The FiresWithin
By Jeannie
Chapter 11

Will and Meggie emerged from the cellars to find Robin, Chloe and Roger waiting for them.  The others had gone out to gather the horses.  Roger yelled for his daughter to come to him but it was to Chloe that she ran.  Chloe stooped down and gathered the child in her arms.  "You are
safe now, little one.  Come let us return to your mother and Ned."  She stood and took Meggie's hand to walk out of the castle.  Meggie pulled away and cried, "wait I can't leave without Fluffy."

Meggie began to call for her kitten; oblivious to the reactions she had caused when she spoke.  Roger was stunned and very confused.  He knew naught what caused his daughter's muteness but had come to think of it as a permanent condition.

"Meggie," whispered Chloe as a tear began to run down her cheek.  Will stared at a rather bedraggled Chloe. Her hair was lank and tangled, her face was covered in soot and streaked where the tears were falling, and upon her face was a smile of such joy that his heart constricted.  Will though she never looked more beautiful.  Will went to her and put his arms around her.  "Are you all right?  Has he harmed you in any way?"

Chloe, who had rejoiced in Will's embrace, stiffened.  "I'm am fine Will, thank you."  She pulled away from him.  "I must help Meggie find her kitten so she can return to the safety of your father's castle."

"Chloe is right," said Robin.  "We must leave here now."

Little John walked in carrying the kitten.  "Is someone looking for this?"  "Fluffy" yelled Meggie and ran to get her kitten.  Little John was stunned at hearing the little girl speak.  "I thought she couldn't speak."  An anxious Robin said, "We will have to sort that out later Little John, right now we must leave before Sir Hugh's men rally and come after us."   Little John picked up Meggie and left with Robin.  The others quickly followed.

Roger hurried after Little John.  He reached out for his daughter who threw her arms around Little John's neck and buried her face in his shoulder.  Little John glowered at Roger.  Robin sensing trouble quickly asked Roger if he would mind letting Little John take Meggie up before
him on his horse as Roger, who was familiar with the area, was needed to lead them to safety.  Roger, puffing up with pride at being asked to help the great Robin Hood quickly assented.

Chloe had made her way to Marion's side.  She asked if there was a horse available for her.  Marion said that there was not, but she was sure they could get one from the stables.  "No I want nothing of that man's." Will approached the two women.  Marion sensing a tension in Chloe told
her she could ride with her if she wished.  Will asked if there was a problem but both said everything was fine.  "Chloe will be riding with me as we think it best not to take any of Sir Hugh's horses," Marion told Will before he could say more.  Nodding, Will went to his horse.

Robin called to the others to hurry.  "It looks like we are in for some rain.  We had best make haste."  They all mounted and headed for Scatlocke castle.

All was calm back at Scatlocke castle.  Most of the villagers had settled down for the night.  It had been a long day for all.  The women had been busy preparing their makeshift shelters while the men had been battling the fires.  All were grateful to Sir Geoffrey for taking them in.  It did not go unnoticed by the villagers that Sir Hugh Beauforte had not offered assistance.  And now word had spread that Sir Hugh might have the lady friend of Sir William and the Martin's daughter.  Earlier in the evening, several people had stopped by Helen's shelter to offer support.  Now, only Friar Tuck remained.

He was having a difficult time consoling Helen.  She felt responsible for Meggie's disappearance.  Roger's behavior before he left hadn't helped matters.  Tuck felt compassion for this woman who was suffering from both the fear of never seeing her child again and the misery of living with an abusive spouse.  Tuck had sent Ned off with one of Sir Geoffrey's guards to watch for the return of his father, Robin and the others.  He didn't feel the child needed to witness his mother's distress more than was absolutely necessary.

Suddenly one of the guards shouted "riders approaching."  After a few minutes he called again "Open the gates, it is Sir William."    There was a flurry of activity in the yard as the gates swung open and the riders entered.  Ned ran to get his mother who was already making her way toward the riders.  Helen gave an anguished cry when she saw Roger ride in with Will and Robin.  Meggie was not with him.  Tuck put his arm around her to lend support as she started to sway.

Roger quickly dismounted and ran to his distraught wife.  "Pull yourself together, woman!  Our little one is safe."  Roger led Helen over to the area where the others were tethering the horses.  Little John, whose back was to them as they approached, turned when Roger spoke his name.
There in his arms was Meggie fast asleep.

"Meggie, Meggie" cried Helen and reached out her arms to take her little girl.  Meggie awoke at the sound of her mother's voice.  Raising her head from Little John's shoulder a sleepy Meggie whispered, "Mama".  With a sharply drawn breath, Helen swayed back against her husband.  "She spoke, Roger, our little girl spoke."  Helen straightened and took her daughter in her
arms, hugging her tightly.

Roger, smiling put his arm around his wife "Yes indeed and it is a wonder to hear.  Let us take our children and retire for the evening."  Roger thanked all whom helped to rescue his daughter and headed for his family's tent.

Little John was worried.  He had witnessed Roger's earlier behavior and was concerned for the safety of Helen and her children.  Friar Tuck noted his concern and told Little John not to worry.  "Roger is most happy this evening.  His daughter is safe and her ability to speak has returned.  He will not harm any of them."

"Tuck is right, Little John," said Robin.  "We should all retire for what is left of this night.  There is still much to be dealt with." Will had refused to stay in the castle so the Outlaws decided to stay outdoors also. A fine rain began to fall as the group quickly headed for their tents.

Morning brought with it a bright sun and blue sky.  The smoke clouds had begun to dissipate.  The smell of smoke still lingered but last night's rain had done much to stop the fires from spreading.  Robin had been up for some time when Marion came to join him.  "Good morning sleepy head."

"It isn't that late Robin," said a yawning Marion.

"Late for you.  You are usually the first one up."

"I usually have no problem sleeping."  A concerned Robin asked what the problem was.  "Chloe.  She was so restless last night.  I tried to get her to talk about Sir Hugh but she said it was too painful to discuss.  I just don't know what to do to help her."

Robin walked up behind Marion and put his hand on her shoulder.  "All you can do is be there when she needs you."

Marion looked up at him and said "Thank you.  Now what's there to eat.  I'm starved."  Laughing, they went off to partake of their morning meal.

Will, Little John, Kemal and Tuck joined them.  "What plans for today Robin?" asked Kemal.

"We need to gather the men from the village and go see the extent of damage caused by the fires.  Also we must continue to search out whoever is starting these fires.”  The group went over their
plans for the day as they enjoyed their meal.

When the group was preparing to leave, Will pulled Robin aside.  "I have many issues that
need to be dealt with here, Robin.  I will try to join up with you later in the day."

"Take as much time as you need Will.  I fear yours is not an easy task."  Will and Robin said nothing more, just exchanged looks deep in understanding.  Robin went to join the others as Will prepared for the first of several confrontations.

Chloe arose to a buzz of activity.  The men were preparing to leave with her friends.  Chloe went to see how she could help.  Upon spotting her leaving her tent, Will hurried to greet her.  "Good morning Chloe."  Chloe's mouth began to turn up in smile upon hearing Will's voice but
just as quickly vanished.  Will observed her initial reaction as well as the moment she seemed to remember all that transpired the previous day.  What he wouldn't do to see one of her beautiful smiles again.  "Have you partaken of your meal yet?"

"I have little appetite for food this morning Sir William."

Will quickly realized that his conversation with Chloe was going to be more difficult than he originally thought.  "Chloe would you please give me a few moments of your time?  There are things I wish to discuss with you?"

Chloe looked at Will and saw the pleading uncertainty in his eyes.  "Of course.  What is it you wish to say?"

"Will you come with me?  There is someplace I want to show you."  Chloe was hesitant.  She did not want to be alone with Will.  It was not a question of trust.  She knew she would be safe with him.  It was just that she loved this man so dearly and was afraid of what he was about to say.  And it was because of this very love that she knew she could not deny his request.  "Where is this place you want me to see?"

"Follow me."  Will led her to the stables and saddled two horses.  They then proceeded out through the gates.  They rode for a short while away from the area touched by the fires.  They headed through the forest until suddenly they came to a small clearing. Chloe was awed by what she saw.  There in the center was a large pond surrounded by wildflowers.  Although the air hinted at the fires of the previous day, it could not mar the beauty and peacefulness of the area. Will looked out over the area and began to speak.   "This place has always been special to me.  I have never brought anyone…."

Chloe interrupted  Will before he could say more.  "It is beautiful Will.  Thank you for showing it to me."   Chloe was feeling overwhelmed.  There was no misunderstanding Will's intent in sharing this special place with her.  But there was too much that had been said before to allow this gesture to impact on her feelings.  Chloe could not easily forget Will's words to Robin.  Nor
could she pretend that what Sir Hugh had done to her never happened.  And she didn't believe Will could do that either.

"Chloe, you know how special you are…."

Again Chloe interrupted Will.  "I am not special, Will.  I am just a servant like Agatha."  But Chloe knew she was not just like Agatha for she was unworthy of being thought of as her equal.
Was Will going to pretend that Chloe was untainted by the rape?  Did he think that if they ignored it somehow it would be like it never happened?   And how could he think his feelings for Agatha would not be important to her.

"Chloe, it matters not what class of people you are from."

Chloe put up her hand to stop him.  "How can you stand there and say the difference
in our classes has no meaning to you when I heard you say that very thing about Agatha and your father."

Will was becoming angry. Oh if only she had not been outside the tent when he was speaking with Robin.  And how dare she eavesdrop on his private conversation.  All this could
have been avoided.  Couldn't Chloe see the difference in the situation?  "That is entirely different.  Agatha is trying to take the place of my sainted mother.  The woman is not worthy to walk in her place.  She is not worthy."

Chloe looked at Will with sad eyes.  "Nor am I a ‘worthy woman,’Will, nor am I."  Chloe was clearly angry now and exasperated by Will's double standard.  How could he denounce Agatha for her station in life while ignoring that very thing with her?   "You need to take a long hard look at the circumstances and examine your true feelings Will.  If you cannot understand the similarities of our situations nor recognize the goodness in Agatha and the unworthiness in me, then there is nothing for us to say."

Chloe walked to her horse.  Will helped her to mount then went to his horse. They rode back in silence both deep in thought. Chloe's feelings of self worth were at an all time low.  As much as she cared for Will, she could not accept his attitude toward Agatha.  Will was experiencing a range of emotions.  He was angry with Chloe for her stubbornness on the issue of Agatha.  And he was angry with himself because he knew she was right.  In addition to these feelings of anger, Will was confused.  He could not understand his need for Chloe's love and understanding.  Will prided himself on not needing anyone.  Now he had to admit that was untrue.  He realized too late his need for his mother.  Now that his relationship with his father was so strained, he also realized his need for his father's love and approval.  He could not lose Chloe, too.  And if reconciling with his father is what it took to make things better with Chloe that is where he would start.  Will entered the gates of the castle determined to speak with his father.
End of Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

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