The Gypsy Spell
Robin and Marion thundered into the Little Egyptians' camp, their horses heaving and snorting from exertion; Tuck and Little John followed only a moment behind. Robin flung himself from the saddle and made a beeline for the wagon where several women had congregated and were speaking in hushed tones. Robin might have vaulted over the tailgate and into the wagon had Amir not stopped him.
"My Father is unwell. You can deal with me, Robin Hood." Amir had Alexis's red head scarf clutched in one hand.
"What happened? Do you have any idea who did this?" Robin asked, catching his breath.
Amir's contempt for the Englishman was evident as he sneered. "English dogs tried to burn us out. Parva has been burned and Alexis was injured pulling her from her wagon."
Tuck pushed past both Robin and Amir and joined the women ministering to Alexis. He examined a nasty gash at the back of Alexis's head.
"Robin, Alexis didn't just bump his head - someone hit him. This was deliberate." Tuck began rummaging in his bag for herbs.
From the shelter of Little John's arms Issam began to cry out for his Baba Parva. One of the women took the boy from John and carried him off to another wagon on the far side of the encampment.
Serafinah appeared at Amir's side. "Parva is not well. Her hands and legs have burns which will take a long time to heal.
Amir reached for his sister's hand and held it as she spoke, her melodious voice carrying notes of fear, sorrow, and anger. "At least four wagons are damaged and will take a few days to repair, but I don't trust this place or its people. Chances are good that we'll be attacked again before we can make repairs and break camp. I can only wonder how much further they will go to be rid of us."
"If you don't trust us, why did you send for us?" Marion asked.
"He didn't send for you." Serafinah declared. "I did."
Amir would have scolded his sister but she held up one hand for silence.
"Papa invited Robin to his fire, have you forgotten? He trusts Robin, and so do I. I have heard things about this man."
"Only good things I hope." quipped Robin.
Serafinah ignored the interruption. "When people need help he gives it freely. Who else can we turn to?"
Amir pondered her words. "There is no one else. We have no choice but to trust you, Robin Hood." Obviously he was not happy with this decision.
"Your confidence is overwhelming." Marion muttered just loud enough that Robin overheard her.
It was decided that Tuck and Little John would go into the village nearby to see what they could find there. Robin and Marion would stay behind with Jennie and Sean to protect the Little Egyptians and help them with repairs. One of the men lent Robin a homespun shirt to replace his leather vest and sword belt, and someone dragged Marion off to dress her in the loose blouse and wide skirts that the rest of the women wore. Robin fidgeted while Serafinah insisted on braiding his long hair into a queue down the back of his neck.
"If you shaved your beard you might pass for one of us." She said as her nimble fingers wove the sable strands of hair.
Robin's fingers went to his beard. "You think so?"
"And I have an oil that could darken your skin. No one would ever know you were not born in the Holy Land." Serafinah's smoky sweet perfume enveloped Robin.
The sight of Marion striding towards him dressed in red skirts and light muslin blouse distracted Robin from the woman behind him. Marion's light brown hair was caught up in a colorful scarf, showing off the white column of her throat. He didn't hear what Serafinah was saying.
"What was that?" he asked.
She tugged on his hair more roughly than was necessary. "I said I could do it for you. I've shaved Papa before."
Robin thought about it. "Nah, I'm comfortable this way." When she'd tied off the braid Robin left her and followed Marion. Serafinah watched him walk away; there was a glimmer of mischief in her amber eyes.
In Baba Parva's caravan Serafinah searched quietly through the bottles in her grandmother's cupboard. Where was the elixir she needed? She found the small bottle decorated with gold tracery and pocketed it. Glancing back at her grandmother and seeing the old woman still asleep, she stepped down from the wagon and headed back to her own.
By the fire at the wagon she shared with a cousin Serafinah ground nuts in her mortar and added oil to it. She poured the concoction into an earthenware bottle and filled it halfway with more of the oil. She took the golden bottle from her pocket and dripped twenty drops into the nut-darkened oil. Baba Parva had taught her all about herbs and oils, and the elixir in the golden bottle was a love potion. Baba had never told Serafinah what the elixir contained; only through the lessons she'd learned had Serafinah been able to guess the ingredients. In secret she had concocted a perfume that was a complement to the love potion. If she could get Robin to put the oil stain on his skin, and Serafinah wore her own perfume, then the love potion should work to bring him to her and only her. As she corked the clay bottle she gazed through the glen to where Robin was splitting timber to repair a wagon. He'd rolled his shirt sleeves up above his elbows, displaying the muscles in his forearms as they strained and relaxed from the activity. He spoke with some of her kinfolk and laughed at someone's joke. Yes, he would be hers alone.
Amir snuck into the front of his sister's wagon. He knew she was sitting just outside the tailgate, so he had to be quiet or she'd discover his intended theft. Amir knew that Baba Parva had taught Serafinah some of her magical secrets; one night he'd overheard Serafinah telling a cousin that she'd made a love potion of her own and that she kept it in the wagon. Amir had plans for that love potion.
He found the cupboard where Serafinah kept her unguents and balms and found the red glass bottle containing the perfume. He tucked it inside his shirt and carefully jumped down from the front seat. When he reached the safety of a hollow tree he uncorked the red bottle and sniffed the concoction inside. He recognized a fragrance that his sister frequently wore, but with it rode another earthy scent that glided silkily beneath the more strident top notes. Once again hiding the bottle in his shirt, Amir stepped out from the tree and walked back toward the center of camp.
Marion was working with the other women preparing the evening meal. Her cooking skills had not improved over time so she was fairly useless, but the women jostled her good naturedly over her shortcoming. Marion was attempting to remove sticky bread dough from her fingers when Amir stepped up beside her.
"Are you settling in all right?" he asked, a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. "Keeping yourself occupied?"
Marion grimaced at the too sticky dough. "Not successfully, but yes I am finding ways to be somewhat useful."
"Tonight at supper, will you sit with me?" The earnestness in his eyes was at odds with Amir's general disposition regarding the Outlaws. Marion was confused and wasn't sure how to respond.
"That would be nice." she heard herself reply. Her answer coerced something resembling a real smile from the usually stony prince. He reached into his shirt and drew out a fine red bottle with a glass stopper.
"For you, a gift. I am sorry I have not been a very gracious host, but I would like to amend that oversight. I will look for you tonight."
Marion found herself staring after Amir while the older women chuckled and nudged each other over the scene. She lifted the stopper on the bottle and inhaled, taking in the scent of jasmine, roses, lavender, and something deeper that she could not recognize. She saw Robin approaching and hid the red bottle in her bodice. She was not sure how Robin would see her acceptance of a gift from a man who had so far shown the Outlaws nothing but contempt.
Amir managed to seat himself between Robin and Marion at supper and Serafinah wiggled herself between Amir and Robin, effectively splitting up the two Outlaws. Serafinah was in a fine temper. Somehow she must have misplaced her own version of the love potion, and Robin had not shaved nor used the magical oil she'd given him. Whenever Robin attempted to converse with Marion Serafinah would lean closer to him, batting her sooty eyelashes over her golden eyes and smiling prettily. Her attentions were beginning to annoy him.
Amir insisted on feeding Marion from his own plate, with his own hands. He refused to allow her to feed herself. The intensity of his courting disturbed Marion, who was too used to Robin's hesitant longing. Marion - with her independent nature - had never depended on a man for anything and Amir's teasing was getting on her nerves.
When she'd had enough Marion got up from the campfire and walked off into the trees to be alone. Robin caught her departure out of the corner of his eye and decided she had the right idea. He deposited his wooden bowl in Serafinah's lap and got up to follow Marion, leaving the gypsy girl fuming.
Marion sat on her haunches at the foot of a tree, her red skirts hiked to her knees. Her white blouse slid off one shoulder as she struggled to undo the jingling bracelet someone had fastened to her wrist. Robin stood slightly behind her as she finally unclasped the silver links from her wrist and tossed it into the grass at her feet. A few seconds later she noticed Robin's boots and flopped onto the ground.
"This was a bad idea." she sighed.
"Not one of my better ones, I'll admit that." he agreed as he sat down on the grass beside her, propping one arm on his upraised knee.
"Between Amir and Serafinah how are we going to find out who tried to burn them out?" Marion rolled her head until it rested on Robin's shoulder.
Robin smiled. "You and I, my dear, will have to keep our heads on straight." He placed his hand over hers where it rested on the light fabric of her skirt. "They came to us for help, and they'll get it, but on our terms."
Marion glanced sideways at Robin. "And how do we get them to do that?"
"You can be a little tyrant when you want to, Marion." Marion glared at him and he grinned crookedly at her. "You get me to do all kinds of things when the mood strikes you."
"No I don't."
"Yes you do. You run me ragged sometimes."
Marion dropped her head slightly, embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I don't mind so much." He nudged her slightly. "C'mon, we can't be arguing if we're going to do this. We have to stick together."
"Speaking of which," Marion started as she got to her feet. "Have you seen Sean and Jennie?"
Robin's brow creased as he rose as well. "I haven't seen either of them since midday. We'd better check on them before we turn in for the night."
Marion led the way back to the caravans with Robin following. Robin pretended to be on the lookout for people watching them, but he was really keeping an eye out for either Serafinah or Amir. He'd seen the way Amir paid attention to Marion and it irked him. As they neared the supply wagon where Robin and Sean would sleep a hand reached out and grabbed Marion, pulling her into the shadows. Robin drew a dagger from his belt and rushed after her. He seized the man in the shadows and held the blade to his throat, but Jennie's hushed exclamation stopped him.
"Robin, it's us!" Jennie glanced behind to make sure no one had seen the scuffle. The foursome gathered behind the wagon.
"What have you heard? Our attentive hosts have made it very difficult for us to discover anything." Robin tugged at his too tight braid.
"Actually, I haven't heard anything helpful. They're all speaking in their native language and we can't tell what they're saying." Jennie confessed.
"One thing I can tell you is that the men are completely unconcerned about further attacks. They haven't increased their watches at all since the accident, and no one has talked about moving on." Sean ran his fingers through his already disheveled hair and sighed. "Except for all the repairs on the wagons and Alexis and Parva's injuries, it's as if the accident never happened."
"Maybe our presence here in camp makes them feel safer, maybe they don't have enough people to increase the guards, maybe they're just too scared to talk about it; there are lots of reasons for the way they're acting." Robin slouched against the wagon at his back.
"Maybe it's their magic that makes them feel safe." Jennie interjected.
Marion groaned. She distrusted and loathed the mention of magic. "Don't tell me they have a sorcerer in the family?"
"No, a witch. Baba Parva is evidently the keeper of the family's magic." said Sean.
"I'm not quite sure what it is, but it's more folk magic than the fancy stuff we've seen from Olwyn and Mortiana. I think it involves potions of some sort." Jennie's nose wrinkled at the thought of a magic potion being slipped into someone's dinner.
"That's a relief." Robin mused. Marion, Sean and Jennie glared at him until he explained, "It can't be any worse than Tuck's concoctions, can it?"
"There's something that bothers me worse than anything else." Sean lowered his voice and focused on Robin and Marion. "It's our hosts' attitudes. Have you noticed how Amir couldn't wait to turn his back on us a few weeks ago, but now he can't stop fawning over Marion."
Marion shuddered. "It makes my skin crawl. I won't pretend I haven't noticed either how much attention Serafinah pays to Robin. They're going to be quite an obstacle if we're going to get to the bottom of this mess."
"Then we'll just have to find a way to remove those obstacles. Let's get to bed. We'll be able to think better in the morning." Robin stifled a yawn behind his hand.
Sean jumped up into the wagon after saying his goodnights to Robin, Marion and Jennie. Marion might have lingered for another private moment with Robin, but Jennie grasped her arm to lead her to the wagon where they'd spend the night. Robin stared after her a long time after her red dress faded into the darkness.
End of Chapter Two