A Fable from the Enchanted Forest of Sherwood
(c) 1997 Carol Givner
"I have a message for Robin of Locksley."
She pitched her voice as low as possible. Keeping her eyes down. And hoping her long hair wouldn't give her away and tumble out of the worn cap her lady-servant had found for her.
The tattered clothes she wore must have belonged to a serf who worked the land for the Sheriff of Nottingham.
But they weren't a woman's clothes.
No, they'd belonged to a man. And she'd asked for them on purpose.
To disguise herself.
To get her safely through the rough countryside and rougher people unnoticed.
And bring her to the hideout of the most notorious of all highwaymen.
But she must be lost. Because the man holding the reins of her horse didn't look like the man she'd heard about. He was dressed as coarsely as she was. His face was smudged with dirt. And his hair was as hidden as hers.
But his eyes.
They made her wonder about his low station.
Because they were intelligent and filled with life. And they moved over her like quicksilver.
Did he know? Could he guess she was a woman? Would he accost her and subject her to unknown horrors?
"Who are you, and what do you want with Robin of Locksley?" he asked.
She huddled farther into the scratchy clothes. "I am a messenger, and I must find Robin Hood."
He moved closer and patted the horse. Close to her leg.
And she jumped.
The man moved back and seemed to smile. Had she heard him chuckle?
"Are you going to take me to Robin Hood or not?" she asked, trying to sound fearless.
He seemed to consider her question very seriously and slowly moved a rock out of her path with his foot. "I don't know. What if you intend to hurt him? Many people dislike him. Where do your loyalties lie?"
By Holy Faith, getting to Robin was going to be even more difficult than she thought.
"You can't," he continued, "simply ride into Sherwood and expect to be taken to see a man as desperate and as hunted as Robin Hood."
Marian felt the first pangs of uncertainty. What if she couldn't get her message to Robin? Her entire plan would be defeated before it had even begun.
She lowered her lashes and studied the man before her. He was taller than average. Slender. With muscular forearms. And long legs.
He seemed casual, yet defiant. Standing there as if he owned the forest. Yet, careful to leave it to its rightful inhabitants.
He'd come from out of nowhere and stepped into her horse's path. And had taken hold of the reins. And gentled her mount with an expert caress.
Which made her take special notice of his hands. They were large and deliberate with long, sure fingers. And as they moved reassuringly over the horse's dusty coat, Marian felt a corresponding shimmer of sensation coarse through her body.
She'd make one more attempt to get past him. And if that didn't work, she'd pretend to go back.
And then circle around and avoid him entirely.
"Do you know were I can find Robin?" Was her voice shaking? Impossible. She was as steady as any man.
The last time her voice had trembled, she'd been a child. She could recall the incident quite clearly. She'd been playing Sticks and Stones by the castle bridge, and her friend had teased her unmercifully when she'd lost.
She wondered what that childhood friend looked like now.
Then he'd been a scruffy little boy with tousled blond hair and pockets filled with crawling creatures. And a sword made out of the sturdy branch of a proud tree.
And he had a heart of gold.
And dreams to match.
She signed. He was the very reason she'd come to Sherwood.
To save his life.
And now this scruffy fellow wouldn't let her pass.
Maybe it had been the emotion in her voice, but he seemed to relent. He tugged on the horse's reins and walked them all down the path into the tangled thicket.
"Yes," he said softly. "I do know where I can find Robin."
Marian shifted triumphantly on the horse's back. She didn't know why she felt she could trust him, but she did. With any luck, she could deliver her message to Robin and be back before dark.
The afternoon sun was already low in the sky. It cast deep shadows between the trees. And it warmed her skin all the way through the rough wool of her clothes. She hugged the horse's flanks more tightly and concentrated on the bent head of the man taking her where she wanted to go.
Sherwood was such a peaceful place.
To those who were unaware of its dangers.
Highwaymen and beggars.
Animals and thieves.
All called the Forest home.
And so did Robin Hood.
* * *
So she'd grown up at last.
She was no longer a shy child with freckles and a pout.
He hadn't been sure at first if the beggar on the well-groomed horse was a man or a woman. The clothes belonged to a man. But the voice spoke with the lilt of a woman.
Because he'd been sure when he came closer to her.
And almost touched her leg.
As a test.
A man would have kicked him away.
But a woman would have drawn back in modesty.
The way she had.
What was she doing in Sherwood?
His lovely Maid Marian with the tangled braids and the muddy skirts?
And what was she doing looking for him?
To be continued.................
(c) 1997 Carol Givner