked eagerly.
"Leah," Morgan began, wanting to say that she understood, but again her words failed her.
"Renton was a hero," a voice said from behind. Tanner slowly worked his way over to them, his voice slightly hoarse, as if he'd been unconscious. "He saved the village. He saved my life. He went down fighting. Fighting for you." Anticipating her collapse, Tanner held out his arms, taking Elizabeth.
"I'm so sorry," he comforted before glancing up at Morgan. "I'll take care of her. Tend to yours."
It had been three months since the mercenaries had been driven out of the shire. Morgan sat cross-legged in the grass, staring ahead.
"It's a nice day today. I have a feeling that the lads will be back soon," she muttered. "I'm glad. I've been feeling a bit lonely lately. Harold's gone to Portsmouth, and Hanton's gone back south. He said that he was going to give Forrest a proper burial. Luke's visiting Scarborough. He wanted me to say hi to you, Hollis." She paused, looking at the grave marker. The grass had started to grow back over the disturbed earth. The grave next to his, though, was still fresh enough that the soil was an uninterrupted brown.
"I think it worked out for the best, Mum," she nodded. "You're back with Dad and Michael now, and you're not sick anymore. That's good, right?" Of course, there was no reply, but Morgan found that she was still waiting for one. She shook her head.
"I visited Renton the other day. He's got a beautiful spot under this oak tree. Tanner saw to that. He's also been watching after Leah and the kids. Elizabeth's started talking. She called him 'daddy' the other day. I don't think Renton would've minded, though." She looked at the flowers laid on each of the graves. Each grave had one, except for Michael's, which had two.
"You can come out, Guy," she called, her gaze not moving from her brother's grave. "I got word from Harold. He saw you arrive in Portsmouth." Guy stepped out from behind a tree. One of the first things that Morgan noticed was just how haggard he looked. He was sporting magnificent stubble, and his skin was pale. There were dark circles about his eyes, like he hadn't slept properly for quite some time.
"Is that all he said?" he asked.
"That's all he said," she confirmed. Guy mulled the thought over for a moment before drawing his sword, pointing the blade at Morgan's throat. Morgan stared up at him.
"Guy, what happened in the Holy Land?" she asked slowly, trying to work out the dull expression behind his eyes. Tanner's words floated through her mind. If he comes back, and one of your gang doesn't…
"It was his own fault," he muttered, sounding more than slightly insane. "He brought it upon himself. He should've kept out of it." The enigmatic statement worried Morgan, but when she tried to stand, Guy pressed the flat of his blade against her throat.
"Guy, who did you kill?" Morgan asked, her voice wavering with panic. She didn't think she could handle the news of another loss. "Was it Robin?" Guy's lip curled in disgust at the sound of his enemy's name.
"He will taste my blade before this is all over," he hissed. Morgan took that as a 'no.'
"And before you ask, your precious traitor is still alive." Under any other circumstance, Morgan would've been relieved by his words, but now they offered her little comfort.
"Guy, just tell me," she pleaded, bracing herself. Will? Much? Little John? Djaq? The possibilities were terrifying.
"Tell you what? That I injured Marian? That she's gone out of my life, moved to Aquitaine until she can be safe again with her precious Robin Hood?" Guy barked angrily, leaning forward and grabbing Morgan by the throat, picking her up and slamming her against the tree. He held her in place with one hand, his sword shaking slightly in the other.
"Marian?" Morgan asked incredulously. "But you love her."
"And she betrayed me! As did Allan! They were with Hood the whole time, playing me for a fool! And you knew! You knew, but you let me believe!" Guy growled.
"So what do you plan to do? Kill me? Will that fix everything?" she demanded, her budding speech cut off when Guy tightened his grip on her throat.
"I will kill every last one of you. That will fix everything," he muttered.
"Do you really believe that?" Morgan managed to ask.
"Of course I bloody believe it!" Guy shouted angrily. "Now, do you have any last words?"
"I have words for Guy of Gisborne. All I see before me is a snake of a man, so twisted that he doesn't even know which way is up anymore," Morgan choked out. "You know what'll hurt more than your sword in my stomach?
"What?" Guy asked flatly.
"Going up to heaven and having to tell Michael that he was completely wrong about you. That he died for someone who's already dead!" she spat. Will you still be friends with him? Morgan had made up her mind, and apparently so had Guy.
When he climbed into bed that night, he thought of what he'd done. He dully recalled that he'd left his sword, refusing to touch it after it had plunged so far that it had dug far into the tree bark, leaving her pinned. He supposed that he was wrong for just leaving her there like that, but he also supposed that she was no longer his problem. He rolled onto his back, staring at his palms.
"Stained with the blood of women," he mused. Morgan had been right. He couldn't have been saved. Not by her. Not even by Marian. He was already dead and had been for a long time.
The End. This concludes series one of the Morgan Stories.
So, Marian's alive! Hurray! As for Morgan… -hides behind a desk-
I am totally going to miss both Hollis and Renton. Just to make it clear:
Yes, they are definitely both dead. I don't plan on pulling a Connor Macleod with either one of them. Or a Jack Harkness. Or -insert appropriate fandom reference here.-
No, Tanner is not going to marry Leah. He's just taking care of Renton's family.
I feel that even though I personally like Guy, I should stay true to the fact that he is an evil sort of nutter. So, that explains the complete psychosis there in the last few paragraphs…
I hope that you've enjoyed these stories as much as I've enjoyed writing them. A lot of people say that, but in this case it's completely true.
Huge thanks to RocMySox, DeathlyElegance, freddiebrandis, Gilari, PetiteDiable, DeanParker, LittleMissSparkles, L.A.H.H., Kates Master, CrimsonRose456, Gwenyth Hunter, and anyone who's ever read, review, or enjoyed my stories. So much love, guys. For realsies.
Drop me a comment if you have any questions that I didn't answer, or just to talk. Either one is completely acceptable.