-The Final Decision-

Elsie cursed herself for being so careless as she and Luke were herded back into the forest. She should have known that Luke was not the only one sent out to keep an eye on her. The fact that Robin thought she needed babysitting infuriated her. A scowl etched across her face as they moved deeper into the woods. It wasn't until they had put a safe distance between them and Locksley that the silence was broken.

"What were you two thinking, trying something like like?"

"Gisborne still has all my belongings. I wanted to get them back," Elsie explained, sending a fleeting glance towards Luke, who still looked competely abashed by the situation. A sudden wave a guilt washed over her; she had gotten them into this mess. "Look, my things are in the stables; I simply wanted to retrieve them. No one would have gotten hurt."

"Yeah? Well, what you don't know is that Gisborne's had a lot of trouble with horse thieves lately, so he's been keeping extra guards in the stable. It's a clever trap for an unexpecting thief."

Elsie heart skipped a beat, horrified by the thought of what trouble they would have been in if they had come face to face with a couple of Gisborne's men. She was good with a bow from a distance, but there wasn't much she could have done in hand to hand combat. It was sheer luck that they had been stopped before anything happened.

"We had no idea," breathed Luke, looking a bit pale.

"Exactly. Look, I'm not being funny, but Robin is going to have your head for this one, mate. He's not going to take a fancy to you and her going into Locksley alone," Allan speculated, thinking about how Robin reacts when a member of the gang takes matters into their own hands. He turned on Elsie. "And you, any thoughts you had about joining the gang, well, you can just kiss them good-bye. There's no way Robin will let you stay on after this."

Elsie felt as if she had been stuck by a knife. Allan was absolutely right; Robin would never let her be a part of the gang after her foolish action. She had desparately wanted to prove to him that she could live as an outlaw, but instead she acted irrationally and got caught. Something like this was exactly the reason Robin needed to send her off to Kirklees. Elsie had handed it right to him.

"He doesn't have to know what happened." Elsie threw it out there just to see how Allan would react.

"Look, he'd find out anyway. Robin has to know," he explained and then beckoned them onward.

Just up ahead a figure stepped out from behind a tree, expressionless, and leaned casually against the tree. "What do I need to know?"

"Robin!" Allan exclaimed, glancing over his shoulder at the other two. "I...erm...Well, the thing is..." Allan stuttered, never intending to actually tell Robin; he just wanted to give the young ones a good scare. "The thing is..."

"Allan found Elsie and me in Locksley." Luke cut in quietly.

Robin's brows met in the middle of his forehead as he tried to think of why they might have been in Locksley. He saw no obvious reasons and his expression quickly turned grave. He spoke sternly. "What were you two doing in Locksley?"

"Fetching Elsie's belongings," Luke admitted, avoiding the penetrating gaze that blazed from Robin's eyes. "They're being kept in the stable."

Robin pushed himself away from the tree and quickly advanced on the guilty party, shouting, "Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?"

"I told them -" Allan started, but closed his mouth when Robin shot him a look.

"Whose idea was it?" When neither Elsie or Luke spoke, Robin barked, "Tell me!"

"It was mine," Luke responded quickly, eyes planted on the ground.

Elsie lifted her gaze at Luke's confession. Robin immediately began laying into him about the seriousness of the situation. As much as she was grateful for Luke's attempt to protect her, she could not sit back and let him take the blame. Robin looked angry enough to dismiss him from the gang, and Elsie could not let that happen.

"Robin," Elsie said firmly, stepping between her irate brother and Luke. "This was not Luke's doing."

"Elsie, don't -" Luke started, but she cut him off with a pointed look.

"It's fine, Luke, really," she said with a much confidence as she could muster, laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder. She turned once more to Robin. "It was my idea, not Luke's. I wanted to get my things back from Gisborne. Luke thought it was a bad idea from the start, but I did not listen to him. If Allan had not found us, I do not know what would have happened. I have realized my mistake and I am sorry." She said all of this quickly, trying to get it all out without any interruptions.

Robin's lips were pressed tightly together as he listened carefully. When she had finished, he looked over to Allan who had settled onto a tree stump until his testimony was needed. "Take Luke back to camp," he ordered, trying hard to keep his voice even. "I need to have a word with my sister."

Elsie swallowed hard as Luke made his move to leave. He kept an apologetic gaze on her until it was no longer possible. Then he and Allan disappeared behind the thick trees. Elsie held her breath, waiting for Robin to continue his rant.

Pacing back and forth between the trunks of two giant oaks, his hands clasped on top of his head, Robin struggled to find the right words for the situation. He was anry. He was disappointed. He was relieved. He was flustered. He was anxious. He thought he might explode with all his emotions running rampant. It was never this difficult to find words when one of his men disobeyed him. Why was this so challenging? He glanced over at Elsie's anxious expression and the reason was clear: he did not like to see her hurting. As upset as he was by her senseless action, he was more relieved that no harm had been done. He could not bear even the thought of losing another loved one, which was why Elsie had to go to Kirklees.

"Robin?" Elsie said suddenly. After watching him pace for a few moments, she could not stand it any longer. "I am really sorry. I did not think things through properly."

"Obviously," he remarked. "That was a very dangerous stunt you pulled. You are lucky Allan found you when he did."

Elsie nodded, tears willed in her eyes. "I realize that now. The last thing I want is for someone to get hurt." She closed her eyes and tears ran down her cheeks. What if something had happened to Luke? It would have been her fault. She quickly shook the thought from her head; it was unbearable.

"If you would have been caught they would have done a lot worse than lock you in a cage."

Elsie hung her head in her hands and repeated, "I'm sorry."

Convinced that she had learned her lesson, Robin moved to comfort her. He wrapped his arms tightly around her. As she wept in his arms, he looked to the heavens for assistance with what he was about to do next. He knew it was going to be difficult for the both of them.

"Elsie," he said after a bit. "I think you can understand now why I must send you to the Abbey. You will have to stay there until the king returns."

She pushed away from his embrace, still a bit teary, but looking absolutely scandalized. "I do not want to go." Even though she had expected this from him, she could not help being defensive. "I will not go."

"You must."

"I can learn to live in the forest. I will be more careful," Elsie said, trying to bargain and think of ways to appease him. "You know I can shoot as well as any of your men, if not better. And you could teach me to fight."

"No." Robin shook his head, a pained expression marking his face. "You must do this one thing for me, Elsie. Go to Kirklees where I will know you are safe. I cannot risk your life by letting you stay. You mean too much to me, Elsie. You are all I have left."

"And you are all I have left, Robin. Please, do not send me away," she pleaded, the tears beginning to pick up again. "I have already picked up and moved my life once for you. I did not have the choice then but I am asking for one now. I am not a child."

Robin pursed his lips and shook his head, unable to let her truthful words affest his decision. He knew he was being selfish, but he would never forgive himself if something happened to her. He had made a promise to their mother that he would always look after her and this was the only way he knew how.

"You leave in the morning," Robin said, finalizing his decision. He turned quickly, not wanting to witness her reaction, and walked away.

Elsie gaped in disbelief at his retreating back, her fists balled up at her sides. Her chest was heaving with anger. "This is not your decision to make!" she shouted at him, stomping her foot childishly.

Something on the forest floor caught her eye. Somehow, admidst everything, Luke's bow had managed to find the ground. In one swift motion, Elsie swept it into her hands and shattered it against the nearest tree; splinters showered through the air. Elsie looked down at the bit of wood left in her hands, horrified, but somewhat appeased by what she had done, and then stalked off after Robin.

The joyful chatter that was echoing through the trees came to an abrupt halt when Robin and Elsie returned to camp. Elsie avoided the group and hurried to her bunk. She felt the eyes following her, but ignored them and threw herself onto the bed. She buried her face into the pillow, still fuming from the confrentation. She stayed there for the rest of the evening, dreading the arrival of morning.

---

"Elsie," a soft voice whispered in her ear.

She was being shaken gently. Elsie's eyes flickered out of slumber and found a face very close to hers. Instinctively she pulled away, but the face caught in the moonlight and she realized it was only Luke.

"Luke," she said, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "What is wrong?"

"Can we talk?" he asked tentatively.

"Now?" Elsie replied a little louder than she intended.

"Shhh..." Luke hissed, pressing a finger to his lips. "Come with me - please."

Still half asleep and drained from the days events, Elsie allowed him to lead her stumbling self away from the camp. He showed her to a large unearthed tree root where she could sit. She pulled her knees to her chin to keep from shivering.

"Robin said you're leaving tomorrow. I am really sorry."

"It is not your fault," Elsie grumbled, rubbing her arms as the cool night breeze swept around them.

Luke nodded. "I don't want you leave, but I don't think anything will change Robin's mind." He paused, tugging nervously at his sleeve. "I think it would be best if you left peacefully tomorrow."

"What?" Elsie frowned.

"I mean, if you ever get the chance to come back here you would not want to come back on bad terms with Robin. I think it would be wise not to fight his decision," Luke explained carefully.

"Where is this coming from?"

Luke drew in a deep breath. "They were talking about tying you up if you resist. I'm serious," he added, noting the look of disbelief on her face.

"Well then, perhaps I should just leave now."

"Don't be stupid," he replied hastily. "Sorry. It's just Robin is trying to keep you safe. Wandering off in the forest at night is not exactly smart. It is definitely not safe."

"I suppose you are right."

"Good. Look, just think about what I said about tomorrow, Elsie, please."

He made to get up, but Elsie caught his hand. "Wait, Luke. I have something to tell you too. Your bow...I sort of smashed it after the row with Robin."

Luke smiled. "It's alright. I think I might be able to make another."

Elsie grinned faintly and then realized she was still holding onto his hand. Quickly she let it go. "Thank you, Luke. I'll have a think before morning. It was good of you to tell me about this."

"Sure," Luke replied and they walked back to camp.

They parted to their respective bunks. Luke's word rolled around in Elsie's mind until she finally fell back to sleep.

---

Elsie woke about mid-morning to find the camp a beehive of activity. Sitting up she noticed something at the foot of her bed. It was her traveling bag. Someone had obviously been to Locksley to retrieve them. Looking around the camp, something in the distance caught her eye and sent her heart soaring.

Leaping from the bed she dashed toward the tethered horses. She ran her hands along the back of a beautiful chestnut brown stallion and nuzzled her face into the horse's neck. Elsie had been certain she would never see him again.

"I am glad to see you finally smile," Robin said as he appeared by her side.

"Thank you, Robin. Thank for bringing Jaspar and my things," Elsie repied quietly.

Robin nodded and then headed back toward the others. Elsie spent a few more minutes with her horse before gathering her things together. She wanted to change her clothes.

"Robin," she called, beckoning him over. "I am going down to the river to wash up. I cannot go to the Abbey looking like this."

Her brother nodded. "Fine. But Much goes with you. I do not want you getting any ideas."

Elsie agreed and then she and Muchset off on the path toward the river.

---

When they returned, Elsie felt as if all eyes were on her. They had not seen her in such fine attire before, but she now stood before them in her best silks, which she had selected for the journey. Her cheeks felt hot while astonished faces followed her across camp. She threw her tattered old dress into the bottom of the bag and then readied it to be straped to the horse.

As she fixed the pack, the men gathered around her. It was time for her departure.

"You are ready then?" Robin asked gently.

"I suppose so, since I do not have a say in the matter," Elsie replied flatly. She took one last look at the camp, embedding the imagine in her mind; then she looked at each member of the gang in turn. Much was looking a bit teary-eyed. Little John stood with his quarterstaff, expressionless. Luke simply looked angry, which baffled Elsie. It had been his idea for her to leave peacefully. What could have possible made him so upset? It was only then that she realized Allan was missing, and she was about to say something when Robin interrupted.

"Allan will be escorting you to the Abbey. He will make sure you get there safely. I would go, but I have some business to attend to here. I will come for you as soon as King Richard returns to England," Robin assured her. " I will miss you."

He pulled her against him and wrapped her up tightly.

"I will miss you as well," Elsie said and then turned to the rest of the men. "I will miss all of you. Thank you for all you have done."

Much hurried forward to give her a hug and then whisked away before anyone could see his tears.

"Take care," John told her before following Much.

Leading his horse, Allan joined the group. Luke shot a look of pure venom his way.

Not having seen Luke's disdainful glance, Elsie walked toward him.

"Not even going to say good-bye?" she asked, amused. His face softened at her approach. She hugged him and whispered, "I will see you soon."

He gave her a squeeze and with a final look she hurried to mount her horse efore she changed her mind abotu leaving quietly.

Robin and Luke watched Elsie and Allan ride off between the trees until they were out of sight. Robin clapped Luke on the back. "Come on. We've got work to do."


A/N: Look for the sequel, Lady of the Greenwood.

Any reviews would be helpful! Thank you for reading!