A/N: I must say that I really enjoyed writing this backstory. I picture Marian, at 16, just on the verge of womanhood--mature, gaining confidence, but still with some of the characteristic uncertainties of a girl. I hope I've done that image of her justice in this chapter, which is almost entirely backstory.
There are two nods in this chapter – one to the movie The American President, which was unintentional but which I left in after discovering it because I love those lines from the dance scene in that movie (I'm sure that they were in my subconcious somewhere when I wrote it). The other is a purposeful nod to at the Bard at the end of the chapter.
This may be the fluffiest chapter yet, which is saying a lot for this story, but there is more angst coming, so get it while it lasts.
After changing her dress, Marian found Robin just where he said he would be, at the West Gate. But she'd not expected him to be sitting on his horse.
"Well…come on," he slipped his foot from the stirrup so that she might use it and offered her a hand of assistance.
"Where is my horse?"
"There was not time to saddle it."
"What were you doing while I was changing?"
"I was speaking with your father."
"Marian, I'm not just going to take you out of the castle without telling him. I value my life."
"You've done it before."
"That was different."
"Marian it doesn't matter. Just get on."
"Why don't I get my own horse?"
Robin let out a frustrated sigh, "Marian, if you are on your own horse then you will go riding off wherever you please, and then I will be in trouble with your father. Now come-on," he motioned again, offering his arm for the second time.
She obliged but soon found she was self-conscious of where to place her hands.
"Well you'd better hold on," Robin said, and kicked the horse to a canter, forcing her to grab onto him for stability. Upon feeling her arms securely around his chest, he urged the horse into a full gallop and was delighted to hear Marian giggling behind him.
They raced across the fields at full tilt, Robin paying careful attention to the trail and the feel of the horse, ensuring as safe and smooth a ride as possible. He pulled the reins back swiftly and spun the horse once before coming to a stop atop of the hill outside Locksley. He lifted his right leg, bent his knee and rested it on the horse's neck in front of him so that he could turn to see her. The twist in her hair, which he was certain she'd worked hard to produce, had slid halfway down her neck and loose strands of hair dangled about her face. He smirked.
"Nothing. Your hair, it's…" He paused and reached out to tuck the stray strands from her face behind her ear but instead removed the pin from the top and watched in awe as the soft brown curls fell to her shoulders. "There. Much better. We couldn't have the villagers seeing you like that, now could we?"
There was something in the way he'd said it, as if they were his villagers…as if they were her villagers. Her mind spun momentarily as she allowed the implication of his statement to settle. "The villagers?"
"Yes. Where did you think we were going, Marian?"
She looked to the bottom of the hill and saw Locksley ablaze with torches and alive with the laughter of singing and dancing.
Robin swung his leg back over the horse and trotted down the hill to the stables, offering Marian an arm down before dismounting. He unbuckled the saddle and noticed that Marian started assisting, removing the horse's reigns and bridle and speaking to the animal softly as she did so. He watched her, finding that the elegance with which executed her actions was mesmerising.
Marian was aware that Robin was once again staring at her. She purposefully avoided his gaze, speaking instead to the animal, "Why is he staring at me, eh?"
Robin shifted uncomfortably, "He is wondering if you are ready to go to the party."
"Did you hear that?" she continued talking to the horse, "There actually is a party. And here I thought he was just trying to find an excuse to get me to ride with him." Without a backward glance she headed out of the stables to where the villagers were gathered.
Robin ran to catch up with her. 'Oh my,' he thought, 'this is going to be an interesting night.'
Locksley village was alive with inebriated merriment. The peasants had placed a large spit in the center of the village and upon it hung the finest hog to be found, which Sir Robert had ordered slaughtered for the occasion. The party had commenced several hours before and by this time, the line of revelers singing and dancing their way through the village was twenty strong. Among the few sitting were Dan Scarlett and his young son Luke, who had played himself tired and was now sleeping at his father's feet. His wife Jane and their older son, William, were among those dancing. Dan watched them, simultaneously displaying the loving stare of a husband and the proud smile of a father.
Robin caught up with Marian and grabbed her hand, stopping her momentarily. He bent his left arm and slid her hand through. Marian, realising that it would be more proper for him to escort her into his own village, allowed him to do so and stepped off with him around the end of the pond. They came first upon Thornton and his wife Ruth, who were tending what remained of the roast pork.
Upon seeing Robin with the Lady Marian, Thornton immediately stood and wiped the juices on the cloth that hung from his belt. "Master Robin," his voice and his face showed his surprise.
The singing and dancing had stopped and all eyes were turned toward Robin.
"Robin," Marian whispered to the side, trying to hide the fact that she was talking, "why are they staring at you? It is not as though it is strange for you to be in the village."
"They are not staring at me," he whispered back, dipping his head toward her ear. "They are staring at you."
Suddenly self-conscious Marian checked her posture to ensure it was as lady-like as possible, but behind the façade she felt as if she were a tortoise, unable to pull its head inside its shell.
Thornton and Ruth shared a subtle smile of recognition.
"Well, carry on!" Robin announced, "We are just here to join the party."
The sounds of reveling soon resumed and Marian was immediately more comfortable.
"Lady Marian, how lovely of you to join us this evening," Ruth smiled at her, sensing her discomfort.
"Thank you, Ruth."
"Have you eaten?"
"No," Marian suddenly realised that she'd not had a meal all day.
"Well, why don't you go and sit and I will prepare a plate for you."
"Thank you, Ruth." She turned to Robin, who began to step off to where the Scarlett family was sitting; but the revelers, who had woven the line in their direction and were now passing between them and their destination, impeded their progress. A string of "my lord" could be heard as each member of the line offered a nod of recognition as they passed. At the end of the line, Sally stopped momentarily in front of them and instead recognised Marian. "Milady!" She grabbed Marian's hand and Marian soon found herself among the revelers. She lifted her skirt and hopped and skipped, twirling in and out of the people about her.
Robin watched her from a distance, finding a seat next to Dan Scarlett and his young son, William.
"Good evening, Dan."
"The villagers of Locksley certainly know how to throw a celebration."
"Yes, though it helps that Lord Locksley has provided a pig and enough ale for the occasion." He paused and then added, "Might I ask, Robin, why you are not at the castle this evening?"
"The castle, my friend, is full of drunken nobles talking politics, trading lands, and discussing noblewomen as if they are trollops. Here, life is simple – family, good friends…"
"…And fine ale."
Robin turned from Dan to find Thomas, the cooper, extending a jug. "Thank you, my friend." He gladly accepted and took a gulp before passing the libations to Dan, "I shall have to thank my Father, that is fine ale indeed."
Dan took a sip as well and passed the jug back to Tom, an action that caused eleven-year-old William to cross his arms and pout.
Seeing this, Robin spoke, "Will, why are you not dancing?"
"I was dancing with mother before but she went to put Luke to sleep."
Robin motioned for the boy to come and stand in front of him. "I'll bet that Lady Marian would dance with you, if you asked her nicely."
The boy smiled.
Robin urged him on, "Go on, ask her."
"Only with your permission sir."
Robin ruffled the young lad's hair, "William, I think you'll find that Lady Marian does not need my permission for anything and she certainly does not seek it. Go on." Robin turned to Dan, "He is a good lad, and learning quickly, from what I hear."
"Yes, yes, he will make a fine carpenter one day."
The two men followed Will with their eyes as he crossed to where Sally and Marian were dancing.
The jug of ale was now in Sally's hands. She leaned her head back and put the jug to her lips, gulping the libations and then wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Without much thought, Marian grabbed the jug from Sally's hands and followed suit, but she only got half a mouthful before the foul liquid burned her throat and she lowered the jug in a fit of coughing. She looked up to see Robin sitting around the fire with Dan Scarlett, laughing at her. Apparently his concern for her welfare did not extend to preventing her from choking on dreadful ale. Suddenly she found young William before her. She attempted to compose herself.
"Robin said that you would dance with me if I asked nicely." He bowed to her.
"Oh did he?" She narrowed her eyes at Robin, who attempted to look serious but found himself unable to do so and instead shrugged and offered the mischievous smile that she hated and loved. Marian was certain that Robin would do just about anything to get out of dancing. "I would be honored," she offered Will her hand.
As was tradition on midsummer's eve, everyone in the village had intended to stay awake until the sunrise. But as the night dragged on, the line of revelers got smaller and smaller as more and more villagers slumped into the grass asleep. Marian soon plopped herself down beside her betrothed in front of the Scarlett hut.
"Ruth mentioned something about food."
Robin held out the plate that the woman had delivered for her.
"You're welcome," he winked at her.
She pulled at the meat, which was so tender that it fell into pieces in her hand, "This is better than the food at the castle. Much will be sorry he missed it." She let out a small giggle.
All Robin could do was stare. What was wrong with him? Why was wathing her pick at meat so inviting?
Marian also stared, but at her plate. She could feel his eyes on her...again. As she was contemplating whether or not to look up at him, two bare feet came into her field of vision and she looked up to find Sally with the jug of ale pressed to her lips. She took a long sip and then held the jug out to Marian.
Robin raised his eyebrows at her, having seen her struggle to drink the ale the first time. But Marian would not grant him the satisfaction of seeing her spit it out again. She downed two giant gulps without so much as a wince, though her stomach nearly wretched at the presence of the foul liquid. Robin was still staring at her, so she went for a third but he whisked the jug from her hands.
"Oh no," he shook his finger. "No no no no no."
"Oh let the girl have some fun, Robin."
"The lady," he emphasised the word as he stood, "is my guest and you will address her accordingly."
Marian nearly dropped her plate to the ground in shock at him.
But Sally was not about to let him get away with casting her aside. She leaned into him, her balance unsteady, in a way that Marian was certain was entirely inappropriate. She whispered, but Marian heard, "I suppose the title does not matter, as long as she is willing."
And with that, Robin pulled the woman by the arm across the field. An argument ensued. Only bits and pieces could be heard, but all could be seen. Sally would run a hand down his arm or push herself into him, in reaction to which Robin would remove the hand or push her away. Then Robin could be seen pointing a finger at her and then pointing at her family's home. It finally ended with Sally trapesing across the field and turning to raise the jug at him, "Robin of Locksley, I do declare you are besotted."
Marian watched him disappear into the manor and was quite unsure of what to do with herself.
Moments later, a summer daisy appeared before her as he pointed over her shoulder at the horizon, "Look, the sunrise." Then he stood before her and offered her a hand. "Come, I will take you home."
"But I want to watch the sunrise."
"We will," he smiled
"Aren't we taking the horse?" she asked as they passed the barn.
"No, let's walk." He turned and continued in the direction of Knighton hall and she took a few running steps to catch up.
They stopped at the top of the hill above Knighton, both realizing that their time together was ending and neither wanting it to be so. Marian found that ale had emboldened her. "Robin, I have something to say to you." He started to interrupt. She raised a finger, "Please, let me speak."
"Thank you. I was dreading returning to that party this evening, and yet I felt unable to leave the castle, not wishing to worsen the situation with my father. You helped me and I am grateful."
"I always try to help a friend in need."
"Yes, we have always been friends, have we not?"
"Yes. Yes, we have. And you, Robin of Locksley, have never asked me to be something that I am not. You ride with me and run through the forest and teach me to shoot when other men would have me sit and embroider pillows." She stopped walking and turned to him, "And so I am asking you to stop pretending."
Robin found that he could not look at her, instead he pulled his hand from hers and placed it on his hip, turning to see Knighton Hall in the distance. She seemed to think that he was ignoring her when in fact he was certain that if he looked at her he would be forced to break his promise to Edward.
"Robin, please," she pleaded from behind him. "Stop pretending things are as they were when we were children when we both know they are not." She joined him at the crest of the hill overlooking her village. "I know that you think I am young and innocent and know little about the ways of this world. My father has tried to keep it that way, I suppose. But a girl does not live her life in the castle hearing the loose tongues of servants and washerwomen and not learn something of the ways of men. I am very well aware that men are not expected to have virtue intact as a lady is, and am also very well aware that yours is not. I am not expecting you to deny it, and as I apparently have no choice but to do so, I am willing to accept it, provided it does not happen any longer. But please stop treating me as a child so that we can move beyond whatever this awkwardness is between us and onto whatever is next."
There was a long silence as Marian waited for his reply and Robin tried to figure out what to say. She was a lady, no doubt, and an intelligent one at that.
"Marian, if I kissed you, would it harm you?"
Her breath caught in her lungs momentarily.
"Marian?" he slowly crept toward her.
She swallowed hard and found she was unable to breathe when he slid his hand about her waist. Is this what was next? Her voice trembled a bit, "Well, no, I suppose not."
"Good, because I promised your father that if he allowed me to take you for the evening no harm would come to you." His lips were now tantalizingly close and she felt his breath on her cheeks as he spoke.
"And do you always keep your promises?"
This last response was breathed from his lungs into hers as he gently laid his lips upon hers and caressed them with a soft sweetness that spoke volumes. This was the type of kiss a man gave to a woman, not a boy to a girl. Marian was swept into the moment, unsure of what to do. She was not unwise to the world, but that didn't mean that she was experienced. She found herself frozen and remained still with her eyes closed long after he'd stopped.
"Marian, you act as though I've never kissed you before."
"Not like that," she whispered upon exhale and opened her eyes to find him staring down at her with the genuine look he'd posessed earlier on the castle wall.
"No," he smiled. "Not like that."
"Do it again."
"Do what again? I have no idea what you are talking about."
"You promised to stop treating me as a child."
"And I have."
"No you haven't, you are teasing me, and you always keep your promises, remember?"
"Marian, this is hardly childish teasing."
Robin once again pressed his lips to hers, this time with more vigor than the first and was delighted when Marian opened her mouth a bit and moved with an eagerness equaling his. His instinct was to wrap his arms around her and deepen the kiss but he dared not. He'd made a promise he had to keep.
He pulled away. "Did you have a good time tonight?"
She nodded and smiled, "Yes, thank you."
"Good, go inside to bed. You father will be here in the morning."
"Go," he winked.
She turned and skipped inside, exposing a flash of the child remaining within her.
Robin was glad for the moment to himself. This promise, he feared, was going to be difficult to keep.
"Marian? Marian, are you awake?"
The lovers immediately sat up in bed and scrambled about the room.
Marian spoke through the door. "Yes, I am awake, though I am not yet decent." She motioned to Robin to hurry as he donned his boots.
"May I come in? I've fresh clothing for you so that you do not have to wear your dress that was soaked with rain."
"Just a moment," She called, then hissed at Robin who was slipping on his quiver. "Go!"
He, meanwhile, seemed to think that the whole incident was outrageously funny and choked back his laughter so as not to give away his presence.
"Anon, Auntie Ellen." She ran across the room and began pusing Robin out the window. "Go!"
"Not yet. Promise me you will not come into town."
She gave him a look that said she did not like being excluded. They'd had this argument so many times. She thought it had been resolved. This time, though, her reasons were different. "Robin. I want to see Sally. I should be the one to tell her. Nigel's death, despite any actions on his part to warrant it, is on my hands. She should hear it from me."
"I will send her to you. Please, trust me. I don't want to worry about you today. I won't exclude you, I promise, just, please, don't do anything on your own."
"Marian?" Auntie Ellen again.
"I'll be right there!" She turned to her lover, remaining suspicious. "You won't go after the Sheriff and Gisborne without telling me?"
"No, I promise."
She nodded and crossed the room to open the door to her Aunt, but her body turned back of its own accord.
"Robin!" she offered in a shouted whisper. But he was gone. She could attribute it to his magical disapearing powers, but assumed he was hiding in the stables below, waiting for an opportunity to slink across the field to the forest unseen. "I love you," she said as loudly as she dared.
His response was an arrow to the windowframe.