sorry this is so late. made it extra-longish for you all. and i've made robin a little too snarky in this version, so he's gonna have to stay that way, thus making some small details divert from the film. hope you don't mind, it's not gonna be an all-out au.
James' fever had already broken the next morning when I came to check on him. His bruise was a large mottled blue-green spot on his arm, and he moved with difficulty but was otherwise up. Captain was at his bedside and there were insomniac contusions around his eyes, but he said nothing about it, so I didn't bring it up.
I was still irked about losing the girl. The gash on my hand was now the color of spoiled plums, and I so wanted to repay her in kind, with high interest.
Two days later I got my chance.
My mates and I were out in the woods for game, and we were about to close in on the last trap for the day when Glen's head snapped up and he held out an arm to stop us. We followed his eyes and saw that they were glued to none other but Maria Merryweather. The idiot girl was ambling around, unaccompanied, in a ridiculously frilly green dress. We looked at each other and wordlessly agreed on what to do. I, in particular, couldn't stop grinning. I still hadn't thought of a way to capture the girl, yet here she was, so kindly handing herself over to us.
"You poor little thing," she breathed upon seeing the rabbit ensnared inside it, and beside me James had to clamp a hand over his mouth so he wouldn't snort his laughter. "Who did this to you?" She dropped to her knees and made to undo the trap, and I chose that moment to stalk out of the bushes.
"One trap; two catches," I smirked. She started with a gasp. "What do you want?" she demanded, and it was fascinating to see that the steel I saw in her at the funeral hadn't abated, not even when the others also revealed themselves, and I couldn't help but laugh.
I continued my taunts by saying, "That's girls, catch an animal and they can't resist coming to help." James tried to grab her by the arms but she forced herself out of his grip and said defiantly, "I know who you are: you're bandits and plunderers!"
Ah, so good Sir Benjamin had now articulated her in the lies about our clan. We jeered and hooted, and in a temper she launched herself at James and pummeled him repeatedly, right on his still mending arm, and I tugged her away from him. She turned on me this time, but then she caught sight of the souvenir she left on me and froze.
"You!" she cried, still staring at my hand like it was not to be believed. "You're coming with us now," I said sweetly, smiling even wider when her infuriated eyes met mine. "My father's just dying to make your acquaintance." I made sure to make my tone as simpering as hers.
Gyr had been watching our little carnival from the treetops, and amid my mates' howls of laughter he raised a shriek. A second later James was suddenly toppled over from behind by a shaggy black dog with ruby eyes and a size so massive it would be as tall as me if it reared up on its hind legs. It was the hellhound of the Merryweather family. Already my friends were scrambling away from its frothing mouth and booming barks, but it seemed that I had some secret death wish, for I waited for it to get closer before I finally moved and ran.
We were still running when new sounds pierced the forest: horses' gallops, and the harsh shouts of the spawn of Lucifer himself. "Robin, it's your father!" James yelped, quite unnecessarily, just as said spawn of Lucifer and his troop of three halted at the foot of the slope we were sliding down. I stopped a little too late, and I ended staring up at my father, something I shouldn't have been able to do anymore. I detested the vantage point; it made me feel like I was six and stupid again.
Father pulled up his leather mask so he could look at me in disgust fully, and so I could see that disgust. "What did I do to deserve such a prized dolt for a son?" he asked me rhetorically. I ground my teeth and looked away, straight into the condescending face of Father's captain, Romulus. I never liked that man, not his ridiculous queue or how Father clearly favored him more than his own son. They all rode off, probably into town to rent more whores.
The rest of the walk back to the village was spent with James complaining about how everyone and everything kept hitting him nowadays, and Captain taking in his dramatics with a smile that never reached his eyes. Glen was quiet, but that was nothing new. And I was just imploding silently from how wrong everything had gone. The girl could have been a little less of a minx. James could have used that bloody knife. I could have answered back at my father in the same acerbic tone. But nobody, not even I, was being smart today.
When I entered the castle, who else were waiting to spring upon me but the Twins. They stood only somewhere below my chest, wielded naught but ropes and spikes, and were more conniving than foxes. The only way you could tell them apart was the placement of their black ponytails: one listing to the right, the other to the left. Not that that was of any help; they had no names, and if they did have any they'd never revealed them.
"Well, young master, was your project fruitful as your previous? It seems not," one of them said as he knotted some rope around a spearhead, a malevolent smile on his face.
I ignored him, but a lasso fastened itself quick and painful as a whiplash onto my wrist, and I was being tugged forward by the other twin. I snarled and tested its grip, but its strength was as disproportionate as its wielder. "Don't toy with me," I said lowly. "What does it matter to you that I capture the girl?"
They laughed, their childlike voices making the shrill sound all the more unnerving. "Don't you know? Your father thinks the girl – "
" – is the new Moon Princess – "
" – and he wants her to not prevent – "
" – the imminent fall of Merryweather."
Each twin took turn in speaking, another unnatural habit of theirs. "He wants the pearls too, of course, but that's second-stringer to that." They grinned, feral and leering. "So hopefully, if you both don't mind, we want the girl to…play with."
Cold seeped into my bones, but I hid it by laughing once, without mirth. "Catch her yourselves, or are your stunted heights going to make it a problem for you?" I took advantage of the anger that crossed their faces and yanked the rope from the one wielding it. I smirked and loped up the stairs to my chambers, absently flexing my injured hand.
The second I closed the doors, the snick of a blade came from behind me and cold steel was laid heavily across my throat. "Scream for help and I will slice you like a pig," a woman's voice hissed in my ear. It was Lillian, Father's favorite whore as of late.
I sighed long-sufferingly. "If it's money you seek, all you had to do was ask. Or maybe do me a few favors…" I chuckled at my own joke, but the knife only pressed itself closer than comfortable to my skin.
"It's not material wealth I seek, brat. Your father refuses to let me leave the castle grounds. I only came here to make a livelihood to feed my children, and now I am not allowed to even see them." Her voice caught and broke. I did not need to turn my head to see the longing that was sure to be written on her face. Then, with renewed resolve, she continued, "So you will get me out of here or you won't leave this room alive."
I wondered whether my own mother, were she still alive today, would go through as much extremes just to care for me. I didn't doubt that she would. I nodded, and gently tipped the knife away from my neck and turned to Lillian. "All you still had to do was ask," I repeated softly, my tone different now, filled with respect and veneration for a woman only five feet tall. "In the armory there's a secret passage that leads somewhere outside the forest. It's behind the flag with our crest on it. I'll get you a duplicate to the key of the door, but you must dispose of it once you're safe."
She lowered the knife somewhat, conflicting emotions on her face. "And how am I to know that what you say is true?"
"You don't, I suppose. But I'm your only chance."
Lillian sighed, but she nodded and tucked the blade somewhere in the folds of her dress. "Thank you…Robin."
She left, and a small smile lifted the corners of my mouth. So there was some good in this world, and in me, after all.
The smile vanished when I remembered that my charitable deed only added to my long list of troubles: the impending 5000th moon, my failure to capture Maria, my father's permanent and unbearable boorishness. Blast it.
Nevertheless, I rummaged through my closet until I found that ancient, rusty-black key Loveday and I had found while wandering the dungeons. I then went to the smithy to have it duplicated.
The look on the barmy old codger's face after this would be worth it, after all.
That night Lillian disappeared from under the noses of the guards, but the woman seemed to be the last thing on Father's mind. He had a new companion, after all, someone older and shapelier but definitely not as interesting. He didn't ask after her, and so nobody told.
Yet this didn't really comfort me in the slightest. I was still in disgrace, and neither pearls nor Maria planned on revealing themselves anytime soon. I racked my brains all the next day for ways to redeem myself, but nothing came. All I could think about were Maria's eyes – clear and bright, like little pieces of sky fallen to the earth and caught in her dark lashes. How insolently they had stared back at me in the woods! Strange that such steel be hidden behind such a small frame –
I shook these silly thoughts from my mind like a dog shaking water from its ears. Good grief; here I was getting all philosophical over a ridiculously proud creature with a poorly founded high opinion of herself and her family when she was the reason my hide would get tanned in the near future. It was unnerving, what the arrival of this one girl could do to me.
Father had called for a feast the day before, and now all the high-ranking officials sat with us at our usually deserted banquet hall. He was in a frightfully cheery mood, even condescending to let my mates dine with us at the head of the table. Not that that was of any comfort – I had to sit right in front of Romulus, and James and Captain were having a row. It wasn't the usual bickers they'd have every now and then; they wouldn't even look at each other or acknowledge the other's presence.
"What's gotten into these two?" I asked Glen, gesturing with my fork to my two most talkative friends and the icy wall of silence thickly layered between.
He shrugged and mumbled around a mouthful of potatoes, "Dunno. Yesterday they seemed alright. Something prolly happened after I left them alone."
I raised an incredulous eyebrow. "You mean – "
"Oh, you know exactly what I mean," he chuckled wryly, and said no more.
I sighed. Poor Captain probably aired his feelings and didn't elicit the response he'd hoped for. What did he expect, after all, that James would just jump ship like that? I shook my head and turned back to my food, tearing a chunk of bread and taking it with wine. Then, out of nowhere, the beginnings of a scheme. I turned to my father, who was busy being entertained by his new mistress, but I went on ahead anyway. "Father, I've prepared a plan to snatch the girl from under their roof." Not that I'd prepared it anyway, but I'd just improvise as I went along.
"Don't go near Moonacre, that house is damned," he snapped. Ah, how supportive the man was of any ideas other than his own. "Now, word is, she's about to meet her downfall."
Suddenly he stood up, a leer spreading on his face. I followed his gaze and oh Lord, did that girl even know how to keep her nose out of trouble? There she was, staring at us from the top of the stairs leading to the side door. She tried to run but two of the sentinels caught her by the arms and dragged her down to her knees before my father.
"How kind of you to join us, Moon Princess," Father said sweetly. Maria said nothing but yanked one hand free and held it out, something on her palm. The key! My eyes couldn't help but widen slightly at it. How on earth she came by it I won't know. But it wasn't going to be much of a bargaining tool for her.
Father, of course, laughed at her. "Now what is this?" He took the key and held it up for us all to see. "She has brought us the lost key, gentlemen, because the terrible du Noirs have had the moon pearls hidden up here all the time. Haven't we?"
His henchmen laughed accordingly, but Maria exclaimed, "Well, it's true, isn't it? Your ancestors stole them."
Father looked at her in mock surprise. "My ancestors? Well, perhaps, princess, I should introduce you."
I had never understood why a rotted carcass of someone long gone had to sit with us as we ate. When I was younger I tried to stow the remains in a bag and keep it out of sight. My father had caught me in the act and flogged me where I stood with his belt. Until now I felt a creeping disdain whenever I looked at it.
He went over to that edifice now, the sentinels hauling Maria in suit. I took her by the arm, smirking when she flinched and struggled in my grip.
"Maria Merryweather, the last Moon Princess," Father said grandly to a pile of old armor, bones and dust, and turned to the girl, declaring, "Sir William, the very first Coeur du Noir."
I forced Maria into a mockery of a bow at this, and let her up after. Not that she minded; she was too staring enraptured at what Father had in his hands. "The pearl casket," I heard her whisper wonderingly.
"And you so very kindly brought us the key," Father said, mockingly grateful. He made to put the key in the lock, but pretended to drop it. The casket was open anyway, and of course when he lifted the lid there was nothing there.
"You've hidden them!" she cried, and he retorted, "They were never there, girl! Your filthy Merryweather family took them before he" – Father pointed at Sir William as he replaced the casket – "picked up the box. They stole the pearls, but soon the final moon will rise, and the thieving Merryweathers will be punished. And now that we have you here there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. At last, the entire valley will be ours. And the du Noirs will finally feast upon revenge!"
A great cheer went up, and I looked over at Maria with a smirk on my face, and was astonished to see that despite everything, she still managed to keep her head high and her eyes clear and cold, like ice in the sun. I was beginning to believe that people were right to think her a Moon Princess.
Father motioned for me to take her away, and I started walking her to the dungeons, my mates tagging along behind me. The cells we passed were mostly empty because its occupants died from malnutrition or torture, the latter the Twins' specialty. Once I pushed her a bit harder than needed, and she turned on me and said in a fury, "Leave me alone, you oaf!"
I laughed and said, "You know, for someone in your predicament, I have to admire your spirit." Glaring, she kicked me between the legs, and I gasped, doubling over from the pain. The fact that I let a girl make me look pathetic before my hooting friends was almost as agonizing.
"I told you she was feisty, Robin!" James cackled behind me, and oh, that was it. "Witch!" I snarled, regaining enough of my composure to grab her roughly by the nape of her neck. "I wouldn't say that if I was you Robin," James crowed. I thrust her forward to the dankest, foulest cell there was and ordered the guards to lock her up.
I pushed Maria through the doors, laughing when she tried to kick it and pummeled it with her dainty fists. "Welcome to your new home, love," James said happily, clearly milking the situation for all it was worth. "You can make friends with the cockroaches. Sweet dreams!" Maria stared at me through the opening in the door, but I just waved and turned my back on her.
As we exited, I yelled over my shoulder to the sentinels, "Watch her, she's slippery."
James snickered and elbowed me mercilessly, taunting, "Oh, dear Robin, I hope she didn't do any permanent damage. We won't have any clan leaders if the line stops dead at you, aye?"
Now that my rage had abated I became more aware of the sore throbbing burn I suffered, and I had not the energy to retort with anything other than "Close your face."
"Let 'im alone," Captain said, eyebrows hunched as he looked anywhere other than our faces. This came as a surprise, because it was characteristic of him to either join the teasing or make innuendo about my privates at a time like this.
"Let him speak for himself, you filthy bastard."
There was a wicked debilitating edge in James' voice, his head tilted back at a certain aggressive angle. He wanted a fight; we all knew exactly what it looked like when James wanted a fight.
"Shut it," Captain said, bright-eyed and angry. "I've suffered you through lunch and I don't intend to spend the rest of the day listening to your bloody mouth."
"Only because you want to do something else to it, is that it?"
That was a low blow, even for James. Captain froze where he stood, a dull flush creeping up his cheeks. Hearing his feelings for James summarized in such a demeaning, cruel manner – it was a wonder he didn't rip the lad's head off then and there. But he just bowed his head and walked on and out of the castle.
James scoffed as he watched him go, contempt glinting in his eye. But I thought I saw something else too, if just for a second, though I didn't know what it was.
I muttered to them that I was going to bed, and went straight to my chambers and collapsed still in my boots.
I was woken hours later by yelling and cursing, and the sound of soldiers thundering by. Growling, I ran out to see what the commotion was all about, and saw that Maria had somehow escaped, wearing nothing but her petticoats, and was running down the battlements into the village. Glen and the others had also joined the chase, and I caught up with them at the lead, desperate to not let her get away for a third time.
We cornered her against the wall that hedged us in on the hilltop. "Princess," I laughed as she tried to scramble up and escape, only to see that she had a very long way down. "What are you gonna do now?"
She looked around at us, chest heaving, when she suddenly lost her balance and fell screaming. I darted to the wall and gaped down at the sight of her rolling through the fallen branches and foilage, but managed to get my wits about me and began running after her.
Three search parties set off from the castle, one made purely of foot soldiers, one headed by Father and Romulus, and the last made of no one but me and my mates. We came across a clearing and found my father there in an icy rage. I just barely made out the sight of Gyr flying through the trees when Father spoke.
"I want her killed," he told us all. "I won't let her stop the curse. Their death is our victory."
I balled my hands into fists. I wasn't too thappy about the prospect of killing again. Not again, when my soul was already damned for what I'd done years ago. "Stupid girl…you should've stayed where you were," I murmured.
We started combing the forest, on the lookout for any sign of Maria passing the same way we were. At one point Captain pointed out a low-lying branch that had snagged a ribbon from her underwear, and I pocketed it with a grin, encouraged. But then Father came riding by, more than irate.
"Turn back!" he barked. "She's gone, call them all back. Who was the half-wit who let her escape?"
With a cold, sinking feeling in my stomach, I answered. "Hector was standing watch when we left."
Father grunted. "He won't get away without ounishment, the Twins will see to it."
Poor old Hector at the hands of the Twins! I was liking this day less and less.
It was a weary, dejected group that found its way to the castle. I was ready to drop, and James was ribbing Captain in a hushed but malicious voice. I couldn't tell what was being said but the incessant drone of it bothered me. I turned back to snap at them when suddenly, snarling curses in his own language, Captain had his hands on James' shoulders and was shoving him into a nearby wall.
My first reaction was to lunge and separate them before permanent damage was done, but then I caught the look in their eyes. Captain was desperate, pleading in a voice only for those meant to hear. James heard, and was terrified because he wished for the same thing Captain wanted of him but didn't know how to ask.
I blinked and swallowed, almost embarassed. I'd never known much about my mates, always minding affairs that concerned only me, and to see a part of these two spread out so freely before me felt almost voyeuristic. Thankfully, James pulled free and began walking speedily away from us, his face hidden from view.
Glen, who had been silent all throughout the exchange, put a hand on Captain's heaving back. "I need a drink too," he told him, a paraphrasing of I need to forget about all this as much as you do.
Captain nodded, miserable, and like a curiously docile child he let himself be led. Glen looked at me, and when I waved them on he did so.
Upon entering the castle, I gritted my teeth when I heard the animalistic cry that ululated from the dungeons. I blew past the guards and sank onto my bed with my pillows over my ears, trying in vain to muffle Hector's screams.
reviews are fuel. to those who already have imparted their opinion, salamat. (: