The Gypsy Spell
In the morning Robin dodged Serafinah and Amir in search of Parva's wagon. No one had attempted repairs here yet, they were busy elsewhere. The wagon was damaged, but not unsalvageable. Some of Parva's belongings were still in the caravan. The bedding had burned, and a portion of one wall. Robin tugged on a corner of the sodden scorched bedding and something rolled in the nearby corner of the wagon. Underneath a cupboard Robin found a small brass oil lamp that was dented and discolored on the side it had lain on. The lamp was empty and the wick gone.
Following the idea that the lamp had started the fire, Robin followed the fire's trail up the wall to a shelf. Next to the shelf was another cabinet, this one with its door ajar. Inside the cupboard were a few jars of nuts and sweet smelling herbs. Robin pushed the cupboard door shut and the shelf rattled. Checking the shelf, he realized it was badly constructed, and the shelf barely rested on two wooden pegs hammered into the side of the cupboard.
A sharp voice from outside the wagon brought Robin up short. Looking down he saw Amir at the wagon's gate. Amir gave a command in his own language, gestured for Robin to come down.
"I was just checking to see if I could start the repairs on this wagon. It only needs some floorboards replaced, some cabinets torn out." Robin gestured back into the wagon as he sat down on the tailgate.
"'I will see to my grandmother's wagon." Amir declared. His eyes issued a challenge.
"Fine with me." Robin answered breezily. "Lots more work for me to do."
Robin ambled toward the center of camp, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder just in case Amir didn't accept his easy retreat.
Marion brought hot water and a bag of Tuck's herbs to Alexis's tent. She may not be much of a cook, but Marion could boil water and make some of Tuck's herbal teas. She was trying to remember whether she was supposed to use a teaspoon or a tablespoon of herbs when she reached the wagon and hiked herself up into it.
Alexis had been sleeping, or he was supposed to be. Instead he had thrown aside the blankets and was reaching for a large book on the shelf.
"I thought you were resting?" Marion asked.
Alexis smiled guiltily. "I am not used to resting. I cannot help my family with repairs, but I can see what money we have to buy anything that needs to be replaced." When Alexis unfastened the clasp and opened the book Marion noticed that the book had been hollowed out and there was a leather bag of coins hidden inside.
"Don't worry about that. We'll help you recover and get back on the road." Marion put her hand over his and pressed the bag of coins back into its hiding place.
"I don't know how we can ever repay you for all you've done for us." Alexis sighed.
"You don't have to. Just get home safe and sound."
"Easier said than done." Alexis put the book back on the shelf and laid back down on his pallet. He groaned when his head hit the cushion. "If ever I find the fiend who tried to crack my head open, mmmmm......"
Marion sprinkled herbs into a mug and poured hot water over them. "Did you see the person who attacked you?"
Alexis shook his head gingerly. "No, it was too dark. It happened too fast. I hardly remember at all."
"What do you remember?" She swirled the herbs in the water as the tea turned pale green.
"Not much. I was sleeping. I heard my sister scream. I go to help Parva. When I get to her wagon I see smoke, then someone jumps off the wagon onto me. After that I do not remember."
Marion absently closed the bag of herbs and tucked it into her belt. She handed the mug of tea to Alexis and helped him to sit up so he could drink it. He sipped and made a face.
"What? Did I make it wrong?" She asked.
He sipped again. "No, it's exactly as Parva would have made it." Marion smiled at him. "It's horrible!"
They both laughed until laughing made Alexis's head hurt.
Sean was looking for a tree he could cut down for boards. Hatchet in hand, he was looking for a tree thick enough to do the job without being too big to handle, when he heard someone move in the underbrush. Looking to his left, Sean spotted a boy sitting in the hollowed out base of an old oak tree.
"Issam? Is that you?" he asked, edging closer to the boy.
Issam wiped his face with his sleeve and drew back further into his hiding place.
"Issam, what's wrong?" The boy would not meet Sean's eyes. Sean put down the hatchet and sat down next to the hidey-hole. "Sometimes when I'm upset about something it helps to talk to someone about it. And sometimes a stranger is a really good listener."
Issam sniffled for a few minutes before he spoke. "My grandma is sick."
Sean nodded. Issam's parents had died a few years ago. Parva had raised him as long as he could remember.
"But she's going to get better. We're taking very good care of her." Sean nudged Issam's shoe with his own boot.
"I miss talking to my grandma." Issam rubbed the heels of his hands in the dirt.
Sean reached for Issam's hand and knelt next to him. "You can talk to me all you want. C'mon. I need to chop some wood, and you can help me."
Sean stood and Issam shuffled his feet in the dead leaves that littered the forest floor.
"Can I hold the hatchet?"
Sean laughed to himself. "No you can't, but you can help me find just the right tree to cut."
"Okay!" and Issam ran ahead, leaping over tree roots. Sean laughed at how quickly Issam's sadness had dissipated.
Marion and Jennie were in bed in one of the supply wagons that night. Jennie was asleep, but Marion lay awake, thinking about Alexis and Parva. She also thought about Amir and Serafinah. Alexis and Parva had been put in mortal danger, but Amir and Serafinah's attitudes belied the seriousness of the situation. Amir would refuse all help if he could, but Serafinah wanted the Outlaws to stay, if only to shower her attentions on Robin. Thinking of the middle eastern beauty with her dark eyes and sultry looks made Marion feel slightly ill, so she turned her mind to the problems that brought her to the travelers camp in the first place. She thought of the fire, the damage to the wagons, and the attacks on Parva and Alexis. She finally began to drift off to sleep to the sounds of the night and the scent of wood smoke from the campfires.
Maybe a few moments, maybe a few hours later Marion awoke coughing from smoke. Had the wind shifted and directed the smoke from someone's fire into the wagon? No, the smoke was heavier than a campfire's. Kicking off the blanket, Marion yelled to wake Jennie. Jennie came awake coughing too, and calling for Marion. The smoke was so thick they couldn't see the wagon's tailgate to get out. Orange flames began to show at the entrance as they licked up the canvas flaps.
Suddenly the canvas doorway burst open as a man leapt into the wagon and reached for Marion and Jennie. He tucked each one under his arms and directed them to the tailgate. Marion could hear shouts and people gathering in alarm as she, Jennie, and their rescuer jumped from the burning wagon to safety. Both women continued to cough the harmful smoke from their lungs. Marion looked up as Sean rushed to Jennie's side. Robin was half a step behind him.
Amir cursed in his native language. "See? They do not stop! The English dogs will burn us out, they will even risk killing their own people." Serafinah stared at the burning wagon as her kinsfolk wielded water buckets and blankets to put it out. "This Robin Hood is not so beloved as you seem to think, Serafinah, if his own people want him as dead as we are."
Robin stared dumbfounded at the sight of Amir comforting Marion only yards away from the burning hulk of her shelter. Several women had come from their own wagons to take Marion and Jennie away, to tend to any injuries and take them to safe beds. Amir followed them, glaring over his shoulder at Robin.
Robin had forgotten Serafinah's presence until he felt her soft touch on his shoulder. He shrugged it off. She wouldn't be any help to him. He knew where he needed to go for help.
The Fighting Drake sat in the center of the village: being the center of most of the town's activity, it was an advantageous location. Robin wasted no time finding Tuck and Little John seated in a dark corner. The boisterous cheerful crowd seemed oblivious to the secret meeting.
"Robin, I hate to tell you, but there's nothing going on here. We've been here all night, as has most of the town. If someone's been sabotaging the Little Egyptians it may very well be the work of one person whose actions have gone unnoticed here." Tuck said as he sipped cider.
"We've asked around, talked to nearly everyone in town. Everyone thinks the Little Egyptians have moved on. No one knows that they're still in the forest." Little John added.
Robin pondered the information while he stared into his mug of ale.
"There is one other thing we found out." Tuck looked hard at Robin, then at Little John. Robin waited.
Little John put his mug down before he spoke. "Your friend Amir has a bad reputation here. A farmer offered him a sack of grain, and Amir refused to take it on the grounds that it was probably poisoned. The man was just trying to be kind, but Amir threw his offering back in his face. He drove others away for simply coming by to offer help or friendship. Amir carries a lot of anger towards the English."
"And yet he practically flew to Marion's rescue tonight." Robin spoke almost to himself. "Very strange."
"It is indeed..." Tuck agreed as he went back to his cider.
Marion sluggishly followed the women to the supply wagon to get the makings of breakfast. She watched Jennie pass her, and nearly screeched out loud when a strong hand grasped her elbow and yanked her behind a wagon. She knew that hand, and the man it belonged to, Robin's eyes twinkled faintly as he steadied her.
"Are you really that hungry? Or are you ready to finally find out what's going on here?"
Marion didn't need a second invitation. "I am more than ready." Robin and Marion set off to talk to Baba Parva.
The older woman was lying in her niece's wagon, her hands bandaged. The burns on her legs had been bandaged as well, and she was tucked up in blankets in her bedroll. But she was awake and trying to sip from a cup held between her immobile hands. Marion took the cup from her and held it steady so Parva could drink.
"Parva, I want to know do you remember anything about the night of the fire. Do you know who was in your wagon? Who set the fire?" Robin asked.
"It was dark. There was no moon, and the wick on my lamp was low enough that there was no light at all." she said, trying hard to recall that terrible night.
"Please, anything else you remember might help us find out who is trying to hurt you." Marion pleaded.
Realization dawned on Parva's weary face. "It was someone small. Someone skinny standing over me. I grabbed his ankle, and he fell. That's when the lamp fell. The oil spilled on the quilt and caught fire. I could not see anything but the flames. He must have gotten away." Parva shook her head as if there were something else she knew, but could not name.
"That must have been when you cried out, and Alexis came to help. The intruder leapt from the wagon, fell on Alexis and Alexis hit his head on the rock." Marion concluded.
"Then maybe Alexis' injury was accidental. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Robin spoke distractedly.
Marion watched his brow crease. "What are you thinking?"
"That the intruder was here all the time."
End of Chapter Three