I apologize in advance for the regularity of updates for this story (or lack thereof). Originally, I was going to wait until I had this completely written, but my impatience got the better of me – I just couldn't wait any longer to find out how people are going to react. So, please let me know what you think. I live off of reviews and am always looking for ways to improve my writing. Happy reading!
Hannah pushed herself to run faster. I can't get caught, she thought. I just can't. Despite her best efforts, though, she was tiring. Suddenly, Sherwood Forest loomed ahead of her. Maybe I can lose them in the trees, thought Hannah. Besides, isn't Sherwood supposed to be haunted or inhabited by outlaws? They wouldn't dare follow me in there! Hannah put on a burst of speed and found herself surrounded by the leafy branches of Sherwood Forest. She paused for a moment and discovered that she was still being pursued by the three riders. She set off again, darting in between the trees and doing her best to confuse the men on horseback behind her. Out of nowhere, a fallen branch appeared in Hannah's path. She leapt and cleared it, only to trip over her own two feet and sprawl across the forest floor. She picked herself up and discovered that she was in a clearing surrounded by the men on horseback who had been chasing her.
"Well, men. Looks like we've finally caught our quarry," said the leader, dismounting and approaching Hannah.
"Maybe, maybe not," Hannah taunted, making a mad dash for a break in the circle surrounding her.
She was roughly shoved back, slamming into the leader and stumbling slightly. Over the jeers of the men, Hannah thought she heard her voice being whispered from above, accompanied by a rustling in the trees nearby. She shook it off as her imagination as the captain of the guards gripped her arms tightly. He released one, only to stroke her cheek in a manner that left Hannah shuddering in repulsion.
"Now what's a pretty thing like you accomplishing by running away from us?" he crooned softly. "We can protect you, provided that you do something for us in return."
At his words, the others closed in on Hannah and the captain.
Hannah did her best to keep the fear out of her face. She would not show weakness in front of these savages who claimed to serve the king. "And what would you have me do?" she asked, though both she and the guards knew what the captain meant by 'services.'
"Oh, I think you can guess," said the captain, tracing Hannah's face with a gloved hand.
"Let's see – you want me to bring you breakfast in bed, is that it?" asked Hannah, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"I'd prefer dessert," the captain replied.
Hannah resisted rolling her eyes at the captain's attempt at subtlety. Now was not the time to antagonize him. She needed an escape plan. She glanced around, trying to find an opening or a distraction. There was nothing, nowhere to go except backwards. "You will never take me alive," she declared. Then, with a swift kick to the captain's groin, Hannah turned and fled. However, she didn't make it far, as the nearest soldier stuck out his foot and tripped her. Hannah could feel the bruises forming from the various falls she had taken that day. She flipped over to face the soldiers and scrambled to her feet, bracing herself for a fight.
The captain made his way slowly towards her, as though hoping to instill fear in her as to what he might do in retaliation. However, Hannah was not afraid, even when his gloved hand struck her hard across the face and sent her, once more, sprawling to the ground.
"You'll get worse than that from his Lordship, I can promise you," he spat out as he pulled Hannah to her feet.
Oh, I've had worse, believe me, Hannah thought, remembering the countless punishments she had suffered.
As he drew his hand back to strike Hannah again, he suddenly found an arrow through it.
"Wha—?" he cried out in pain.
"You dare strike a woman?" came the deceptively calm voice of Will Scarlett as he jumped from the tree above and landed on his feet directly in front of Hannah, who had fallen to the ground when the captain had released her to clutch at his wounded hand.
"Will . . ." Hannah whispered, eyes widening and relief evident in her voice as she recognized the young man standing between her and the captain as the boy who had been her playmate in the village she had grown up in. I'm saved, she thought. Will always knows what to do.
Will gave Hannah a quick glance and a reassuring smile before turning to face the man he'd wounded, his bow and quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder, leaving his hands free to grip his sword.
"Why you little—" the captain started towards Will and Hannah.
Will stood his ground and merely raised his sword, determined to protect Hannah at any cost.
"Touch either, and you'll die," came a new voice, as Robin dropped to the ground next to Will, immediately moving between him and the advancing man. Robin was incensed that this man would dare threaten a woman or his little brother.
The captain and his guards could only watch as several more men plunged from the leafy shelter of the trees to stand on level ground.
"Who are you?" the captain asked in wonder.
"Robin Hood, at your service," he said, offering a mock bow to the group of soldiers.
The moment Robin had landed found Will turning his attention to Hannah. He went to her, helping her to her feet and moving to shield her from the gaze of the soldiers.
"Now," Robin continued. "I advise you to leave and never trespass here again."
"Fine," said the captain. "But the girl goes with us. We have a job to complete. We were sent to fetch her, and fetch her we will. The girl goes with us."
"I don't think so," snarled Will, crouching down in front of Hannah, prepared to strike.
"Steady, brother," whispered Robin, so only Will and Hannah could hear.
Slowly, Will straightened, yet he refused to budge from his position in front of Hannah. It was clear that anyone who wanted her would have to go through Will first.
Meanwhile, Robin addressed the soldiers. "Here in Sherwood, we protect our women. We don't hit them, we don't ravish them on the forest floor, and we don't threaten them with bodily harm if they don't do as we want. Here in Sherwood, we respect women and treat them as equals."
"Now, get out." Will growled ferociously, body shaking with the effort it took to remain stationary.
At first, it looked as though the men would leave without a fight. The captain, however, turned on Robin and drew his sword.
Robin was prepared, though, and slew the man instantly.
As Will made to join the fight, he heard Hannah give a cry. Turning, he discovered a man advancing on her. Leaping between them, he drew his sword and ran the man through. Forgetting about the others, Will encircled Hannah with his arms, allowing her to grip his shirt and bury her head in his chest, shutting out the fight that surrounded them.
When the last soldier had been dispatched, Robin, John, Bull, and Azeem turned to Will and the trembling girl in his arms.
"You're safe, my lady," said Robin, gently.
Leaving the security of Will's arms, Hannah turned to face Robin and his men. "Thank you, my lords," she said, curtsying, "for saving my life."
"There's no need for that here, Hannah," said Will, pulling her out of her curtsy. "As Robin said, in Sherwood, everyone is equal. Commoner," he said, pointing to himself, "and nobleman," he finished, pointing to Robin, "all eat at the same table."
Hannah turned her attention to Will, facing him completely. "I never thought I'd see you again," she whispered softly, tracing his face as the captain had done to her. Yet Hannah's actions incited a feeling of calm tranquility to settle over both her and Will, rather than the repulsion Hannah had felt at the captain's touch.
"Likewise," whispered Will.
Caught up in their reunion, both forgot about their surroundings.
Robin cleared his throat. "Care to introduce us, Will? I take it you know the lady."
Keeping an arm wrapped around Hannah, Will turned to face his brother and friends. "This is Hannah. We grew up in the same village. But she moved away about 10 years ago."
"Welcome to Sherwood, Hannah," said Robin, executing a courtly bow to show his respect for Will's childhood friend.
"Delighted, Robin Hood of Locksley," said Hannah, a hint of venom in her voice. She'd seen what Will had gone through on account of Robin. Unlike Will, who was apparently friendly with his brother, Hannah was not as quick to forgive and forget.
"Ah, I see you are aware of who I am outside of Sherwood."
"Yes," Hannah replied simply, unwilling to get into a lengthy discussion about the past at that time.
"What do you want from the woods, Hannah?" asked Will. "You don't have to tell us why those men were chasing you, but you must have wanted something to have run in here."
"I seek asylum in Sherwood Forest," Hannah replied steadily, maintaining eye contact with Robin, as she had correctly identified him as the leader.
"Then you shall have it. You are one of us now and we protect our own," said Robin.
"Thank you," said Hannah, closing her eyes against the emotions threatening to overwhelm her. I have a home, thought Hannah. For the first time in many years, I feel wanted, as though I belong somewhere. Hannah opened her eyes again and smiled brightly at her new friends.
"Let's head to camp. We want to get there before dark," urged Robin.
"Come," said Will, holding out his hand for Hannah to take. "You're safe with us."
The group set off. Hannah, of course, was paired with Will. They walked side-by-side, hands entwined. She took a moment to observe him.
Life in Sherwood has hardened him, she thought, as she noticed a scar along his cheek. No, that's not quite right, she amended. Life has always been hard for Will, more so than for others. He became hardened to the ways of the world at a very young age. No, life in Sherwood may be rough, but he's grown up here. The forest has become his home. Rather, I believe that life in Sherwood has taught him how to depend on others. When I knew him, he was always so strong, standing up for me but never for himself. He would slink around, as though he wished to be invisible. He carries himself differently now. He's more confident. I think he's finally realized that he is a person of value.
She was jarred from her reverie by Will gently bumping shoulders with her. "What's on your mind, Angel?" he asked, using his nickname for her from when they were children.
"You, actually," Hannah replied. "That was some impressive shooting."
"Lucky shot. Robin's the master archer in our group."
"You've grown up, Will," said Hannah, after his modest words and praise of Robin had sunk in.
"Having a price on your head does that to a person," he replied, a touch of his old bitterness showing through.
"I'm glad we've been given a chance to be friends again," Hannah told Will, squeezing his hand slightly.
"As am I, for you were never out of my head . . . or my heart," Will confessed. "You were the only person who was willing to put up with me when we were younger."
"There was a spark in you, Will – it was as though I were helpless to resist your pull. You were so charismatic; I was always surprised that you didn't have more friends."
"You know why that was," said Will, sourly.
"Yes, which reminds me – why you are seemingly on such good terms with your brother? I seem to recall a time when all you could talk about was how Robin of Locksley had ruined your life."
"Certain . . . circumstances changed our relationship. I'll tell you everything, soon. Never fear, my dear."
"I never do when you're around," Hannah said sincerely. "Thank you, for saving me today. I've no doubt that I owe you my life."
"Please, no," Will moaned. "I already owe Robin my life, twice over. I don't need anyone owing me their life too!"
Hannah was shocked. Will owed Robin his life? "Well, your story must be good, if it involves a life debt."
"It is, I suppose, though I'm the bad guy for most of it."
Hannah watched as a look of guilt came over Will's face.
He really has changed, she thought to herself. He's no longer the little boy who was always getting into petty fights. He's become a man!
"We're here," Robin announced to Hannah and Will, who'd been so ensconced in their conversation that they had forgotten about their companions.
Hannah looked away from Will to see Robin gesturing to the camp spread out below them. "Oh," she gasped softly.
"It's not much," Will said from her side, "But it's home."
"It's wonderful!" Hannah gushed. "I've always wanted to live out of doors. But my master insisted that I remained inside, trapped."
Will's head snapped up at Hannah's words. "Your . . . master?" he asked, stunned at Hannah's revelation.
"Oh," she gasped, a guarded look coming over her face at the realization that she'd let such an important fact slip out, "Nothing, never mind."
Robin looked as though he were going to comment about how no one should be someone else's master. But Will shook his head, signaling that Hannah would talk when she was ready. Until then, no one should force her to reveal more than she was willing.
"If it's pleasing to you, my lady," said Will, bowing and offering her his hand as he slipped into the persona of a courtier, guiding Hannah through the camp, "you will be sharing my sleeping quarters."
He motioned to his tree house, indicating that Hannah should climb the ladder. She did so, and Will made a grand sweeping gesture to the single room. "Home sweet home," he said.
Hannah took in the hammock, the rug, and the other objects that made up Will's room. "Quite satisfactory, my lord," she said, turning to Will and giving him her most stately curtsy. She rose and threw her arms around Will. "Thank you," she whispered, over and over again, doing her best not to cry.
"Anything for you, Hannah," said Will honestly, as he rubbed soothing circles across her back, the same way Robin had to calm him down from one of his many nightmares.
"Dinner!" called up a melodic voice from below.
Hannah looked over the edge at the top of a woman's head. "Who's that?" she asked Will.
"That's Marian, Robin's wife," replied Will. "She was almost married to the Sheriff of Nottingham, but Robin saved her."
"You admire Robin," Hannah said as they climbed down to the ground.
"Yes," said Will simply, "because he gave pride to our people. And he accepted me, acknowledging me as his brother. He's been a real comfort to me these past months . . ."
Will's voice trailed off as he recalled the times spent in Robin's arms, sweating and shaking, having been released from another dream about his near-death experiences. Hannah, realizing that there was more to Will's words, waited.
"But that's a story for another day," Will finished. "You've been through enough. You don't need to hear about my problems too."
"That's my choice to make, Will," said Hannah, gently. "However, if you do not wish to tell me at this time, I accept that. I'm here for you. Friends forever, remember?"
"Of course," said Will, taking Hannah's hand and squeezing it. He made to release her, but Hannah held on.
They arrived at the fire to find everyone else already gathered.
"And who is this?" asked Fanny, the 'mother' of the group.
"This is Hannah," said Will. "We grew up in the same village. But she moved away about 10 years ago."
"How did you come to Sherwood, Hannah?" asked Marian, gravitating to Robin's side and slipping an arm about his waist.
"I was being chased by some soldiers," said Hannah quietly, hoping that she wasn't to be interrogated about her past.
"That must have been terrifying. You poor dear," said Fanny. "Here's some food, to put meat on your bones. My, but you are a skinny lass."
Hannah took the plate gratefully. It had been several days since she had last eaten.
Will watched as she tore ravenously into the meat. "Hannah, slow down," he whispered. "I know what it is to be hungry. I've gone without food before, myself. But you can't shovel it all in. You'll overwhelm your stomach and make yourself sick."
With effort, Hannah set down the piece of meat she'd been devouring. She looked up and caught Robin's eye from across the fire. She flushed at having such a great hero witness her animalistic behavior. She realized, though, that Robin's expression was pained, as though he were remembering something that troubled him.
"Why does Robin look sad?" she asked Will.
Shooting his brother a subtle glance, Will recognized where his brother's thoughts were. He turned to face Hannah. "He's remembering a similar situation in which I was the one devouring a piece of meat as though it would disappear on me."
"Oh, Will. I'm sorry," said Hannah, reaching for him to offer comfort and to show her support.
"All in the past," said Will, forcing the cheer back into his voice.
Hannah wasn't fooled, though. She and Will would be talking soon, about what they'd both been through in the last ten years. She settled down to watching the various interactions between members of her new 'family.' Robin and Marian were turned to face each other, hands joined, conversing quietly. They were obviously very much in love, as their eyes shone when looking at the other. John and Fanny were surrounded by their children, joking and laughing about what they'd done that day. Bull sat with them, entertaining the smaller ones with funny faces. The painted man, Azeem, was talking to a fat man in a brown robe. He must be Friar Tuck, thought Hannah. There were other people gathered around the fire that Hannah had yet to properly meet. What stood out most to Hannah was that, no matter how little one had, everyone was willing to share. Hannah turned to observe Will, only to find him staring right back at her.
"Like what you see?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"Everyone gets along so well together," Hannah remarked. "I'm used to bickering and . . . other forms of disagreement. You know." She made a vague gesture that Will took to indicate her home life from before she moved away.
Checking that they wouldn't be overheard, Will leaned in closer towards Hannah. "What happened?" he asked. "One day, you were in the village, indulging in my desire to play the romantic hero. The next, you were gone, vanished into thin air. Where did you go? What did you do? Why didn't you ever come back? And why were those men chasing you today?"
"Whoa, slow down, Will, one question at a time. Are you sure you want to go into this now? We can always wait until morning."
"It's just . . . it's so sudden, seeing you again after all these years. I guess I'd just like an explanation. Not that you owe me one, though."
"No, Will. I do owe you an explanation, for my disappearance was as sudden as my reappearance was today. I'm sorry I never got the chance to say goodbye, but I was taken in the middle of the night."
"Taken?" Will was alarmed, "Where? Who took you?"
"I'm not sure I'm ready for the entire camp to know of my background. Is there somewhere we can go to be alone?"
"Yes," replied Will instantly, thinking of his special place where he went to think. "We can go to the river. No one will bother us there."
They set down their empty plates and walked away into the lengthening shadows, hand-in-hand. Their departure did not go unnoticed, but Robin knew that Will and Hannah needed time to sort things out for themselves. He would make sure that they wouldn't be disturbed.
At the river, Will motioned for Hannah to sit down, though only after he had spread out his cloak for her to sit on.
"Just because I'm a girl does not mean that I deserve any special privileges, Will," said Hannah, gently reprimanding him. "But I appreciate the gesture. Thank you."
"You're welcome. And for the record, it's not because you're a girl that I do special things for you, either now or in the future. It's because you're my friend and I figure that you've had a hard enough time. If I can do anything to make life a little easier for you, then I will."
"Again, thank you, Will. Your friendship means the world to me."
They smiled at each other before gazing out at the rushing river in front of them. The sound of water hitting rocks calmed Hannah's nerves, which were on edge at the prospect of telling her story to Will, of all people. Meanwhile, Will, ever the gentleman, remained silent, sensing that Hannah had to decide for herself when to begin, if at all.
"My parents never wanted me," she said. "Or, I should say, they would have preferred for me to be a boy. As such, I was left to fend for myself, which is why I was always free to play with you. When I was seven years old, they were threatened with the loss of their land. They offered me in exchange, seeing an easy way to unload me onto someone else. His Lordship accepted and I was whisked away to his castle in the middle of the night, where I have spent the past ten years doing my best to escape. You found me today in the middle of one of my escape attempts, which would have failed if you hadn't stepped in when you did."
Will was stunned into silence. His best friend had, for all intents and purposes, been sold into slavery. "Hannah . . ." he whispered, wishing he knew what to say. He settled for placing an arm around her shoulders and pulling her flush against his side. "Who was your . . . master?" he asked, stumbling over his words, refusing to think of Hannah being forced to submit to anyone's will but her own.
"Lord Manchester," Hannah finally replied.
Will gasped. Although from another county, Lord Manchester was well known as a tyrant, cruel and heartless. For Hannah to have been under his control for the last ten years . . .
Will suddenly had more questions than ever before. Luckily, Hannah, despite having been absent for half of his life, knew him well enough to sense his inner turmoil.
"Did he . . . harm you in anyway?" asked Will, desperate, yet, at the same time, unwilling to know.
"Unfortunately, yes," said Hannah, so matter-of-factly that Will was taken aback.
"What did he . . . do?"
"He raped me, for all intents and purposes, since I certainly never gave my permission."
At this, Hannah found herself in Will's arms, practically being smothered.
"Oh, God – Hannah, I am so, so sorry. If there was something I could have done differently . . . you have to believe me, Hannah, I would do anything to take away your pain and to ensure that you would never be hurt again."
"Thank you, Will. I appreciate it – truly – but what's done is done, and I have to move on. We both do."
Will gave a shuddering sigh, and nodded. "What else would he . . . do to you?"
"He would punish me, ruthlessly," said Hannah, again, so nonchalantly that Will was momentarily stunned.
As she met Will's questioning eyes, she continued, "He would isolate me for days at a time, without food or water, for no reason at all. He beat me, or had others beat me. If I resisted, I was hit harder. There are marks – which you aren't going to see at this time. Generally, though, my punishments were the result of one of my escape attempts."
Will's head had been down, fighting the nausea, as Hannah spoke. At hearing that Manchester and his men had scarred her, his head shot up. He tensed, as though braced for a fight, yet relaxed at hearing that Hannah would let him see her scars – eventually.
"And that's my story," Hannah concluded. "You know what my home life was like, before I was 'sold.' It wasn't that different from life under Lord Manchester's rule. Now I'm here, with you, and I couldn't be happier. If my suffering is what led me to you, then I'd gladly go through it all again."
Will held her tighter, glad that he was there to help take the pain away, if only for a little while. "If you ever . . . need anything . . . anything at all, Hannah, you've but to command me. I'll be here for you, forever. I'm never letting you go, unless you wish to leave. And you will never feel pain, not if I can help it."
"Thank you, Will. I hope my trials and tribulations to be a thing of the past. If not, though, you are the only person I would willingly suffer for. You're my best friend and I love you."
"I feel exactly the same way, Hannah. I would die for you."
"I hope such an act is never necessary, but I appreciate the sentiment. Thank you."
The two settled into an easy silence as they regarded the river. They were together, and that was enough, for the moment.
Nestled in the safety of Will's arms, Hannah decided to broach the subject of Will's past. Now that her own story was out in the open, she was curious as to what Will had been up to for the last ten years. "Will, what have you been doing since I left?" she asked, coming straight to the point.
Will remained silent, contemplating what to tell Hannah. "This and that," he said, finally, evasive as ever. "My mother got sick and died shortly after your disappearance. I became an outlaw when I shot and killed a deer to pay for her funeral. When I retreated to the woods, John Little took me in as one of his own. I was raised without any special privileges, but I learned how to survive and fend for myself. Robin showed up – with Azeem and his manservant, Duncan, who has since passed away – about six months ago. I took every opportunity to attack him and his position in life. I even tried to knife him while his back was turned! At Wulf's warning, though, he shot an arrow through my hand in retaliation. When the Sheriff staged an attack on our camp, I was taken prisoner, as were many others. I was released, after being whipped, on the condition that I tell Robin of the impending hangings in honor of the Sheriff's marriage to Marian. I was to use this information to get close to and kill Robin. I made it back to camp, but was attacked by John, who considered me a traitor. That's where I got this," he said, motioning to the scar along his cheek that Hannah had noticed earlier.
Hannah, meanwhile, was sitting entranced at the tale of Will's escapades. She feared for him, even though he had obviously survived. After all, he was sitting with his arm wrapped around her, very much alive.
Lost in the past, Will was unaware of Hannah staring concernedly at him. "I ended up confessing to Robin that we were brothers. He tended to my wounds and housed me in his own home. The next morning, we talked again and I was struck by how wrong I had been – about Robin and a lot of other things. John, Fanny, Azeem, Friar Tuck, Bull, Robin, and I then made our way to Nottingham to rescue our men and Lady Marian. Everything was going according to plan until the prisoners were led out to the gallows. John and Fanny's boy, Wulf, was one of the prisoners, and he saw me in the crowd. Believing me to have betrayed and killed Robin, he attacked me, gaining everyone's attention. I was brought before the Sheriff, who sentenced me to hang with the others."
Hannah gasped at Will's danger, and found herself thanking God that he had been spared.
"There was no more room, so I told the Sheriff that I would have to 'respectfully decline.' "
Hannah laughed in spite of herself. That sounded like something Will would say. When put in awkward situations, he tended to resort to joking (in a completely serious tone of voice) so as to diffuse the tension.
Will went on: "Part of our men's rescue involved barrels of black powder that Azeem had concocted. When lit on fire, the powder would explode. Earlier, Friar Tuck and Azeem had placed one such barrel near the gallows. When the executioner saw that there was neither room nor rope to string me up with, he forced me to kneel across the barrel and tied me to that."
Will shuddered as the memories overwhelmed him. Hannah gripped his arm to remind him that he wasn't alone, that she was there with him, and that they would conquer the past together.
"There were drums," Will said softly, remembering, "and then Wulf was gasping for air. Robin shot at the rope strangling him and cut him loose. At the same time, Azeem blew up one of the barrels behind Robin for an added distraction. In all the chaos, the executioner continued with the hangings. He then turned to me. He leveled an axe at my head. I remember meeting Robin's eyes and trying to tell him how sorry I was that I hadn't been a better brother while I'd had the chance. At the last moment, right as the executioner raised the axe, I closed my eyes. I still wish that I'd been able to erase the fear in them. If I was going to die, I wanted Robin to remember me as strong and brave, not weak or lacking courage."
"No one could ever accuse you of cowardice, Will Scarlett," said Hannah. "You are the bravest man I know." She squeezed his arm and motioned for him to continue.
"I didn't feel brave. I was afraid, and, when I looked at Robin, I could see that same fear reflected in his eyes – fear for me, of all people. But death never came," said Will. "Instead, I heard a thump as someone fell to the ground and when I opened my eyes, there was Robin. He had shot a flaming arrow at the executioner and had saved my life. He cut the rope tying me to the barrel and pulled me out of danger as another axe landed where my head had been moments before."
By this time, Hannah was almost unsurprised that Will had cheated death twice, in quick succession. She was becoming used to the twists and turns that his story was taking.
"There was fighting all around. Then, suddenly, Robin was going after Marian, for the Sheriff was dragging her away. He used a catapult to launch himself and Azeem over the wall. I remember pulling the lever and being amazed that they'd actually cleared it. I re-entered the fight, only to discover that my strength was fading, for when Wulf had attacked me, he had re-opened my wounds which had only been bandaged the day before, meaning that in my still-healing state, I was vulnerable. I noticed Bull in trouble and threw my knife, only to turn and find a blade in my side. Unarmed, I fell and was almost killed, when Robin saved me, yet again. He stood between me and my attacker, at great personal risk, to ensure my safety. The battle over, I fainted from loss of blood and Robin carried me back home. I developed a fever but recovered several days later. About a week after that, Robin and Marian were married, with King Richard himself in attendance at their wedding, and we've lived in Sherwood ever since."
Hannah stared at him in awe. She no longer saw the little boy who had claimed her as his damsel in distress for him – and him, alone – to save. She saw a fearless warrior who fought for the good of all, rather than just for his own profit. "You've grown up, Will," she observed.
"I'd say that any change that has come over me has been due to Robin's influence. Having him in my life has inspired me. He inspires me. Before Robin, life was about not getting caught. When he came, the band developed a sense of justice that had been lacking before. Watching him interact with the people of Nottingham during our time as unpardoned outlaws made me want to inspire a similar trust and devotion in somebody, someday."
Hannah smiled understandingly at Will. Having been treated as an outsider his whole life, even in the village where he'd spent his childhood, it was only natural for him to want to be included and made to feel special. "I can see that Robin's been good to you these past months," she said. "But how did he explain your childhood encounter?"
"He doesn't know," said Will quickly. "And I don't want him to. He'd only feel guilty and spend the rest of his life trying to make it up to me. I doubt he even remembers me: a scrawny little kid with a split lip and covered in bruises . . . He's different, Hannah, as am I. Just as he changed me, I changed him too, as did the Crusades. He's no longer the spoiled little rich boy who found amusement in picking on those smaller or weaker than him. He values everyone for their individuality and no longer lets class define how he judges a person's worth. He says that I taught him that, for before the Crusades he would have rejected me because of my peasantry. Yet now he embraces me and is proud to call me family."
"I'm happy for you, Will," said Hannah, choking up slightly at his uncharacteristic display of emotion. "You deserve for things to go right in your life, after all that has gone wrong."
"As do you, Hannah, my Angel," Will whispered softly, planting a comforting kiss on her head.
Hannah smiled up at him. Even as a boy, Will always knew how to make me feel as though I were the only girl for him, she thought to herself. Aloud, she said, "I seem to recall asking for your story of the past ten years, Will, not just the past six months."
Will smiled at her, sheepishly. "Nothing of much significance happened before Robin's arrival. I wasn't living; I merely existed, doing my best to survive for one day more and not get caught or killed. Robin gave my life a purpose. And that is why I gave you a detailed account of the last six months rather than the last ten years, for they have defined who I am – as has Robin, for I owe him my life."
Hannah was stunned at the intensity of Will's feelings for Robin, his brother. "I had no idea that you could feel so strongly about somebody, Will," she said, expressing her amazement at Will's reaction every time Robin was mentioned.
"Robin's not just 'somebody,' " countered Will.
"I'm not saying he's 'just somebody.' I can see how important he is to you and I understand. After all, I've viewed you as a brother for many years now, so I know how special the bonds of brotherhood are. I'm glad you have someone to give your life meaning."
Will had calmed down from what he had irrationally seen as an attack against Robin. He saw that Hannah had pulled away and was clasping her hands about her knees, which were drawn up to her chest.
"I didn't mean to start something, Hannah," pleaded Will. "With Robin, my emotions have always been either extreme hatred or extreme devotion. When he first showed up, I was in shock. I was presented with the man who had single-handedly ruined mine and my mother's life, and he waltzed into the camp and began to take over, making changes, something I had only ever dreamed of doing. After trying to kill him, his arrow through my hand made me realize that he deserved an explanation as to why I hated him with such passion. But I could never work up enough courage to approach him and tell the truth."
As Will spoke, he traced the jagged scar, hidden beneath his glove, which served as a reminder to not cross Robin. He looked up to find Hannah watching him intently. "Then there came my capture and subsequent release. I knew I was lucky to be free and not locked up, awaiting execution, so I decided that the time had come. His acceptance brought about a complete change in my emotions. When I'd walked into camp, and Robin called me out on my mission from the Sheriff, I expected for every breath to be my last. Robin had no reason to let me live. I'd been nothing but cruel since his arrival, when really he'd done me and everyone else a great favor – he gave us something to fight for. Add to my behavior the fact that we were brothers, proof that his father had tainted the family name by associating with a peasant woman, I was stunned when – rather than kill me – he embraced me and called me 'brother.' From that day forward, I have felt nothing but respect and admiration for him."
Hannah was silent for a moment. Then, she spoke, "Thank you, Will, for explaining to me so fully your feelings. I understand that you have forgiven him for your childhood – that much is obvious. I have yet to do so, though. I'm not saying that I will never forgive him. It will just take me a little longer to reach the same understanding as you two. As a child, he affected me too, for I saw through your mask to what you were feeling, and I have never forgotten. I wanted so much to wring his neck for what he put you through, however unintentional it may have been. Now, however, I respect that you are friends – as well as brothers – and I will work through my own feelings, as you have done."
"Thank you, Hannah. You're wonderful," said Will. "And I know you'll come to love Robin just as much as I do."
"I hope so, Will, for your sake," replied Hannah, returning the hug he had pulled her into upon her finishing her speech.
"We should head back to camp," urged Will. "It's getting late."
"First, we should wash our faces," Hannah pointed out.
Will realized that she was right, for tears had been shed at the realization that each had undergone tremendous amounts of pain in the last ten years. And without the other to lean on, they'd been forced to muddle through on their own.
The last time Will had cried like this had been when he'd suffered that breakdown after his fever, when Robin had followed him and talked to him, reassuring him that family was forever. He knelt by the river, splashed water on his face, and rose, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Hannah, meanwhile, hadn't cried in years. Although she regretted burdening Will with her past, she realized how beneficial it had been to share her story. She'd released years of anger and frustration and hurt and sorrow through her tears that night, feelings that would have continued to weigh her down. Now, however, she felt as free as a bird in flight.
She stood and took Will's outstretched hand, giving him a friendly and playful squeeze. The moon shone brightly, guiding their steps through the woods as they made their way back to camp in silence. Breaking through the trees, they discovered that everyone had already gone to bed with the exception of Robin, who sat staring into the dying fire.
"Will! Hannah!" he called out as he stood to greet them.
"Robin," Will replied tiredly, feeling emotionally drained from recounting the past and virtually living through Hannah's experiences.
Hannah gave Robin a brief nod, unsure of how to address him. She didn't like him, but she didn't dislike him, either. After all, he had taken Will under his wing, so to speak, and had saved her life, as well as Will's.
"How has your evening been?" Robin asked conversationally.
Will and Hannah shared a glance before Will turned to answer Robin: "Our evening has been very healing. We've told each other stories of the last ten years and have helped each other to face our pasts." Will smiled down at Hannah as he spoke.
Robin took in their damp faces and red eyes, yet noticed their contentment in each other's presence. Smiling in understanding, he said, "I'm glad to hear that you've both found peace."
Again, Hannah nodded her agreement.
"That we have, Robin," said Will. "Well, we should turn in. It's been a long day. Good night, brother."
"Good night, Will. Good night, Hannah. Sleep well."
"Good night, Robin," said Hannah, a bit stiffly.
Despite Will's assurances that he and Robin were close friends, Hannah was still surprised at the slight formality that Will addressed his brother with. There's something that Will's not telling me, she thought. Either that, or there's something that Will himself is not aware of regarding his relationship with Robin. I shall watch them together to see if I can determine what the matter is.
Shaking off her unease, Hannah followed Will up the ladder to his tree house.
"You can take the hammock, Hannah," said Will gallantly. "I'll sleep on the floor."
Hannah knew better than to argue with Will, so she agreed and carefully climbed into the twisting cloth strung between two posts. Will settled himself on the floor. The hard wood didn't bother him. He'd had worse beds.
"Good night, Hannah," he whispered into the darkened room. "Sleep well."
"Good night, Will," came Hannah's reply. "I hope you sleep well also. Thank you for listening to me tonight."
"It was my pleasure, Angel. I'll always listen. If ever you have anything you want or need to say, don't hesitate to come to me. And thank you for listening to me tonight, as well. Apart from Robin himself, I've told no one about what I felt when he first arrived and how my feelings for him changed."
"What goes for me goes for you, as well, Will Scarlett. I'll always be here for you."
"Thank you, Hannah. Good night."
"Good night, Will."
The tree house then settled into an easy silence, as the inhabitants rested their weary minds and bodies, allowing for sleep to claim them.
When I originally wrote this, I planned on leaving Hannah pure – a virgin – but then I realized that, due to the time period, if a man like Manchester were lusting for her, nothing would have stood in his way of taking what he viewed as rightfully his – in this case, her body.
Also, a quick explanation as to the title I've chosen: In The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), starring Richard Todd, the minstrel Alan-a-Dale sings a song called 'Whistle, My Love,' which depicts a young couple who won't let anything keep them apart. I felt that this accurately portrayed the emotions that Will and Hannah feel for each other, since, despite having been separated for many years, they have now found each other again and have vowed to never leave the other's side.
That said – I hope you enjoyed this first chapter of 'Whistle, My Love.' Please leave a review telling me what you thought.