Hello! You have not forgotten a few days ago was Christmas, have you? Stop for a moment, close your eyes, think about the magic of the Christmas you have just spent, or one Christmas which is most dear to your heart, and you are ready for this.
Disclaimer: I do not own the main characters of this story, they belong to the BBC. I have borrowed them because I love them very much. Some other people though, were born in my head.
*And it was Christmas*
"No! No! I won't sacrifice my presents!" almost cried Stephen, 10 years old.
"I want my present for Christmas!" echoed 7-year-old Bernard. A couple more expressed quite fervently their 'no' to the idea.
The girls were too scared to speak, but some of the oldest nodded, in agreement with the boys. Some boys' brows furrowed but they did not dare speak again. The idea they so disapproved of was being proposed by their future lord, after all and even though he was always nice to them, and often brought some extra food and small toys to them they had to show him respect and stay silent when he was speaking. All their parents taught and told them this.
Robin, eyes narrowed and tormenting his lips, looked carefully all the Locksley children gathered here, in a spot in his village. They were all standing, while he sat on a rock, so that he could see them all in the eyes. He sighed. He had to try again.
"Listen. I understand. It's not an easy thing to do. When I was your age I would probably have started shouting and protesting if I had had to listen to this plan. But…" How does one talk with small children? It was hard. Hard. He sighed again.
"I know you're all waiting Christmas for your presents. You deserve them. You wait all year for them. But… We are lucky people…" Yes, Robin, you say we, we is better.
"We are lucky. We all have a home. I have a home. You have a home" he said pointing to brothers Daniel and Anne "and you, and you" pointing to Stephen and Bernard and looking all the others. "The luckiest of us have both a mother and a father who look after us". Robin felt something like pain somewhere inside. His mother had invaded his mind. Mother.
He breathed and blinked. "Leo's not so lucky. He's just arrived. He only has his mother. No money to have a house built for them. They're staying at Matilda's for the moment in fact. They have only the clothes that they wear." Robin breathed. "My father said we'll help them, of course. But, there are many people to help, especially now, it's winter, it's the most difficult time of the year. Everyone needs to help. I know all your families promised some money and help but, why just the adults? Everyone needs to help."
"But it's Christmas!" Stephen was determined, his voice shrill.
"My mum says they don't accept charity from anybody" whispered Sally, the oldest in the group, a very serious girl.
Robin sighed. Oh come on, you can do this. Even without her help. Where is she? She said she would help me…
"This is not charity. They're now part of our village. Leo's mum is a seamstress, excellent, they say. And Leo's asked to start as an apprentice at Will and Luke's father. They'll soon not need more help. And you're right, Stephen, it's Christmas! Christmas means…" What did the friar said last Sunday? "Christmas is… when we're good and helpful towards the people that are among us. Otherwise Christmas is nothing but a word and doesn't mean anything".
Mmh. Am I doing right?
They were looking at him. Some were doubtful, but others were starting to… accept this idea perhaps?
Let's do this. "I'm not asking you to do this alone. I'll do this as well. I'll ask no Christmas gifts this year. There was something my father promised me…"
After Malcolm of Locksley had said no to another bow for his fifteen-year old son he had agreed on… another bow. Not for him, though. "I want a bow so that I can give it as a gift" he had declared to his father. "To…?" he had asked Malcolm. "Oh… a friend" he had said.
"… but I'll not ask any gifts this year, children. I'll write a message. And I'll leave it in the Church, as the friar said to do, remember?" A couple nodded. No, three. Good. I am doing really well.
Robin had half a smile now, more confident than before.
"I'll write: 'All I want for Christmas is… a house for Leo and his mum.' "
Silence. Are they thinking about it?
"All I wa-want for Christmas is… that Leo and-and his mum have food".
Robin smiled. The soft voice of Helen had spoken, the youngest girl, only 5 years old. He winked at the child, who smiled shyly back at Robin, hiding behind Sally.
"What if it was one of us in Leo's place?" asked Sally, after some time, looking the others. Her voice said proudly: "All I want for Christmas is that Leo has clothes for the winter." Robin nodded.
"All I want for Christmas is that they have a blanket. Two. Two blankets."
"All I want for Christmas is that Leo and his mother have shoes for the winter, to walk in the snow. If it snows."
Everyone spoke. Bernard and Stephen were not easily persuaded. The others were waiting for them to speak.
They seemed to think for a while longer. A lot longer. "All right! All I want for Christmas is that his mum finds a job as a seamstress!" Stephen said in a rush. "… aaaand that Leo starts working for Dan the carpenter to help her" finished Bernard, wearily, sighing.
The smile the children had seen became a grin.
Robin was so proud of himself.
"Great. Great! This… is what we do".
The children came home a bit late that day but none of their parents got angry. They had been with the lord's cheerful son.
"I could decide not to trust you any more, you know that? You say something, promise even, and then…"
"Robin, let me speak" interrupted an authoritative voice.
But Robin was only joking, he was not really angry of the fact that she had not appeared at the 'Locksley meeting'.
Just, disappointed. "You're lucky I am good, and I forgive you" he declared, his chin up.
She grimaced, then smiled, then looked relieved. "Oh thank you my good lord!", her hands put together as if she were praying, "I was so worried you would not forgive this forgetful subject!" Both smiled, then he showed her a place to sit.
He smiled at Marian. It was good to see her again after such a long time… three days in fact.
"I wanted, to come" she exclaimed, with a serious face. I hate to break my promises. Father said no at the last moment, we had visitors…"
"Another lord? Strangely enough appearing with a son, as last week?"
Marian did not know whether she felt angry or somewhat… struck by him and his clearly irritated tone.
She showed neither emotion. She just looked him. "No. Just a friend of my father and his wife."
He did not look back. He started narrating what had happened with the children and how he thought he had convinced them to do one very good deed.
Marian smiled when his story was over. "You did it! Good work!" He looked rather pleased, she decided. "What now?"
"We… write all the children's wishes for Christmas. And for the rest of the surprise, everything has to be ready before the Midnight Mass. The families know about it and it won't take long. They are taking care of everything."
"I'll help you with the messages, then."
"I'll check if Sally remembers what I taught her, if she still makes mistakes with the vowels."
They talked quietly for a while.
"Will you come here to Locksley on Christmas Eve, before the Midnight Mass? To see the plan when it's revealed in all its glory?" asked Robin abruptly. He was grinning.
She chuckled. Then, sighed. "I need to ask my father" Another sigh. "I always need to ask my father" she added, with a quiet snort.
"I'm glad you did as you planned, but I wish I'd managed to come here to help you."
"Me too. But you helped me. I thought about you. I-" he corrected himself "I thought about what you'd have said, so you did help me."
Some moments passed.
"Let me know if you need help" Robin said suddenly, looking at Marian's hair which was growing, after she had had it cut at the beginning of autumn "with your father".
"I will" she nodded.
"I want you to be in Locksley. On Christmas Eve. With me."
Ro-Robin? Marian almost fell from where she was sitting.
"I want you to see it, you know, the surprise and everything" he explained.
"I want to be here too. I'll try to explain to my father."
"If he's hesitant, tell him I'll accompany you home" Robin looked at Marian. "Or, better, he can come for the Midnight Mass in Locksley. You can join me, us."
"We came last year, Robin, remember? I think he plans to go to Nettlestone this year for the Mass."
"And you have to be with him."
"Mmh" she nodded again. "I will be here before the Mass" she decided. "Now, were are the children?" she asked then, standing up, hands on hips.
Robin and Marian wrote all the messages of the children, all their 'All I want for Christmas is…' and put them in a bowl, to be read on Christmas Eve, in front of all Locksley, and especially the two new villagers. After being so insecure about Robin's idea the children were now just ecstatic, and excited. They were whispering loudly and Marian had to tell them countless times to be silent, "sshh, we're in a church".
Robin winked and smiled at her outside Locksley Church afterwards. The children were now free to show their excitement for the plan and started giggling and dancing.
"Thanks for coming and for the help."
"You're welcome" she smiled back. "I see you on Christmas Eve, Robin."
"Sure" and she left the village.
Before the Midnight Mass, it was custom for the Locksley villagers and Lord Malcolm and Robin and all the people working in the Manor to gather not far from the church. Usually the Lord thanked the villagers, and wished them good Christmas.
But Lord Malcolm remained silent that year.
Something had to be showed to a mother and a boy in need. A new house, to begin with.
You could not have found two people as surprised and moved to tears as Leo and his mother Beth in all of Nottinghamshire on Christmas Eve that year, 1182. In a cold holy night, full of candles and torches, and laughter and joy.
Leo watched in astonishment dozens of stockings hanging on the wall outside a house, "our new house mother, look at that!", stockings full with all the small presents the children of Locksley Village had chosen to give to the newly arrived boy.
Some women had cooked mince pies, after discovering it was Leo's favourite Christmas food and they were offering the food to an incredulous Beth.
Many families had put money together and managed to fabricate three shirts for the winter and three pairs of trousers, for Leo. The boy could not believe his eyes. The children had to urge him to touch the clothes because he was afraid they were magic, and that they would disappear if he had touched them.
Robin stood proud. At his left side, stood Marian.
"I had a present for you" Robin smiled in the night full of light.
Marian looked at him, genuine surprise on her face. It was dark, but she saw him smiling. He saw her surprise.
"Why do you say 'had'?"
He explained: "I had to set an example. I said I'd ask no gifts. I had told my father what I wanted. Then I'd have given it you. But… Instead of the thing I wanted I used some of my money for the house for Leo and his mum."
Generous, truly, this lord's son. "What was it?"
"Ah-ah…" He shook his head and chuckled. "You'll have to wait until next year…"
Marian shook her head in the semi-darkness. "I had a present in mind… for you, too" she stated, looking at the young boy who had just found new friends on Christmas Eve.
"For me? What was it?"
"Ah-ah…You'll have to wait until next year…" Marian mimicked Robin.
His expression made Marian smile.
"I said I would help. Two dresses for Beth. I bought them." Beth was touching the fabric of one, beautiful dress, Marian saw. "The red one's the most beautiful" she smiled. "I wanted one like it for me but… I'm glad she likes it".
"You, in a dress?"
Robin laughed quietly. "Do you think you know how to wear a dress?"
"Robin! I wear dresses… sometimes."
"I wish I saw you, in a dress!"
"What do you think I am wearing?"
Then he looked at Marian, his usual grin put aside, for now.
"I'm sorry I have no gift for you"
The girl shook her head. "I have no gift for you! You, you gave me a gift!"
Robin looked at her, puzzled.
She explained, thankful. "I could come here. You convinced my father you…" she remembered his words "you 'absolutely needed my precious help'. I was part of all this." Marian smiled, looking around her, and at Leo, and at Beth. "This is a gift. Thank you. Thank you, Robin."
"What can I do? How can I repay you?"
Robin looked her. She was very serious. And she was waiting for an answer, that expectant look of her in her eyes.
"You can accept" he answered, smiling because Leo was dividing the gifts he found in the stockings with the other children, who shrieked in delight.
"Accept? Accept what?"
Marian opened her eyes wide. "Your-"
"I've just invited your father, and you of course, to the Manor, tomorrow, for lunch. On Christmas Day. With us, my father and I. And Much. And Thornton. And all the servants. Oh, don't look so surprised! Christmas means family, friends, and laughter, and a lot of people around the table!" He paused. "You can accept. This'll be your gift for me."
The friar was now calling the villagers for the Mass and the bell started to ring.
"I count on that gift tomorrow!" Robin exclaimed before walking away. "I leave the 'Merry Christmas Marian' for tomorrow!" he said before running to the children and giving her one final look. Marian saw him saying something to the children and then walking with them towards the church for the Mass, followed by all the villagers.
Marian and her father had to leave, for Nettlestone. An impatient Sir Edward was signalling for Marian to leave.
She waited one moment more. Before entering, Robin turned, and she was there, among the people. Two smiles lit the holy night more than the torches and the candles.
And it was Christmas.
I hope your Christmas was full of joy and warmth! Fra