By Shelly Quinn
Marion was brushing her horse when she heard a familiar voice call her name. She turned, brush in hand, to smile at the man walking towards her. "Good morning, Kemal," Marion offered in greeting. "What brings you here?"
The dark-skinned man flashed a big smile, then shrugged. "I was in the neighborhood and thought I would drop by and say hello." Kemal paused to look around the compound, then asked, "Where’s Robin?"
"Oh…he, Tuck and Little John went to visit a friend of the Friar’s in a nearby village," Marion replied. "They’re not due back until tomorrow eve. I hope you can stay till they return."
"I will if I’m welcome," Kemal acknowledged.
Marion punched him, lightly, in one rock-hard bicep. "You know that you are always welcome here, Kemal. Are you hungry?"
Kemal hesitated before answering, for he had been warned about Marion’s cooking skills. Or, rather, lack of.
"The widow Lawrence made the stew," Marion said, correctly reading Kemal’s mind. She would be the first to admit that cooking was not among her talents.
"In that case, I’m starved," Kemal replied, with a laugh. He had sampled the widow’s cooking on previous visits and her meals were a delight.
Marion gestured to one of the children to finish up with her horse, then she gestured for Kemal to follow her. But she had barely taken a step when a shadow from above skimmed over head, making her duck. "What the…!" Marion huffed, then she shaded her eyes from the sun and glanced skyward. The shadow was a hawk. It soared high above her head, before gliding down. As it passed it dropped an object at her feet. A scroll. Frowning, Marion bent to pick it up.
Kemal moved to stand beside her, but one eye was on the sky, watching as the hawk winged away. "What was that all about?" he asked, gazing at the scroll in Marion’s hand.
"I have no idea," She confessed, as she unrolled the parchment. The script was fancy and Marion glanced at the signature first. "It’s from Olwyn!" she gasped.
"Olwyn…" Kemal repeated, his surprise evident. It seemed odd that Robin’s sorcerer Mentor would be sending Marion a message. "What does he say?"
Marion read the short message. "Robin and the others have been captured by Arabs. They’re heading for Claghamore’s ruins."
Kemal frowned. "Arab?" he questioned. "What are they doing in England?"
"That’s what I’m going to find out!" Marion snarled, as she crumpled the parchment in her hand and turned to head towards the stables.
"Mind if I tag along?" Kemal asked, Robin was his friend and would do no less than rescue him, were the situation reversed.
Marion heaved a sigh of relived. "I was hoping you would offer," she
confessed. "Come on. Claghamore’s ruins are two days ride from here." With
that, she ran off, leaving Kemal to follow.
It was midday, as Fengali had predicted, when they reached Claghamore’s ruins. Robin was stunned as he studied the view before him. A transformation had taken place. Where once had been rubble, now there was whitewashed stone glinting in the sunlight. "It’s…beautiful…" Robin whispered.
Fengali was beside him and he nodded. "The laborers have worked hard," he acknowledged. "The Sultan must be pleased. Come… we must prepare you for your audience."
"Why don’t I like the sound of that?" Robin muttered to himself, as he touched heels to his mount’s flanks and followed Fengali into the courtyard of the palace.
"Take the others to the slave’s quarters," Fengali ordered his men, as he dismounted. Then he gestured for Robin to join him. He grabbed the young man’s arm when he would have followed the others. "You will not lodge with them," Fengali said, gently.
Robin didn’t bother to hide his anger, it flashed in his dark eyes. ‘You have no right to treat my friends as slaves!" he hissed, his hands clenching into fists at his sides.
Fengali could sympathize with Robin’s anger, understood it even, but that did not change things. "Do not make things harder on yourself, my friend," he advised, he eyes locked on the younger man’s face. "Remember that the lives of your companions rests in your hands."
"I remember," Robin said softly. The look in Fengali’s eyes made it clear that the man would follow through with the threat he had made the day before. If Robin did not cooperate, Tuck and Little John would die. That thought was the only thing that made Robin follow Fengali into the Palace.
Fengali sighed as he headed down the stairs from his quarters. He felt saddened by what he must do, but he had no choice. He had met with the Sultan and Sultana, and had told them about Robin Hood and his companions. His Master and Mistress were pleased. After being excused, Fengali had gone to bathe change, and now he was on his way to the bath chamber to collect Robin for his audience with the Sultan. But as he neared the chamber, Fengali heard shouts and crashes. He pulled his saber and ran through the double doors, skidding to a halt at the sight which greeted him.
Robin was dressed only in his trousers and was skirmishing with three of the palace guards. Two of them were already down for the count. Replacing his sword in the sheath on his hip, Fengali stood for a moment, watching, and admiring, Robin Hood’s skill. The young man leaped, kicked, somersaulted, and punched his way around the guards. They didn’t stand a chance. So engrossed was Robin, that he didn’t notice the newcomer. So when he kicked a guard in the head, then did a back flip to escape another, Robin landed in front of Fengali and found himself grabbed by his iron arms.
"Be still!" Fengali hissed in Robin’s ear, when the young man struggled like a wildcat. He was much taller and at lease a stone heavier, so he knew he had only to hold on and Robin would tire himself out, eventually. Only he didn’t have long to wait. Robin was no fool, he knew he could not escape, so he gave up. "Leave us," Fengali ordered the guards. He then nodded to the serving wenches to go as well. Arms still tight about Robin, he asked, "If I free you, will you behave yourself?"
"Yes," Robin replied, without hesitation. He felt the heavy arms slip away from him but did no more than turn to face the Arab. Robin sighed, "Sorry about your men," he said, with sincerity. Three of them had to be carried out.
Fengali shrugged, "They will survive," He studied the young man before him, taking in the bare skin, still damp from bathing, and the heavy fall of wet hair that clung to Robin’s face and neck. "You are a skilled fighter, my friend," Fengali complimented.
Robin laughed, "Years of practice." He moved to where a towel was draped over a cushion and rubbed it over his hair, hoping to dry it somewhat. "Prince John has made it his mission in life to try and capture and my men," Robin explained, when Fengali looked at him with curiosity shining in the coal-black eyes. "I’ve made it my mission not to let him,"
I am glad you have succeeded," Fengali confessed, amusement coloring his tone.
"Why?" Robin countered, his eyes glittering with anger barely held in check. "I fight to be free, and you have taken that from me…and my friends."
Fengali sighed. "I regret the circumstances, Robin," He said softly. "But I do what I must do."
Robin smiled, with great sadness. "So must I," he whispered, letting his words be a warning to the other man. Somehow, someway, Robin was determined to free himself and his companions.
"The Sultan and his Lady are expecting you," Fengali replied, abruptly changing the subject. "You should be dressed."
"I’m not wearing those clothes!" Robin hissed, stabbing a finger at the garments lying on the floor, where he had tossed them. That was how the fight had started. Bad enough he had been forced to allow himself to be bathed by the four serving girls. But when he had refused to dress in the clothes chosen for him, the guards had attempted to dress him. They had failed.
Fengali studied the garments, smiling as he took in the silk tunic and trousers. "They do not suit you," He allowed, his eyes twinkling as they met Robin’s dark gaze. "I will bring you something more…suitable. Then you must dress."
Robin nodded. "Fine, I’m willing to compromise," He allowed, but he would do so only for the sake of his friends.
"One moment," Fengali said, heading for the door. He disappeared, but returned a few moments later with garments draped over his arm. "Try these," He invited, holding them out to Robin.
"Do I have a choice?" Robin countered, hopefully, even as he accepted the clothing.
Fengali shook his head, "No," He replied, then he sat down on a cushion as Robin disappeared behind a screen to change. When the young man reappeared, a moment later, Fengali studied him with approval and admiration. "You are…exquisite," he offered, intending his words to be a compliment.
Robin grimaced, and felt himself flush crimson. He was not accustomed to remarks on his looks. Especially coming from another man. He shifted, uncomfortably, beneath Fengali’s intense gaze. "I feel like a…doll…or something," he huffed, tugging at the trousers.
They were made of the thin, black leather that clung to his muscled thighs. What bothered him about them was that they wrapped around him and were belted by a sash, so the sides bared his thighs when he walked. The knee boots were comfortable though, and made of the softest, black leather. The vest was another matter. It was emerald green brocade, and cut low to his waist, revealing the sculpted planes of his chest and abdomen. Robin would have given his right arm for a shirt to wear under it. With a self-deprecating smirk he taunted, "A bit on the drafty side, don’t you think?"
"You must dress to please your new master and mistress," Fengali said solemnly, as he patted the pillow in front of him, "Come sit and I will dry your hair."
"It will dry by itself," Robin countered, unwilling to be fussed over any further.
But Fengali was not in the mood to allow Robin his whimsy. "You will sit!" he thundered, his black eyes flashing.
Robin stared at the other man and knew that it would be best to obey, so he moved to the pillow and sank down upon it. As Fengali used a towel to dry his hair, then picked up a brush to smooth out the tangles, Robin asked about his friends. "Where are Tuck and Little John?"
"With the other…servants." Fengali replied. He stroked the brush through Robin’s heavy fall of hair, smoothing and drying the thick strands till they fell about the young mans shoulders like mahogany silk. That done, Fengali rose to his feet and opening a chest on a side table, he removed a gold circlet. Moving back over to Robin, who had risen to his feet, Fengali fitted the circlet over the other man’s forehead, slipping the ends beneath the dark hair, just above his ears. Taking a step back, Fengali studied his handiwork. "Beautiful," he whispered. Then his hand snaked out to grab Robin’s wrist when the young man reached up to remove the band of gold. "There is no shame in being beautiful, Robin," Fengali whispered, as he locked eyes with the young warrior.
"I…I don’t see myself that way," Robin confessed, as he tugged on his arm. When Fengali released his wrist, Robin turned away and went to the balcony. He lifted his face so that the gentle wind cooled the flush that stained his cheeks. Robin sighed when he heard heavy footsteps behind him.
Fengali joined Robin at the parapet. He reached out and grasped the other mans’ chin in his strong fingers, making Robin look at him as he spoke. ‘You do not see yourself through the eyes of others, my friend," Fengali released him. But only to pull a silken cord from the sash at his waist. "I must bind your wrists," He said, his voice suddenly grown cold and detached.
Robin was surprised, for he had been allowed his freedom of bondage to this point. "Why?" he questioned, unconsciously taking a step back. Not that there was anywhere for him to run. Nor would he.
"It is to symbolize your…servitude," Fengali explained, with a touch of regret coloring his voice.
"I see," Robin whispered. A part of him wanted to resist, but the image of Tuck and Little John filled his head. So he lifted his arms and held them out to Fengali. "Do what you must do," Robin quoted softly.
Fengali nodded, then bound Robin’s wrists together with the silken cord. That done, he took the other man by the arm and said, "It is time."
Robin allowed himself to be led off, but couldn’t shake the feeling of doom that clung to him like a shadow.
End of Chapter Three
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