The FiresWithin

  By Jeanne

Chapter 2

Sunrise brought the first stirrings of activity at the Outlaws’ camp.  Marion, always an early riser, went in search of Robin. Two months had passed since that awful explosion and the time spent at Sir Guy of Gisbourne’s manor.  Robin claimed to feel like his old self, but Marion knew this to be untrue.  While it was true that his broken leg had mended and his wounds healed, Marion noticed a stiffness to Robin’s gait upon rising in the morning or if he sat his horse for too long a period of time.  She said nothing of this to Robin as she had vowed to hover less.

She soon found him returning from the nearby stream. The newest outlaw, Will Scarlet, accompanied him.  “Good morning gentleman” Marion called, a radiant smile lighting her face at the sight of her beloved.  “Little John, Kemal and I are escorting several of the ladies into the village to make purchases.  Is there anything you need from there?”  “No thank you Marion”
replied Will as he headed for his tent.  “Well Robin, how do you think Will is adjusting to his new life?”

“He seems to be doing just fine” was his response.

“I think he misses his family and is worried about them.”

Robin and Marion turned around to the face the speaker of these comments.  “Chloe,
we didn’t hear you approach.  How do you move so quietly?”

 “Years of practice, Robin, years of practice.”  Marion asked Chloe what made her think
Will was worried about his family.  “Just little things he has said.”  Chloe continued walking in the direction of the stream, an empty pail in each hand.

“Interesting” said Marion, “Chloe seems to know more about our new friend than the rest of us.”  Marion leaned toward Robin to give him a fleeting kiss.  “I’m off.”  Marion headed towards her horse when Robin called, “Marion be extra careful.  I don’t trust this silence of Prince John and Guy.  I don’t see them forgetting what has so recently happened, especially Guy.”

“Don’t worry Robin I will be fine.”  Marion left and Robin went to speak with Friar Tuck.

Chloe, having filled both pails, was heading back to the center of camp. She stopped as she saw Will sitting nearby rubbing an ointment into the palms of his hands.  “What’s this?  Are our little hands too delicate for all this hard work?”

Although he could hear the teasing note in her voice, Will could feel a flush stealing up his face at her words.  He didn’t like the idea of this particular woman thinking him a weakling.  Will tried to cover his embarrassment in his reply.  “I must keep them as soft as possible.  It
would never due to touch a woman’s skin with work roughened hands.”

 This comment effectively turned the tables as a vivid blush began spreading across Chloe’s cheeks.  Goodness this woman was beautiful thought Will. Chloe, on the other hand, was feeling very confused.  Never would she let any man speak to her in this manner.  After all that she had experienced in her life, the thought of any man touching her left her feeling repulsed. For the first time, she wasn’t sure what she was feeling.  The thought of Will touching her frightened and excited her at the same time.  To cover her confusion and embarrassment, Chloe resorted to a sarcastic retort.  “Heaven forbid one of your women should suffer from your labor inflicted wounds.”

Will smiled at her as he replied, “I will suffer these wounds with pride. They are testimony to my new lifestyle that does not include womanizing.  In the last few months, I have come to find the idea of one woman in my life increasingly appealing.”  Will’s smile grew as the color of Chloe’s skin deepened to a reddish hue.  Although he never wanted to offend her, teasing this woman and bringing her to blush was a very pleasing pastime.

Chloe was becoming uncomfortable with Will’s teasing.  His last remark suggested a strong interest in her personally.  She was sure if he learned of her past that his attitude would change. Chloe attempted to change the direction of their conversation by bringing it back to Will’s family.  “These wounds we speak of are also a reminder of what you have forsaken.  Do you deny missing the luxuries of your former life?”

“Not at all.  After a lifetime of pampering it is not easy to accept such a simple life with no luxuries.  However, the camaraderie amongst the people here and the good they seek to do helps me to realize the correctness of my decisions.  I do miss my family though, more than I expected.  It is strange how we take for granted those around us until it is too late.  Maybe someday I will be able to return north and visit my father at Scatlocke Manor.”  Chloe’s face drained of all
color.  She quickly picked up her pails, spilling some water in her haste. “Chloe what is wrong?”

“I’m sorry.   I just realized that people are waiting for this water and my help while I stand here idly chatting with you.  I must go.”  She hurried off as if being pursued.

Chloe’s heart was beating so fast she thought everyone could hear it.  She stumbled into her tent and sat down on the stool.  How was it possible that she hadn’t recognized the name of Scatlocke?  It wasn’t until Will had mentioned returning north that recognition set in.  Since joining the outlaws, Chloe had kept thoughts of her past life deeply suppressed.  Her conversation with Will quickly brought them to the forefront.  Along with these thoughts, came old fears.  She had effectively kept overwhelming feelings of fear and despair at bay. They were now returning with a vengeance.

Covering her face with her hands, Chloe began to think of her former life.  Chloe’s father drank constantly and when in his cups would abuse her mother.  As time went on, he began to do the same to Chloe and her older sister.  Just thinking of her sister brought a tear to her eye.  Eleanor had been named for the queen and to Chloe she was a queen.  Chloe idolized her older sister, always imitating her.  Eleanor looked out for Chloe and their mother, trying to protect them from their father.  On one such occasion Chloe’s father, furious with Eleanor, struck her so hard she fell back against the fire grate.  They thought she would die from the blow to her head and maybe it would have been better if she had for she was never the same.  Eleanor would just sit twirling her hair with her index finger, humming and rocking her body from side to side.  If anyone tried to speak with her or touch her, Eleanor became extremely agitated.  Chloe was twelve years of age at the time.

Chloe, unable to bear seeing her adored sister this way, ran away from home. She ended up at a great manor house.  She begged the cook for work.  Although the cook was reluctant at first, she finally consented to let Chloe stay within the manor in exchange for working there.  Chloe’s existence was poor at best.  She slept on rushes in a corner of the kitchen.  Mice would often scamper near her as she tried to sleep.  She worked from sunrise to sunset and was given one meager meal in exchange.  Chloe still thought she was better off for at least she was away from her father’s abuse.  Her opinion soon changed.  As Chloe grew older and began to blossom into
womanhood, she caught the eye of the Lord of the manor, Hugh Beauforte.  He demanded that she serve him at mealtime.  Then she had to fetch him his drinks.  Chloe was finding it difficult to complete her chores for the time spent at his beck and call.  Soon the unthinkable happened, and he began to touch her.  It was very subtle at first, as if by accident.  As time passed, he became very open in his actions.  Chloe begged him to leave her alone but he would just laugh and continued his disgusting behavior.

Sir Hugh’s wife also noticed his behavior toward Chloe.  She resented this girl who was from poor stock and with, in her opinion, only passable looks.  Here was she, the lady of the manor renowned for her beauty, ignored by her husband for this cook’s helper.  Lady Madeleine began to find fault with everything Chloe did and would continuously punish her for these faults, often striking Chloe.  Life was becoming intolerable and Chloe knew she had to escape, but how and to where she did not know.

Someone calling her name startled Chloe out of her reverie.  It was Friar  Tuck. “Chloe, Chloe.  Chloe, are you alright?”

 “Yes Friar, I’m fine.  I was just wool gathering.  What can I do for you?”

“Would you be so kind as to help me prepare the noonday meal?”

“I would be happy to help you.  Lead the way.”

Will watched Chloe leave, worried over her sudden pallor.  One moment her skin resembled the lushest rose, the next it was as white as the winter’s first snow.  Not for a minute did he buy her excuse of keeping people waiting.  What did he say to cause this sudden change?  Chloe was a
conundrum to Will.  He often felt compelled to speak to her of his former life and his hopes for the future.  He was becoming increasingly aware, though, of her reticence in speaking about her past.  When he confronted her about this she told him he was imagining it; she was busy and didn’t have time for idle chatter.  Will thought her actions gave lie to this statement.  She definitely did more than her share of chores around the compound, but he would often see her in conversation with others.  Will spent a good bit of time trying to solve this puzzle.  He wondered just what she was afraid of, because that is what she appeared to be, afraid to speak of her past.  For the life of him, he couldn’t understand her.  He was certainly going to try though.  Will decided to go and speak with Robin.  Maybe his new relationship with Marion gave him some insight into the way that a woman thinks.

As Tuck and Chloe made their way to the cooking area, Marion, Kemal and Little John returned with the ladies from their trip to the village.  Robin and Will came to meet them.  “There is trouble Robin.”

“What is it Kemal?”

“It seems that someone has been setting fire to the local villages.”

“Does anyone know who is behind these fires?”

“No one is speaking freely, but it is whispered that it is the work of Prince John.”

“Has the local village been affected in any way?  I have seen no signs of smoke thus far.”

“The fires were mainly to the north but have begun to move this way.”

Will, standing next to Robin, clenched his fists. “My father lives north of here,” exclaimed Will.  “I must go and make sure he is safe.  If Prince John is behind these fires, he is probably seeking his revenge on me.”

Robin turned to face Will.  The tension in this man caused Robin to quickly speak. “Will, calm down.  You can’t just ride straight to your father’s manor.  If Prince John is really behind these fires, then he may be trying to flush you out.  We must first come up with a plan before we go.”

“Robin, I thank you for your concern but I cannot ask you to accompany me.  It is too dangerous.
It is true that Prince John wants his pound of flesh from me, but he will do anything to capture you.  I will go alone.”

“Listen to me, Will.  You are one of us now and we are a family that helps each other.”  The others in the group nodded their agreement.  “Come, let us make plans as we enjoy our meal.”

The group walked over to the eating area and sat down.  Robin explained what had transpired to Tuck who was helping Chloe serve the food.   “Robin is right, Will.  We must come up with a sound plan, as well as an alternative to that plan, before we head for your father’s manor.  Do not expect us to watch you do this alone.  When you agreed to join us you agreed to the rules
of the camp.  Those rules include helping one another.”

“Thank you Tuck. Who is it that will be joining me on this journey?” Will asked of Robin.

Robin looked at the group sitting around the table and said “Marion, Little John, Kemal and I will go.  Thad and Martin will stay back to guard the camp. Do you join us Tuck?”  Tuck quickly assented.  With a twinkle in his eye, Robin then asked “How about you Chloe?  Are you up for another adventure?”

Chloe was still reeling from the fact that Will’s father was Sir Hugh’s closest neighbor.  Now here was Robin asking her if she wanted to return there.  How could she possibly go there?  If Sir Hugh were to discover her whereabouts, there was no telling what he might do.  She was terribly
afraid.  Yet how could she let Will go back to his home when he could be walking into a trap.  She didn’t know if she could bear not knowing what was happening to him.  Robin mistook her hesitation as a wish to decline.

“Chloe you do not have to go.  You were a great help at Guy’s and seemed to derive pleasure out of helping so I thought you might like to join us again.”

“It is not that I don’t wish to help, I just wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t be more of a hindrance than help.  I will join you if that is what you wish.”

Will spoke up. “It is what I wish, Chloe.  I would like to show you my former home of which I have spoken to you so often.”

Chloe turned to Robin.  “I shall be joining you.”

Robin, winking at Marion, said, “Let us make our plans.”

End of Chapter Two

Chapter Three

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