The FiresWithin

By Kathy B.

Chapter 15

Outside of Scatlocke castle, order was quickly restored.  The remaining soldiers, seeing their corporal slain and sensing the impending defeat, retreated and raced away to the nearest fortress.  They stopped some miles away and regrouped.  One of the men took the lead and presented a plan to the others in order for them to save their dignity.  Knowing that it had been Thaddeus’ ill-temper and not the prince’s request that had resulted in Hugh’s death, he proposed that they tell Prince John that Sir Hugh had died in defiance to the prince, and the Beauforte lands were now the crown’s possession.  He further added that they say nothing to the Prince about seeing Will Scatlocke, now Scarlet, as he and the others had already figured out that Robin Hood and his band were too much for them.  They wanted nothing to do with that group of outlaws, and if the prince knew Will and Robin were here, they were sure to be sent back to face them.  Instead, they were to propose that they be sent to guard the widow Beauforte and to watch over the Beauforte property for the crown, until her death.  This way, they would prevent other soldiers  from being sent to the area, and they could live a relatively easy life in a silent but understood truce with Scatlocke.  And  Prince John would be none the wiser.

All the men agreed to this plan, and one of their number was sent back to set forth this bargain with Scatlocke.  White flag visible, the lone soldier approached the Scatlocke castle and found most of the animals had been brought back inside.  A few villagers were tending to the remaining wounded, and a makeshift mass-grave was being dug for the dead soldiers who had been left behind.  Little John was the first to see the approaching soldier, and he nudged Robin.

“What brings you back to us, man?” Robin asked, his weariness scarcely concealed in his query.

The soldier proceeded to tell Robin of the plan, adding that he thought there would be no more fires in this part of England now that a truce could be established, and the prince would have Beauforte lands.

Robin, galled at the audacity of the plan, and the unspoken proof of Prince John’s part in the fires, nonetheless saw the benefit to Sir Geoffrey and to Will.  To the utter astonishment of Little John and Tuck beside him, Robin agreed, adding, “And stay away from Scatlocke lands, because if I hear of any interference by your people with these good people, you will have to answer to me, understood?”  His eyes glittered with a menacing warning, and the soldier took note of it as he nodded once, and turned his horse before galloping away.

Little John spoke first, “What in the name of heaven was that, Robin?”

“Deal with the devil, my friend?” Tuck added.

Robin sighed once, took a deep breath and launched into his explanation.  “You both know I would rather make Prince John pay for his crimes, and I would rather fight those soldiers of his than live peaceabley beside them.”  Tuck and John nodded, urging him to continue.  “But think, friends.  That will take months or even years to achieve.  How would that help these villagers rebuild their homes?  And how would that allow Will to remain here with his father?  A truce is the best answer, and one that leaves Prince John completely clueless as to the whereabouts of Will is the best yet.”

“There is no guarantee that those soldiers will remain silent about Will, though, is there, Robin?” Tuck added.

Robin smiled ruefully, “Well, we can send them a reminder warning every once in awhile.  Besides, they  won’t be needing to set fires anymore, and with all that land to look after for Prince John, they’ll be too busy enjoying their new life to care about what is going on over here.”

“I hope you’re right, Robin,” Little John chimed in.  “I just don’t trust anyone who works for Prince John.”

“Nor do I, my friend.   But look at it this way, John.  If they say nothing even for awhile, how will it look if they then tell the prince that Will is here?  He is certain to discover that they had been withholding the information.  It is in their best interest to keep their mouths shut - forever.”  Robin turned and continued digging the grave, and Tuck and Little John, after a mutual look of understanding, exhaled and helped him.

Inside, Agatha was tending to Will with Chloe at her side.  Geoffrey paced in the room, emotions roiling inside him.  So much had happened that day, it was all too much for him to process.  His thoughts and pacing were halted by the sound of his son’s voice.  Will looked at Agatha and began to speak.  “Lady, I need to ask for your forgiveness,” he began.

Agatha silenced him by gently placing her index finger on his lips.  “Hush now, Sir William.  You have to rest now, or these wounds won’t heal right.”  She looked away, confused and uncertain what Sir Geoffrey’s reaction would be to his son asking her for forgiveness...  She felt unworthy, and most certainly uncomfortable with this turn of events.

Will pressed on.  “No, I will not hush Lady Agatha.”  He pushed himself up onto his elbows, and felt a slash of pain in his side.  Sighing, he fell back downwards onto his back but bravely continued.  “I want to tell you that I have been greatly ashamed as I look at my behavior toward you these past days, and you have not deserved it.  You are a most remarkable woman, and I appreciate all that you have done for me, and for my father in this difficult time.  Please forgive me.”

Agatha, color flushing her cheeks, looked down, then into Will’s eyes, then over to Geoffrey.  Seeing pleasure in her lord’s face, she felt more assured, and looked back at Will.  “I do forgive you, Sir.”  She clasped his hand and squeezed it once before rising from his bed.  She quietly slipped from the room.  She looked back to see Chloe then occupy the empty spot on the bed and clasp Will’s hands.  Sir Geoffrey seemed to approve of the young couple.  Agatha turned and left.

Seeing the two needed more time to talk, Geoffrey took his leave and followed Agatha.  He found her not far down the hall, standing with her back to the wall, eyes closed and tears silently coursing down her cheeks.  She sensed his presence and opened her eyes, rapidly brushing the tears away in a vain attempt to appear collected.

Geoffrey, grateful for this woman but still proud of his station in life, still had not come to grips with the awkward position he had put her in.  “It seems that my son is making many good decisions in his life now, Agatha.”

Agatha looked at him, confused.  “What do you mean decisions?” she emphasized the plural.

Geoffrey continued, “Well, if I am not mistaken, I believe he will marry Chloe.  And though she would not have been my choice for him, at least she is a far cry better than those tavern wenches he had a taste for in years past.”  He smiled to himself.

Agatha waited, her own emotions simmering below the surface, closer to seeping out than she had ever allowed them in the past.  “What else, my lord?”

Geoffrey focused on her face and launched into his next thought,  “I believe he has come to approve of us, Agatha.”

Agatha disagreed.  “No, my lord.  He merely apologized for his rude behavior.  He never said he approved of ours.”

Geoffrey’s eyebrows knit together as he tried to see her point.

Agatha pressed on.  “I am gratified for his admiration for me and my caring of you.  But I am not proud of my weakness in allowing myself to go to your bed.  I would request that we no longer engage in such behavior, my lord.  I would like to continue serving you in any other way possible though.  Will it be possible for me to stay here and work for you at the manor?”

Geoffrey approached her and grabbed her wrists.  “Why do you say this now, Agatha?  He is no longer a stumbling block for us!  And  no one else in this place has ever raised an eyebrow.  Even Sarah, bless her heart, wanted you to watch over me.”  His eyes searched hers, desperately trying to see into her mind.

Agatha merely looked away, shaking her head.  “You don’t understand, my lord.  She never asked me to bed you, just to care for you.  And it is only my own feelings on the topic that I must consider now.  No one else’s approval matters anymore.  I must be true to what I know to be right.  I will serve you with all my heart, but within the limitations of a servant for her master.  If you drag me to your bed, I will go, but it will be against my will.  Please don’t ask me to do that.”

Geoffrey, angry at what he perceived as a veiled attempt to get him to propose marriage, boomed at her, “If you think that I cannot see past your feminine wiles and your attempt to get me to propose marriage, you are sorely mistaken!”  He paced away from her, then turned abruptly.   “What kind of a man do you take me for?  I have never in my life bedded a woman against her will.  And I am not about to start now!  Do you not know me at all?”

Agatha, grieved at his misunderstanding, stepped towards him and reached her hands out toward him.  “Please, my lord!  It is because I know you - too well - that I say this!  Your own son is about to be married, and I wish him well.  How would you have felt about his relationship with Chloe if they had merely become a couple without the marriage vows?  How long before you begin to resent me for the ease at which I allowed you to win me over and take me to your bed without the bonds of marriage?  How long before my own self-loathing at my weakness turns against you for tempting me thus?  It is because I love you so well that I say this now.”

Geoffrey felt as if he had been punched in the stomach, and reeled at the self-revelation.  She was right, of course.  And his pride prevented him from admitting it, as well as of asking her to be his wife.  He looked back at the door to the room where Will and Chloe were blissfully talking of their future together, and felt his was falling apart.  Without looking at her, he asked, “Where will you go now?”

Agatha, crushed at the thought of not being able to stay and serve the man she had loved all her life, yet realized that it was her only course of action. She knew she would never be married to a great lord; it was not her station in life.  Would he ever come to his senses and allow it, she would return to serve him in any other way.  But for now, he needed time and space from her.  “I have a sister in a village nearby.  I will go to her.”  Agatha turned and quietly walked away.

The marriage of Will and Chloe took place quietly in the courtyard of the Scatlocke castle not many days afterwards.  Will, still bruised, nevertheless was beaming as Chloe walked up to his side. As Tuck recited the marriage vows and the couple took their turns in repeating them, little Meggie was unable to stop herself from telling her mother how beautiful Chloe was.  No one would have believed that only a week ago, the child had been silent!  A small kittten somehow got loose and scurried past the couple as they exchanged the wedding kiss, and Ned went racing after it.  The comic relief was a welcome foil to the gravity of the occasion.  It was not often that an heir to a manor of this size was wed to a mere servant girl.

Present were many of the villagers who had come to love the couple, as well as all the servants of the manor, except Agatha.  She was sorely missed, but everyone knew better than to confront Sir Geoffrey about her absence.  Even Will and Chloe had agreed to let the matter go - for now.  Though they both felt Geoffrey had made a huge mistake in letting her go, they agreed to maintain peace for as long as they stayed with Sir Geoffrey, and helped rebuild the burnt village.  And though Sir Geoffrey had been unable to accept the thought of himself wed to a servant, he somehow was able to see the wisdom of the marriage of his son to Chloe.  He accepted it, and welcomed them to stay with him as long as it was safe for them to do so.

Robin and Marion looked on, envious of the future that Will and Chloe would have together.  But they knew this was not their time to seek that future.  For now, they would be content to work side by side, along with the rest of the outlaws, as they stayed awhile to help Will and Chloe.  And they would be content for the time they spent together, though they knew it was not for much longer.  Will and Chloe would stay behind and finish their work, maybe forever.  The Beauforte lands were administered by the same men who had hatched the truce, and by all appearances, they had kept their word.  But even after Robin and his company departed, they would keep their eyes and ears open for any hint of betrayal on that end.  Will and Chloe were staying on here, away from Sherwood, but they were as much a part of the outlaw band as Little John and Tuck, and well-loved by them all.  Once  an outlaw with Robin Hood, always his friend....

The End

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