A/N: This is very dark and and angsty (hmm...is that a word?). Tissue warning! Allow to me blow my own horn here for a minute: This is my longest one-shot so far. I am rather proud of myself. :) Please, please do review. I want to hear what you all have to say. Genuine silver arrows to reviewers! ;) Oh, a note on ages, in case you, like me, are obsessed with such things: Will is sixteen and Luke is twelve. And no I have no idea how old Dan would be. :) Anyway, enjoy, and please don't forget to review!
Will swung the ax as hard as he could, feeling it bite into the wood.
The arrow was lined up perfectly with the broad honey-brown side of the deer. All he had to do was release the bow...
The wood shattered in a thousand small pieces, like so many pieces of a life.
A soft twang and the deer was laying on its side, dead. Luke gasped in admiration. He ran forward to look. "A clean hit, Will! Good job!" Will smiled, allowing himself to be caught up in the glory of the moment.
Will snatched up another piece and forcefully threw it on to the chopping block.
He moved forward to take a look. He had indeed hit the deer clean center. It was a big deer. They would eat well for a fortnight!
"Boys!" Dad's sharp whisper broke him out of his happy thoughts. The tired worry lines on his face were deeper than usual and Will felt a twinge of guilt.
Will raised the ax again, feeling every muscle tighten and pull. He brought it down again, harder than before.
"What are you doing?"
Luke was oblivious to any worries. "See Will's shot, Dad? Isn't it beautiful?"
"I'm sorry, Dad," Will hung his head, "We are starving! There is not enough food to go around. The taxes are too great; we do not have enough left to feed ourselves!" Will felt anger begin to steal over him. It was not fair!
"Does that give you any right to steal?" Dan sounded more worried then angry.
Will watched the bits of wood scatter. He snatched up the broken piece of wood and threw it, hard, away from him.
The sound of galloping hooves reached their ears. Will felt a surge of panic. Before he could say anything, his father snatched his bow from his hands and pulled the quiver from his back.
"Luke!" Luke ran to his father's side, eyes wide open with fear, the truth of it all sinking into him. Will felt his heart begin to race.
Will kicked at the pile of wood, the sensation of pain a welcome relief from his thoughts. He chose the biggest log from the pile and set it carefully on the chopping block.
The King's soldiers rode in, surrounding them on every side. There were six of them to their three. The odds were not bad—two-to-one. Will reached a hand for his knife, his fingers curling tightly over the handle. His father snatched his hand away.
The ax was embedded deep in the log. Will pulled, feeling the rough wood of the handle dig into his hands.
"Poaching?" The guard sneered, "You know the punishment for stealing one of the King's deer. Someone has to lose a hand. The boy, perhaps? You, come here!" He gestured to Will, who took a step forward.
"No!" Dan's voice was forceful, desperate, pleading...
The ax came free. Will raised it high above his head to swing again...
"Take mine! It was my doing," He held up Will's bow, "My boys had nothing to do with it."
"Very well. It does not matter who loses a hand, so long as justice is served," the guard yawned in boredom, then nodded to Dan to step forward.
"How is this justice? We are starving! Once we pay the King's taxes, we have nothing left with which to feed ourselves," Will felt the words burst from him, anger and fear mingling together.
"Will!" Hissed his father, "Enough!"
"Not my problem," the guard replied, "I only punish law-breakers. I don't worry about why they do it. Hand, here!"
It was oddly satisfying, the harsh feeling of the ax burying itself deeply into the log. The force Will needed to pull his ax out felt good, too.
There was no emotion in Dan Scarlett's face as he laid his left hand down on the log the guards were using for a crude chopping block. Will watched in horror as the guard raised his ax and swung...
With trembling hands, Will swung the ax with all his force. He watched as the log splintered, like his broken heart.
Will put his hand over his younger brother's eyes. Luke was shaking with silent sobs. Will swallowed back his own tears. The tears lodged in his throat and his whole body registered pain. The harsh sound of ax hitting flesh and then wood rang through the formerly quiet woods. Dan's Scarlett's scream tore right through Will's heart.
Will threw the ax away from him with a violent shudder. The tool he used routinely had been used to end the life his father knew. They had been marched back to the village, where the guards had pronounced Will's father as a warning to all. When they had returned to the house, Will had silently bound the stump where there had been a hand before. Dad had held a crying Luke closely and told him that it did not hurt much. He was lying, of course, and Will knew it. He had left Dan and Luke alone and set supper out. It was only broth and bread—and very nearly their last. As soon as his brother and father had begun to eat, Will had excused himself, muttering that he was chopping wood. He had gone outside, without even looking at his father.
The truth was Will had needed to get away. He could not bear to eat, when it was hunger that driven him to hunt the King's deer. He could not bear to look his father in the eye because he lacked a hand tonight and it was Will's fault. Guilt, rage, and grief were tearing at his heart. He flexed his hands. It was not fair. What kind of monster took the hand of a gifted carpenter?
Will sank to his knees. His whole body ached from holding back tears. He was shaking with inward sobs.
"Will?" He turned slowly to face his father. Dan's face had more lines than before. Mixed with the usual tiredness was pain. Will felt a stab of guilt. Dan's face tightened with worry.
"Come inside? There's food for you."
"I'm not hungry, Dad."
Dan looked sad.
"Come inside when you're ready then," Dan turned to go, then turned back, "Will?"
"Don't be long. It's getting dark."
Will worked until it was too dark to see and then quietly crept inside. To his relief, he saw that his father and Luke were sleeping soundly. He crawled quickly in to bed. He pulled the thin blanket up over his head. At last, alone and biting his pillow hard so that he would not wake his family, Will wept like a child.
Suddenly a gentle hand was rubbing his back and a familiar voice was whispering to him.
"Shh, Will, shh... It is all right," Dan Scarlett pulled his eldest son in to his arms.
"It's not fair, Dad!" Will cried, his voice thick with tears, "I hate Gisbourne! I hate him! I hate him!"
Dan held his son close and let him cry out his anger, his fear, and his sorrow. Will's sobs slowed and quieted.
"Why, Dad?" Will's voice broke with emotion, "It should have been my hand, not yours. I would have--"
Dan took Will's two good hands in his whole one.
"You are young and strong, with years before you. I am old, with many more years behind me then ahead of me. Use these," He held up Will's hands, "For good."
"I will,"Will's voice, still rough with crying, shook with determination, "I will, I promise."
"Good," Dan smiled. "For now, get some sleep. Sweet dreams, my son."
Dan turned and walked towards his bed.
"I am sorry. I love you."
"I love you, as well, Will."