A/N: An update quicker than usual! I'm proud of myself! I'm happy to say this will be the last of the slightly darker chapters as thing'll pick up after this...
HUGE thanks to the wonderful Musicunderground for her lovely review!
London – Part 2
Two months later: A Show to Mark the Homecoming of His Royal Highness Prince John.
Aoife could hear the cheers, the shouts, the excited babble of the waiting crowd and twitched her leg nervously. If she was honest, she wasn't anxious about the large crowd waiting for her to sing, she was anxious about whom she was singing for.
A servant passed her a drink and she took it with a false smile as she sat below the built up stage, out of sight. Her maid, Anna, hurried over to her and immediately began tightening Aoife's already close fitting dress.
"There's a large crowd out there, milady. They all can't wait to see you."
Aoife smiled and took a long swig of her wine. "How...how does Prince John look?" She tried to sound casual and it seemed Anna was convinced that Aoife meant nothing more than a simple enquiry.
"Oh, he looks very handsome, milady. He's sat up on the balcony on the side of the stage on his throne. Looks very regal."
Aoife just nodded and took another drink. She needed all the courage she could get right now. Inside, she seethed. Curse you, Robin! Curse you and your loyalty to the king and Marian!
The performance wasn't long; the organisers had only paid her to perform two songs and, thankfully, the crowd was so enthused to see her they kept her distracted from the royal presence she knew was to her right. She didn't look over there, she couldn't, or goodness knows what she'd do; either lose her place in her song or hit him. Most likely both.
If only his mother was sat next to him, that would of at least make Aoife a little more comfortable. The Queen Mother had always been so kind to her when she had visited her youngest son in London.
Aoife had never felt such a strong sense of relief when she took the steps down from the stage and out of sight. She let out a huge breath of relief and Anna immediately hurried over to her again, this time to loosen the laces. "Oh, that was wonderful, milady! I think the Prince enjoyed it!"
Aoife didn't know what to say, so she said nothing, she just tapped her foot impatiently as Anna finished unlacing her dress and helped in into one of her looser day dresses. Aoife pulled her hair to one side in a messy ponytail and slipped into some tan leather sandals, wiggling her toes now they were free of their previously heeled restraints. Anna was still chattering away behind her but Aoife couldn't concentrate; images of Prince John as she remembered him before were flooding her head along with painful feelings of longing to see the gang again.
"Miss Grattan?" A male courtier said, pulling the privacy curtain back and peering in. "His majesty Prince John has requested your presence in the royal box." And he disappeared again.
"Oh my goodness, milady! The Prince wants to speak to you! You see? I told you he enjoyed your performance!"
Aoife could barely breathe. Suddenly, even her comfortable day dress felt too tight. She stood up so quickly her chair clattered to the floor and Anna jumped in surprise.
"Milady? Aren't you going to see the Prince?"
"No." Aoife said, her eyes wide and searching desperately for the quickest way out. "I – er...I have a headache. I need to go home."
Without saying anything else, Aoife fled their booth and pushed past all of the other performers until she took in a breath of fresh air outside – away from the performers, the crowd and the Prince.
A carriage was waiting for her (they had been supplied for all of the performers) but Aoife walked back to her London home, relishing how she could become lost in the bustle of the city streets. Since the gang had left, Aoife had felt lost and cut adrift. She didn't want to spend time with anyone but she also felt desperately lonely. During her time away, she had received several letters from her father, who was still at their home in Nottingham, assuring her that he was well and filling her in on any local news he thought she might be interested in. Although he never said it, Aoife knew that he had his suspicions about why his daughter had found it so hard to stay in Nottingham when Robin and his gang had left for the Holy Land. Her father knew almost everything about her. Almost. He had never found out about his daughter and the Prince; Aoife had never told anyone and she had no intention of doing so now.
After all, that was long over and so was the performance now. She never had to be near him again.
The London house was empty except for the one cook and his son who she could hear clattering about in the kitchen but they never bothered her. Normally, she would be glad of the solitude, but this loneliness was starting to ache and she had the overwhelming urge to sit with them in the kitchen and ask them about themselves, their jobs, their family, their lives.
Instead, she retreated into the study where she wrote most of her music and found two letters on her desk; one from her mother who was currently working in Manchester with a group of young dancers and one from her father in Nottingham. She opened her father's first because her mother's letters usually went on for pages and pages and she nearly fell off the table she resting on. At the end of the letter, her father written, as a sort of casual after-note,
"...oh and I saw Robin today. It seems his trip in the Holy Land was successful though he mentioned that Lady Marian had been injured. Do not fear for her though, my dear! Robin informed me that she is healing well and hiding out in Sherwood with the rest of his friends. Much was with him and he asked after you in a way he thought was nonchalant. It wasn't.
So please tell me you'll come home now, dear-heart."
For the first time in months, Aoife laughed. Yes, it seemed her father knew her very well. And who had she been trying to fool? London wasn't her home anymore, Nottingham was. Sure, she missed London when she was away, but she had never missed anything like she missed Nottingham.
She tucked her mother's letter in her pocket to read on the journey and almost skipped up the stairs. She needed to pack and quickly. Home was calling to her...and so were her friends.
Yay! They'll all be reunited soon! And no, I didn't stick to canon with Marian...I just though killing her off kind of killed the whole show! So yeah, this'll be Robin/Marian all the way!