Robin Hood does not belong to me. The character of Will Scarlett's mother does not but this particular idea of her does.
Warning: Super angst ahead, and mentions of infanticide and implied sex.
It is a small, fetid little thing, she decides. It reaches up its arms, silently asking to be held and she thinks she might drown it in the nearby river. Rejected, it begins to cry and she thinks she may cry with it – wordless, anguished sobs that rent the air and disturb the strange, trance-like silence of night. She peers out into the moonlight, wonders at the languid spirals her breath makes in the frosted air. Drawing her shawls around her, she thinks of hot, spiralling smoke erupting from orange flames that danced in the shelter of the hearth.
A man, taking her gently by the hand and leading her one, two, three steps to the bed and laying her down upon cool sheets that raise hairs along her neck. He'd paused then, large hands usually so strong and certain, hesitating in almost childlike uncertainty at her lacings. And so he paused, glancing up to where she watched, willing him to continue, with a ferocity so great she could hardly bear it. She had gazed into his handsome face, illuminated as it was by the flames and for a moment was frightened. The flames that cast such warmth also created shadows across his face so that it seemed he was as one of the horrific pictures in the Good Book – horrid, gnarled faces upon mangled bodies that seemed to writhe upon the page. A demon, leading her gently by the hand into the very depths of depravity and sin.
Her thoughts must have shown for he had stopped once again, attempted a tremulous grin that had melted into a look of such abject shame and misery that she knew at once – here was no demon, but a man. Not some evil son of Satan sent only to drag her further down into the immorality she tried so hard to tame. Just a man. He had sat up, his face buried in his hands and she knew that he was weeping. She had leant over and lain one hand upon his shoulder, tried to ignore how her now unlaced garments slipped obscenely low upon her chest, and 'shh'ed him helplessly. His great shoulders had heaved once and he had breathed a soft "I'm so sorry," and a few moments later, when she had not responded to his apologies, "Please, go if you wish to." Though not a timid creature by nature, she found herself teetering on the edge of something unknown and it frightened her once more . The choice was simple: stay and beg to be taken back into his arms where she might be told that she was beautiful and fine and elegant - something to be taken care of, loved even - or leave, go home to be called ' a silly slip of a thing' – too small and pale and weak to work the land or bear children – something to be scorned, burdened with. And so, she had slid closer to him on the bed, pressed kisses to his warm neck, taken his face in her small hands and turned it towards her. Smiled. And he had allowed it all. When they were done, he had lain with her in his arms and she could feel his hot breath coming in bursts upon her exposed neck. He had bowed his head to hers and wept whilst she wondered at the cruelty that she should be so happy and he so miserable.
Once, many months later she was struck by the urge to ask him about her, whether she had ever measured up to his Lady, or if she had disappointed him – left him wanting. Or whether perhaps his grand wife, in all her finery had been too proper, too noble to have ever really satisfied him. The thought made her smile.
She had known even then, before the name-calling and her own ruination, what she was. Wanton. A harlot. Scarlet woman. Yet, on the best days, she was able to forget what she was – imagine that she might someday be more to him than a warm body to help turn the grief into lust, the loneliness to love. Even on the worst days, when she would arrive at his door to hear Her son raging at his father, she could imagine that the boy might someday come to accept her – accept them. In truth, she despised him; a hard, spoiled boy – not much younger than herself really – to whom his father gave everything even though the very sight of him made the poor man want to weep for what he had lost.
She recalled how once, she had come upon her love in his study, passing the boy as she entered. Her heart had ached to hear how he shouted – cursed God and every heavenly body for Their deaths – and it had been then that she had realised what must be done. She would give her Lord a child, and all trace and thought of his Lady and her children would be gone. She needed to give him a child.
In the back of her mind, she hears its mewling – high, insistent sounds invading her most private of thoughts. Again her thoughts stray – how easy it would be – how relatively painless for the thing – how the cold would likely stun it into silence and it would be long over before anyone could…but no. She knows, and has always known, what she is. If this desperate, ugly creature is to be her penance, then so be it.
She turns to the thing and watches dispassionately as it screams, wishing she could summon even an ounce of common sympathy – let alone maternal affection – for it. It grabs unseeingly for her and she allows it to catch her finger, it squeezes with every little bit of strength it has. Somewhat appeased, it stops its bawling. That is until she carefully withdraws her hand. The ungrateful creature screams impossibly louder than before. Briefly, she holds back – why shouldn't the little devil be as miserable as she is? As its clamour reaches new highs, she gives it her hand again; shushes it gently, all the while thinking on how she despises it. She thinks of how she had tried to prevent the thing – near killed herself in the trying – and wonders if it survived her attempts simply to spite her.
Eventually, as thoughts of smothering begin to enter her mind, it quietens, exhausted by its own frenzy. It opens red-rimmed blue eyes and for a moment, they gaze at one another as though each surprised to see the other. She reaches down for it, lifts it to her aching bosom and allows it to attach itself. In her dreams, He comes for her and they live out their days in peace and warmth. She wakes weeping each time. Satiated, it stops feeding; she unconsciously lifts it to her shoulder. Her tiny companion hiccups and she wipes its spittle from her bare skin.
It is still a small, fetid little thing.
But he is all she has.