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Marian jumped, snapping out of her reverie. She would be late for the fair if she didn’t hurry. She rushed out of the castle, her russet skirts flying. When she got closer to the town, she slowed her pace to that of a ‘proper’ young woman. Inhaling with closed eyes, she took in all the wonderful smells that came with a fair day – chestnuts, pastries, and so much more.
“Enjoying the fair?” Came a voice from behind her. Marian whirled around, snatching out the dagger she wore concealed in her dress, unbeknownst to her father. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Robert, who had long since been known to her as Robin. She grinned up at his green eyes.
“I was until someone scared me half out of my wits,” she teased, concealing her dagger again.
Robin grinned back at her. “Now that you have your wits back, shall we see the sights?”
“With pleasure,” Marian replied. She walked alongside Robin, stopping to peer into booths along the way. In this way, they came to the shooting range. “You are going to shoot, are you not?” Marian inquired of Robin. “You know you’ll win.”
Robin shrugged. “I hadn’t thought about it. I guess so.”
“Of course you are going to,” Marian said, pushing him towards the registration booth. “Go on, put your name down!”
“Oh, all right,” Robin pretended to grumble, although he was ecstatic. He looked at her. “What about you? You can shoot nearly as well as I.”
“Not nearly,” Marian said lightly. “You’re a better shot than me by far!” But she wrote her name down anyway. Her attention turned to some troubadours performing in the street. When they had finished, she tossed them a coin. Suddenly, she realized she hadn’t eaten in a while. Her mouth watered at the smell of a pastry booth nearby. “Robin, I’m going to get something to eat,” she told him.
“All right, but be sure you get back soon,” he replied. “The tournament will be starting in a bit.”
Marian nodded as she walked away. After paying for a few pastries and fetching her bow, which she kept at a friend’s house in town, she walked back to the shooting range, where she looked for Robin. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Rob – Guy!”
“Marian,” the young man said, his blue eyes watching her closely. “How is it that you are at the fair alone?”
“I’m not alone!” She said, shrugging his hand off her shoulder. “Robert of Locksley is here with me.” She searched the crowd, hoping to see Robin coming towards her.
“Ah,” Guy said, with what he meant to be a smile. “Robert.” He drew the word out as if it was distasteful. “And I’m sure Robert has entered the archery competition?”
“Of course he has!” Marian said heatedly. “And he’s going to win, too!”
“I’m sure he is,” Guy answered condescendingly. “But he might just have a bit of competition.”
“You?” Marian questioned.
“Why not? I don’t want to waste all the shooting lessons my father paid for.”
“Robin – Robert – didn’t have lessons,” Marian retorted. “He taught himself!”
“Interesting,” Guy said with a small smirk. Marian gritted her teeth.
“Marian!” Robin’s voice came floating over the crowd, and then Robin emerged, pushing his way through the throng of people. He stopped when he saw Guy. “Marian?” He said again, this time with a note of uncertainty in his voice.
“Robin, this is Guy,” Marian said, sighing.
“I believe we’ve already met,” Guy said smoothly, taking Marian’s arm and leading her away, murmuring, “I want to get you a good seat so you can watch the tournament.”
Marian looked back at Robin, who was standing still, watching them walk away. She cut Guy off. “I’m not going to watch the tournament,” she said, pulling her arm free. “I’m going to shoot!”
Guy stood speechless as Marian marched back to Robin’s side. “Ready, Robin?” She asked, smiling up at him. They both took positions on the range a little way apart from each other. Other archers, including several other women, trickled onto the range, and soon Marian and Robin were separated by at least four people. Out of the corner of her eye, Marian saw Guy walk onto the range and take up a position not far from Robin. “Please win, Robin,” she whispered.
“Attention!” A voice called out. “The archery tournament will begin – now!”
The crowd, which had been loud and rowdy, quieted almost instantly. Marian reached into her quiver and selected an arrow. All she could hear around her was the click of arrows being nocked to bowstrings. She raised her bow and drew the string back almost past her cheek. Breathing deeply, she sighted, held her aim for a few seconds, and released the arrow. It sped through the air and hit a bit outside of the red ring. Marian nodded, and then winced – not a bad shot for her, but the bowstring had slapped her arm. Glancing down, she saw her arm was already bruising. Touching it lightly, she winced again as her fingers brushed against her forearm. She looked to Robin and Guy’s targets. They had both hit inside the ring. She frowned slightly. At least she wouldn’t be eliminated, like some people who hadn’t even hit the target. She stood still as those who had missed left the line. As the next round began, Marian grew more relaxed. She shot again, her arrow hitting just inside the ring. “Better,” she murmured. Both Robin and Guy’s arrows had hit close to the very center of the ring. More people were eliminated, bringing the number of archers down again. Marian looked around and saw that there were less than ten people left, including her. She swallowed, eyeing Guy. He gave her a self-satisfied smile. She smiled sweetly at him, but inside she was seething. He thought he was so smart, with his haughty airs! Robin would show him! Marian tossed her head and prepared to shoot again.
“In this round, anyone who does not hit the bull’s eye will be eliminated!” The voice called out. Marian bit her lip. She wasn’t that good of an archer…She whispered a prayer as she aimed. To her surprise, her arrow hit inside the ring. She breathed a sigh of relief and looked around. Three other people had been eliminated, leaving her, Robin, Guy, two men, and one other woman standing. The pressure was mounting, a fact evidenced by the other female archer and one of the men who were eliminated after the next round. Marian glanced at Robin, who was coolly fitting an arrow to his bow. He doesn’t have to worry, she thought. He knows he’ll win. Guy and the other man – Boaz, she though his name was – were swapping coarse jokes with one another as they prepared to shoot. Marian sniffed disgustedly. Maybe they would laugh so hard they would miss their shot, she hoped. But no such good fortune came, however. Guy grew serious as he drew back his bowstring, and, gradually, so did the crowd, which had begun to buzz with excitement. Marian checked her stance as she held her own bowstring taut, feeling the fletchings on her arrow brush her cheek. She wasn’t gripping the bow too fiercely, and her fingers were curled snugly around the bowstring. She sighted, and centered the arrow with the target, inhaling deeply to calm her nerves. Counting slowly in her head, she held her position for a bit, then let go of the bowstring. Marian opened her eyes wide, knowing even as her arrow flew to the outside ring what had happened. Her body had been tense in spite of the fact that she had tried to relax. She strode from the line with her head held high, ignoring the smug stare Guy threw after her. She pushed her way through the crowd to a spot where she could see the range well. Who would win?
“Marian! There you are!” Marian spotted her friend Elizabeth waving at her. She hurried to join her at the spot where they always sat to watch the tournament – the roof of a villager’s shed. “You were wonderful!” Elizabeth said, kissing her on the cheek after she had helped Marian up.
“Not wonderful enough to beat Boaz,” Marian replied glumly.
“Nonsense! That’s better than you did last year! And besides, today is a day for pleasure! Cheer up!” Elizabeth tugged at Marian’s hair playfully. Her own hair was carefully braided, but even so, wisps of red hair had escaped and now curled around her face.
Marian smiled. “You’re right, Beth. I’m being a spoilsport. But why didn’t you compete this year?”
Beth’s smile faded. “Father forbade it. He says it isn’t seemly for a woman to make a spectacle of herself.”
“You know what I would have done,” Marian said.
“I know what you’d have done, but I’m not you.”
“That’s true,” Marian said with a half-smile.
She settled down on the roof and turned her attention to the tournament. Boaz had just shot and missed; Guy’s arrow had come close to missing the bull’s eye, but he was still in the competition.
“Robin’s doing very well today, isn’t he?” Beth asked Marian.
“Yes, he is. Shh!”
“Sorry!” Beth grinned.
The only competitors left were Robin and Guy, who were now sharing a target. Guy looked at Robin and said something to him. Marian couldn’t hear, but she was sure it was something cocky. She and Beth strained their eyes to see the two men. The air had grown tense, but there was still a quiet murmur of conversation from the crowd. Guy drew his bowstring back, aimed quickly, and shot. His arrow hit the bull’s eye. Marian frowned. All eyes were on Robin now, but he seemed unaware of the attention he was getting. He calmly fitted an arrow to his bow, drew the string back, and held his position for at least three seconds. His arrow landed in the bull’s eye as well. Marian and Beth looked at each other in excitement. A tie! That meant there would be another round! The tension in the air was now so thick Marian thought it could have been pierced with an arrow. Marian started to jiggle her leg nervously, jumping as Beth grasped her hand. “He can do it; I know he can!” Beth said reassuringly. Marian flashed a grateful smile at Beth, then turned back to the tournament. Guy again shot quickly, but this time he missed. His arrow thudded into the ring outside the bull’s eye. Marian and Beth hugged each other as the crowd buzzed with excitement, then quieted as Robin prepared to shoot. He took his time, but when he at last released the arrow, it flew, straight and true, to the center of the bull’s eye.
Guy’s face darkened, and a scowl covered his face as he stepped back from the line. Robin walked calmly over to the stand to receive the winner’s purse of four pounds. Marian and Beth stayed on top of the shed, seeing that they wouldn’t be able to get to Robin because of the crowd which surged forward around him. Finally, the crowd thinned, and Robin made his way over to where Marian and Beth, having climbed down from the shed, were waiting for him. “I don’t know how you did that, Robin!” Beth greeted him.
“Beth! I didn’t know you were here!”
“She sat with me after I got eliminated,” Marian explained.
“Ahh,” Robin said. “That explains it.” He smiled at both of them. “Now that Lady Marian is satisfied with Robin, what shall we do now?”
“Lady Marian!” Marian turned to see a maid from her father’s house hurrying towards her.
Marian sighed, then answered, “Yes, Annise?”
“Your father wishes to see you at home, at once. He’s not in a very good humor,” the maid warned.
“Thank you, Annise. You may go home ahead of me – I will come,” Marian said, stopping any protests Annise might have had. Annise curtseyed and hurried away.
“Well, there you have it,” Marian said ruefully to her friends. “I’m called home.”
Beth fiddled with a strand of her red hair. “I should be going too.”
Robin pretended to pout. “Now I’ll be left all alone.”
“Fie, Robin – You know we’ll see each other again soon!” Marian reprimanded him. She embraced Beth quickly, then started for home, taking her bow with her.
“Marian!” Her father called her to the dining hall as soon as she got back. “Where have you been? No, don’t tell me – I heard all about it from Annise. You went to the fair!”
“You didn’t tell me not to,” Marian retorted, keeping her voice low and demure.
“You didn’t ask!”
“You would have said ‘no’!”
“I probably would have, yes. Show your father proper respect, young lady!”
Marian bit her tongue to keep from saying anything more and curtseyed.
“Since you did go, who won the archery competition?” Her father asked, trying not to show any interest.
“Robert of Locksley,” Marian said, hoping her father wouldn’t notice her slight blush.
“Ahh, Robert. I knew his father. He didn’t have a head for business or money, which is what counts these days,” her father mused.
“Business and money? Is that all that matters? Aren’t there more important things than that?” Marian asked.
“How would you know? You’re only a girl,” her father scoffed.
“A girl who just so happens to have a head for money and an education!”
“An education which was paid for by your father!”
“Only because you didn’t have a son to spend that money on!” Marian regretted the words as soon as they came out of her mouth. She knew the subject of her father’s sons, or lack of sons, was a sore spot for him.
Her father’s face grew red. “Young lady, sit down! You are forgetting your place!”
Marian, frowning, took her place at the table. There was a stony silence maintained by herself and her father while the servants brought in the food. Marian served herself and began to eat in silence. Her father did the same.
Finally, the meal was finished, and Marian departed from the dining hall to her room upstairs. Annise was waiting for her with all the latest news. As Annise prattled on, Marian only half-listened. “…and Clarinda told me that her husband told her that Sarai, the carpenter’s daughter, is being courted by Daniel the forester.”
“Annise, please don’t talk right now,” Marian said a bit sharply.
“As you wish,” Annise said, looking curiously at Marian. “Do you feel all right, my lady?”
“I feel fine.”
“Young Robert shot well at the fair, didn’t he?”
Marian glanced sharply at her maid. She knew how much Annise loved to gossip. Wouldn’t that be a fine tale; Marian and Robert are in love! She answered cautiously, “He did. But, then he always does.”
“That’s true,” Annise said.
Marian laughed inside. The fraud! She never went near the shooting range if she could help it on fair days. She could hear Annise saying with a shudder, “A nasty thing, archery. The arrows have pointy tips, and the bowstring’ll slap your arm off if you don’t watch out!”
“Please lay a dress out for tomorrow,” Marian requested, turning to get ready for bed.
“As you wish,” Annise said again.
Marian stepped up to her mirror and gazed at her reflection. She saw a girl in her chemise; a spirited girl with flashing green eyes and brown ringlets. She turned away. She didn’t want to think about herself right now. She pulled on her nightdress and turned down her covers. As she got into bed, Annise asked, “Is there anything else you need, m’lady?”
“No, Annise. Thank you, and good night.” Annise left the room after blowing out the two candles at the door.
Marian gradually grew drowsy, and her eyes closed.
Several weeks later, Marian went into town with Annise. At the first opportune moment, she slipped away from her maid. Roaming about the market, she said hello to several of her aquaintances, and made some small purchases for herself. Suddenly, she heard Beth’s voice. “Marian, have you heard? Robin has been made an outlaw!”
Marian staggered back, grabbing her friend’s arm for support. “What? What are you talking about?”
Beth held on to Marian, gasping for breath. “I saw you from my window and I just had to come tell you. I ran all the way,” she explained. “Robin was in Sherwood, and he met a band of foresters. They had been drinking, and they made him a challenge which he couldn’t refuse – they taunted him, saying he couldn’t hit one of the king’s deer that was nearby. Well, he of course shot the deer, and they tried to arrest him, but he shot their leader, so now he’s been declared outlaw!” Beth gazed at her friend, her eyes wide.
Marian felt faint. She slumped against the wall, her face drained of color. “But he’s not hurt, is he?”
“Not from what I heard. They say he got clean away from them – they’ve been hunting everywhere.”
Marian breathed a sigh of relief, then straightened, her eyes flashing with determination. “I’m going to find him,” she declared.
Beth sputtered. “But – you have no inkling where he is, and there are foresters everywhere still!”
“Yes, there are. But I’m still going.”
“You know I’d go with you, but Father wants me at home in the evenings – I assume that’s when you’ll go?”
“Yes. I’ll slip out somehow,” Marian replied, her full lips set in a thin line.
“I’ll be thinking of you, and praying for your safety.” Beth pulled Marian into a warm embrace, and kissed her on the cheek. “Be safe, Marian,” she whispered as she slipped back to her house.
Marian turned and wandered around the market until she found Annise, who was practically bursting with excitement. “Marian, did you hear?”
Marian sighed inwardly. “Hear what, Annise?”
“Robert of Locksley has been declared outlaw!”
“What?” Marian said, pretending suprise.
“It’s true, believe it or not. He shot one of the king’s deer, and then killed a man! Isn’t it awful! And he was such a nice lad, too!” Annise tsked her tongue importantly. “That’s why I always say you should choose your companions carefully – You never know what might come of it.”
Marian said nothing in reply, or on the way home. As they walked in the door, Annise said, “My, I almost forgot! Your father’s entertaining company. He says you’re to dress in one of your best gowns.”
“Business clients, no doubt,” Marian grumbled. Now she would have to spend supper making polite small talk to her father’s guests.
“No doubt,” Annise agreed. “But what your father says goes. Upstairs you go now; get dressed and come back down.” She shooed Marian toward the stairs.
When Marian walked downstairs in the russet gown she had worn to the fair, her father put on his company smile. “My daughter, how lovely you look.”
“My father,” Marian murmured in reply. She scanned the guests through lowered lashes, then her eyes opened wide. Guy was here! She quickly lowered her eyes again as her father guided her to a seat – right across from Guy. Apparently her father had hopes for her and Guy.
“Lady Marian,” Guy greeted her, his voice as slick as a well-polished sword. “And how are you faring this fine day?”
“I fare well this ‘fine day,’ Sir Guy,” Marian said, sitting as far back in her chair as possible. Fine day, my foot! Her father left them with another smile, and sat at the head of the table.
“My friends!” He called. “I would like to thank you for coming tonight! Make as free with my fare as you please!”
And he glares at me if I eat an irregularly large portion of food, Marian thought.
“Marian, did you hear about Robert?” Guy said, pretending sympathy. “A shame, isn’t it?”
He acts like it’s such a sad thing, but inwardly he’s probably rejoicing. He probably had a hand in the business as well. “Yes, it is a shame,” she replied.
Guy smirked. “You wanted him to win the competition, didn’t you? Well, he won, and he paid for it by being declared outlaw. You would have done better to root for me.”
Marian’s eyes flashed, and she had to use most of her self-control to keep from giving Guy a good tongue-lashing. Instead, she lowered her eyes and concentrated on the food.
It was a rather long meal for Marian, who tried to stifle every attempt at conversation Guy made. When the meal was over, she was glad to be dismissed by her father.