"Not bein' funny, but you're more tightly wound than a ball of yarn. You want me to get one of Old Elspeth's cats in here, to unravel you?"
"No cats," Robin answered absently, unable to take his eyes off the upstairs landing of his house. "Marian doesn't like them."
The "gang," minus Djaq, had gathered in Locksley Manor to wait alongside Robin while Marian labored upstairs, giving birth to the couple's second child under Matilda's expert care.
Djaq was at home, caring for her twins and Robin and Marian's toddler Ellen, who was no trouble at all, even for a two-year-old. Robin missed her.
Ellen was a "perfect" little girl, smart and sweet and beautiful, at least, in his and Marian's eyes. So perfect, in fact, that both parents hoped for a boy this time around, since no other little girl could compare to their "Ellie." But mostly, Robin just wanted a healthy baby, and a quick and safe delivery.
Childbirth was a woman's battlefield, Robin couldn't help thinking, nervously gnawing his thumb, his mind far away on Marian. Matilda had assured him it would be easier the second time, but he still felt helpless, banished from his wife's side, flinching every time he heard her scream.
To take Robin's mind off his worry, Will kindly asked, "Have you decided on a name?"
The untouched flagon of ale in Robin's hand sloshed and spilled over its rim, as he spun around to face his friends. Immediately, Much was there, to wipe up the spill.
"Name?" Robin repeated, blankly.
"Yeah. You know," Allan grinned, amused by Robin's fogginess, "like, if it's a boy, you'll name him Guy."
"Guy, we do not like!" Little John bellowed, while Much, holding his breath, waited for his former master to explode.
His fears were unfounded, however, for Robin was too worried to react. "We'll call him Richard," he answered, his voice untypically soft and breathy, for somehow, speaking had become a chore.
"After the King!" Much proclaimed, as if the name needed explanation. "I knew it! Well, the late king, anyway. No offense, John, but Robin would never name a child after you, not with the current king on the throne. It's treason, I know, but I wouldn't be surprised if the name 'John' dies out completely, unless the sycho...sycho...sychophants continue to curry favor by naming their children-"
"Shut up!" Allan ordered, having heard enough.
"What about girl's names?" Will asked, drawing part of Robin's attention away from the birthing chamber.
"We haven't agreed," Robin confessed. "But we're thinking, either Catherine, after Marian's mother, or Maude, after mine."
"Nice!" Allan approved. "I've bedded lovely ladies with both those names!"
When Will shot him a glare, he added, "What? Not at the same time!"
Will heaved an exasperated sigh, providing an opportunity for Much to voice his opinion. "I must say," he began, "I vote for Maude, after your mother. I mean, you wouldn't really want to name your child Catherine now, would you? Think of the trouble it would cause, with you shouting, "Kate! Come to supper!" out your door, and having, you know, the other Kate show up, not that she doesn't darken your doorstep enough as it is, already!"
At that moment, the sound of a lusty infant cry was heard from above, bringing smiles and congratulations to erupt below. Robin had a trace of tears in his eyes when his friends clapped him on his back, but he pushed them aside, to race up his staircase to meet his new child and kiss his wife.
"She's a robust lassie, I'll give her that, and nearly as much trouble as you were," Matilda told a proud Robin, as he held his new baby daughter in his arms.
Marian was spent, having suffered through a painful birth, but her face shone with love and pride, watching her beloved husband smile at her over their child.
Neither parent remembered they'd been hoping for a boy, not after taking one glance at their new daughter.
"It's lucky she made it out in one piece," Matilda fondly scolded Lord and Lady Locksley. "If you ask me, it was only by the grace of God!"
"Was it that hard?" Robin worried, breathing a grateful prayer for Marian's survival.
Matilda chuckled. "Her birth? You were worse, as I remember. No. I was referring to you two, living the life you've been, during the pregnacy! Think you're cats, with nine lives, do you?"
"I hate cats," Marian lied, weakly.
"It wasn't so bad!" Robin declared, defending them both. "Somebody had to do something to protect England, with our 'beloved' King John on the throne!"
"And who better than Robin Hood and Maid Marian?"
"Don't forget my 'merry men,' " Robin said with a smirk, kissing the bald head of his infant, before handing her back to Marian.
Matilda snorted. "Merry? John's about as merry as a grumpy bear with burrs in his coat!"
"Hey, Matilda!" Robin objected, his customary swagger restored, now that all was well in Locksley. "I don't write the ballads."
"No, but you live them! My advice to you two, not that you'll heed it, is to slow down. You've got little ones to think of now. Like I said, this one's only here by the grace of God. What are you calling her, by the way?"
Marian didn't hesitate. "Grace," she answered, gazing with pure love and joy into the red, wrinkled face. "Her name is Grace. Is that alright, dear?" she finally thought to ask her husband, as if he could deny her anything at that moment.
Grinning broadly, hands on hips, he proudly announced, "Grace it is! You've always liked that name, as I recall."
"Let's hope 'Grace' can teach you two some sense," Matilda scolded, affectionately knocking Robin on the side of his head. "I'll leave you three alone now," she added, gathering her things. "Congratulations."
"Can you ask Will to bring Ellie home?" Robin asked, hardly being able to wait seeing his other daughter greet her new baby sister.
Matilda nodded, then stepped into the hallway, happy at the sight of so much peace and domestic bliss in the manor. Closing her eyes for a moment, she thought, "It hasn't always been so, during this pregnancy. Oh, no! It's been one harrowing adventure after another!" On her way down the stairs, she began recalling all the danger the family had thrown themselves into.