When the mother and daughter returned, the reason for their retirement was evident. Both had changed clothes, into more suitable day attire than what they had previously been wearing. Anstace was wearing a long dark blue dress that she had brought with her from her previous home. Brittany was wearing a blue tunic and hose, similar to what a boy would wear, with a long green mantle over it.
Anstace walked over to Marion and placed a hand on her forehead. "The fever hasn't changed," she announced looking concerned. She then turned to John and Tuck, "You wish to leave right away?" she asked.
"If possible," Tuck answered.
Anstace nodded. "I'll bundle up some of the leftovers from breakfast for you."
Throughout the day Anstace did various chores in between the times when she would care for Marion's injuries. Robin helped her with her tasks.
Soon after the others left Marion began to mutter in her sleep.
Anstace ran over to her and felt her face and neck, she then looked over at Robin, "The fever's worse. Open the bottom cabinet next to the fireplace and dip one of the rags in the water pail," she ordered with the voice of one who is accustomed to being obeyed.
Robin did as he was told. When he handed it to Anstace she started wiping Marion's face, neck and arms with it.
Marion was delusional, she started muttering things that made little or no sense, much of it was about fire.
"The fire's gone, Robin got you out of it, you are safe," Anstace muttered to her. "Robin? Where?"
Robin knelt down next to her and placed a hand on top of hers. "I'm here."
Anstace managed to get the fever down fairly quickly and by the time Little John and Brittany returned Marion once again slept peacefully.
At first, Marion could not remember where she was, how she got there or what the pain in her legs and lower back was from. She could hear voices, though she didn't recognize them, a woman and then a little girl.
"--she should wake up soon, the fever is gone and the rest will heal in time," the woman's voice said.
"I still keep thinking that I should have made sure she was out before I escaped." This time Marion recognized the voice, it was Robin's! She tried to think what he was talking about, then she remembered waking up before, her clothes then had smelt like
smoke and the pain had been even more intense. She slowly opened her eyes and felt sure that she remembered the woman now as the one who had been wrapping her legs in bandages and had helped her change into a clean chemise.
"Where am I?" Marion croaked, her mouth felt dry.
The room's other three occupants turned to look at her. The woman sat in a chair near her, apparently sewing something, while Robin and the little girl were sitting on the floor, also nearby playing some sort of game.
"My home, in Sherwood Forest," the woman said smiling as she laid the sewing aside and moved over to Marion's bed. "How do you feel?"
"My legs, they feel sunburned, only worse."
"That's a pretty good description of your condition. The inn that you were sleeping in, six days ago, caught fire. Your legs were badly burned, but they'll heal. Another two sennights, maybe three and you should be able to get around without too much difficulty."
Marion nodded. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, I need to check on the bandages, so if you will excuse me while I get my things?"
Marion nodded again and Anstace left the room. When she did Robin came over to her. "How are you feeling?"
"My legs feel like they have a bad sunburn."
"Yeah, I'd guess so. Anstace says that the pain is good, it means that you'll recover fully."
"I'm glad it's good for something," Marion quipped.
Robin smiled, he'd been really worried about her but now that she was awake it seemed as if there was less to worry about.
The two of them spoke briefly. Marion felt excited that Robin would drop all of his other responsibilities to basically watch over her bed while she was hurt.
When Robin came back after being expelled from the room while Anstace changed the bandages the two of them talked together again. When Anstace left the room again there was an odd sound in the room.
Brittany jumped up from where she had been playing. "That means that somebody wants to get in." she ran to open the outer door. When she came back in she was followed by a very worried looking Little John.
"Robin, there's trouble, a village is being raided by the Prince's men." the big man said hurriedly.
Robin stood up. "Where?"
"To the north of us."
Robin looked at her, Marion took a deep breath and said, "Go, Robin I'll still be here later. People need you, I understand."
He grabbed his sword, quiver and bow. "I'll be back later, Marion," he said as he walked out the door.
"Why did Robin leave so suddenly?" Anstace asked as she reentered the room.
"Someone needed help, a village is being raided," Marion answered spiritlessly.
"And so he left you?"
"I told him to go, that I understood."
"Yes, what he does is needed. He wouldn't be the same person if he didn't."
"Then why are you upset?"
Marion sighed and the gave her questioner a small smile, "I worry about him. I want to go too."
Anstace nodded. "He loves you."
Marion didn't say anything.
"Don't you believe me?"
"I want to, but every time it looks like something is going to happen in our so-called relationship all that happens is things go back to normal." Marion shook her head, "I'm beginning to think that I lost my chance to get married when I turned down all of Guy's offers."
"Is it that bad?" Anstace asked.
"Yes, at least Guy tells me that he loves me. The closest Robin's ever gotten was reciting a poem that I wrote when we were children to me. I guess Robin doesn't have time for anything more with all the time he spends helping others."
"I think that if the two of you would just tell each other how you feel, you'd find time for a relationship."
"How? We're always busy."
"When my step-father started courting my mother, he didn't have time. He was what you would call a king of a realm much larger than any you know of. He had all kinds of social and civic duties to perform, he hardly had enough time to sleep with all he was expected to do. Then he fell in love with a young widow and all of a sudden he had time to go out to the country estate, where we lived, about once a week to visit. He made the time for the relationship."
"Kings need to marry so they can have heirs."
"I was my mother's only child out of five to live, they ended up secretly adopting a child. Stop making excuses."
Marion looked at the other woman, and guessed that she was younger than herself. "Have you ever been in love?"
"Yes, we were engaged to be married."
"No, Brittany's father--my husband--is the type of person who in comparison makes Prince John or Lord Gisbourne look like kind, generous, benevolent, and forgiving leaders."
"That bad?" Marion asked.
"Yes. After I had accepted my fiancé's proposal--before we had told anyone, including our families--he asked me to marry him and I refused." Anstace paused and looked at her daughter. "He was nearly three times my age and I detested him. He didn't take my refusal lightly and he kidnaped me while I was traveling back to my step-father's home. My husband is the ruler of even more than my step-father so I had to go through his territory to get there. Since I had been promised my own choice in whom I married, and I refused to tell my parents that he was my choice, and they probably would have stopped it anyway if I had, he had me tied up and gagged, and then the ceremony was performed while the best man held a dagger next to my back."
Marion nodded. "And you managed to escape later?"
Anstace nodded, "Four years later, Brittany was three. My step-father was one of the few people from where I am from who know that here exists, and I learned of it from the person who told him so I decided to take my daughter here where no one would
be able to find us."
"How long will you stay here?"
"Until he dies. I will know the minute it happens."
Robin came back the next day. Though he no longer stayed there continually. Almost every day he would come and spend most of the day with Marion and then go back to his village in the afternoon. By the second day after Marion woke up she was walking around again and after a sennight Anstace pronounced that she was ready to return home.
The day that Marion was to return home Robin and Little John came to Anstace and Brittany's home bringing an extra horse for Anstace to ride. It had been agreed that Marion was not yet ready to ride a horse again--though Anstace assured her that it would only be a sennight or two before she was ready--so she would ride with Robin and Brittany would ride either with her mother or Little John. In the village everyone had been planning a special feast for Marion's homecoming.
When they arrived Marion came out of the home first, walking stiffly though unaided. Brittany and Anstace followed.
The two men dismounted and Robin made an exaggerated bow towards Marion. "Her ladyship certainly looks better today." He teased. He then went over, took her arm and escorted her up to the horse.
Anstace mounted herself and Little John passed her daughter up to her and soon the riding party was off.
When they arrived in the village Robin took his horse right into the barn so that Marion wouldn't see the decorations that had been made to celebrate her homecoming. He then led her out into the area where everything had been set up. Marion's eyes went wide as everyone started cheering her arrival.
Robin bent his head and whispered, "we missed you."
Two little girls ran up with a small bouquet of flowers. "We picked this for you," one said offering it to Marion.
"It is beautiful, thank you very much." She told them.
All the people in the village had a very merry feast that evening and it stretched late into the night. Anstace and Brittany were given an empty hut to sleep in so they wouldn't have to travel so far when it was already so late at night.
After nearly everyone else had gone to bed Marion and Robin sat looking into the fire. Marion put her head on Robin's shoulder. He had hardly left her side the entire evening, it had been nice to have him nearly completely to herself for a change.
"Are you all right?" he asked, the vision of her lying on that bed with the blankets burning around her was still haunting him.
"Yes, I was just thinking that we should be getting to bed soon."
"You're probably right," Robin agreed. Then he looked down at her, "Marion, have you ever wondered if King Richard will ever return?"
"He has to, at some point or another. England is his kingdom."
"But it could be a long time before he returns."
Marion nodded, "Yes, it could."
"Marion, I've always meant to ask you to marry me when Richard returned from the Crusades, but lately I've been thinking that we have no way of knowing when that will be. So I'm going to ask you right now; will you marry me?"
Marion looked up at him and smiled, "Yes, I will."
He kissed her and then the two of them sat together in silence for a while, Robin walked Marion to her hut and the two stood in the doorway for a moment before Robin turned to go to his.
"What made you decide to ask me now, instead of waiting?"
"Six days of listening to Anstace tell me that if I really, really loved you I would make time for a relationship with you in my life and that if I didn't do something soon you'd get the wrong idea and think that I didn't care about you. You are the most important person in the world to me."
Marion smiled at him, "And you are to me." She kissed his cheek and then turned and entered her hut fully. Robin stood outside it a moment longer before going to his own.
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