The months after my father appointed Robin as sheriff were quiet, as was expected. Every morning in the cool dawn, I would arise and walk the fields, to see the man shooting into the trees, practicing on imaginary targets that I could not see. By the time the sun had reached the ride, he would climb the trees to retrieve his arrows, the darkness of the sky and the darkness of his heart fought back to beyond the rim of the sky when he finished.
In early autumn, when we expected my brother to return, the children began to tire of following him around the village as he patrolled for any drunkards and wayward Englishmen to set on their way. The morning of my brother's return, I got up before the frost yet melted, before the dawn when the stars still shine dimly. I went out and stood aside in the fields, closer than usual to watch Robin practice.
He had told me the evening my father made him sheriff he wanted dawn hours to himself, to be alone. So we would practice in the evening, playing with wooden swords, and blunted knifes. He and I skirmished in the evenings, testing each other's strengths. I was better at the knife than he was. He on the other hand, was the master of the bow. We laughed the first time I tried a low distant target in the thicket. I missed it miserably and had to fish it out of a patch of thorns, but I emerged triumphant and prickly. He had smiled then, a rare gift that I hungered for. My brother never smiled. My father would laugh when I told him funny things, but smiles were as jewels after my mother died. I tried my best to make him smile, if only for my stupid mistakes and small victories.
I went out every morning to see from observation what I could improve in my skills, but also to see him smile to himself, when he hit his targets, even as he changed tactics and angles at the last moment. I wanted to see his victories. Thus as he whipped out his knife that morning, slashed, and turned it in the air and at the dead tall grass, I knew that I saw something very different in him as he practiced this morning. I saw something awful in his eyes. Defeat, darkness even. The darkness was not growing less as I had thought. He laughed and smiled more every morning. But now, a fierceness. A cold, deadly anger that had long simmered until his soft and comfortable exterior that he wore for the children who watched us mock fight by the duck pond in the evening. It frightened me. It was a change I had seen it in my brother. A bitterness written in the cut of knife, the pinch of fingers on the feathers of an arrow.
I heard him whispering as he practiced, in a tongue that did not sound like ours, words carried on the wind to me like mourning doves. They sounded familiar. He thrust his long knife into the soft dewy ground one, twice, more times than I could count. I stood up in the tall grass, hoping that he might see me and stop killing foes that only haunted him.
His eyes met mine, his knife in mid-air. It tumbled out of his hands. He sunk to his knees and bowed his head. I wanted to go to him, hold him, and tell him the things he fought were ghosts and nothing more. It was what I always did with my brother.
But this man was a stranger to me still, though I longed to understand what drove him on, what kept him from sleeping through the sun's wake. I took a deep breath and…
I went to him, slowly. He did not move. His breath was heavy and his shoulders tense, his eyes narrowed, staring at the knife, in despair and almost disbelief. I knelt beside him, tucking my feet under me, and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He straighten himself, and turned his head to look at me.
He looked at me with such intensity I nearly stopped breathing. I withdrew my hand from his shoulder.
"No, don't" he began to say, snatching my hand. He let go almost instantly.
"I'm sorry." He said after pause, and sighed heavily looking back at the knife.
He looked back up as I rose, feeling now I should leave him be and get the last arrow that was stuck in the low limb of a tree while he recovered. He caught my intention, though, and stood with me. I paused. His whole body seemed to be rooted to the earth.
"Marian," he whispered.
I stared at him, surprised. He had never called me by my name. It was always Lady, or Lady Marian, but never my name. The fervor in his eyes was still there.
"Can you hold me?"
I barely heard his words they were so soft. I realized then his hands were trembling.
He looked lost, in a dream his eyes staring through me. It was not by me that he wanted to be held by. He longed for someone in his past, far off, more beautiful, less Saxon.
I surprised myself even so by wrapping my arms around him, bringing him close. For one breathless moment he remained stiff and unmoving, a moment when I thought I had done him wrong but then he wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. I did not know why he needed to hold me, but it felt unbelievably right. His head sank into my shoulder and I heard a shuddering breath come up from his chest. It felt as if he would hold me forever.
Then he released me, as quickly as I had begun to cling to him and he walked towards the arrow stuck in the tree.
My heart in my throat, I whispered to the empty air.
"Why will you not tell me your name?"