**Note: The action in this story takes place the a week or so after the episode “The Power of Albion” In writing this I used the timeline on the Spirit of Sherwood site that suggested Robin of Loxley was Robin Hood for some six years. In this way, I made Robert of Huntington five years younger than him. And as Richard Carpenter put it in one of his interviews: “I (am) not writing a history lesson. Dates are unimportant in a fantasy. Robin Hood is a fantasy.” (Thank you for backing me up on that one, Richard.)
As always with fan-fiction these characters do not belong to me, I just borrow them to have a great time and to help the legend and the dream live on.)**
The Nobleman’s Son
The Nobleman’s Son- Part One
by marla F. fair
“Are you sure, Marion? That this is all right with you?”
Marion tilted her head and frowned. “I’ve told you ten times, Robert...Robin. I’m fine.” She fastened the ornate golden brooch at her neck so it held the fine fur-lined cape in place on her shoulders and then adjusted it. “Really.”
“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. It is just—.”
“You need me. I understand.” Her frown deepened as she watched his blue eyes take in her slim figure wrapped and bound in fine sapphire silk. “And it is only pretense. For one or two nights.”
His shoulder-length white-blond hair brushed his cheeks like dove’s wings as he nodded his head. “Yes. Like children. We are only pretending.”
Marion took a step back and returned his appraisal of her. Robert looked every bit the heir to the Huntington title and estates. He was dressed in blue as well, deep as the midnight sky, punctuated not with stars but with silver embroidery and capped by two metal circlets which rested on his shoulders and bore the weight of a floor-length argent cape. The moonlight struck his profile as he turned his head to gaze at the brace of trees where Little John and the others were resting and cast his blond hair into shadow, and as it did, she shuddered. It made no sense. They were complete opposites—orphan and earl’s son, one man of pure instinct and the other well-bred, dark and light— still he had reminded her of Robin. Something in the turn of his head, the look in his eye.
It must have been the mark of Herne’s son. Drawing a deep breath she turned away from the sight. They really knew very little of him. Herne had chosen him and after much debate and some brawling, they had reassembled to follow. But who was he really? At this moment he seemed every inch the Earl’s son; a fancy creature, a pretty boy born to wealth and privilege. What was it had compelled him to hearken to Herne’s call, to join them? Why take up the cause of the poor and the afflicted, the peasant and serf when these were the very people he had been reared to ignore and abuse? She remembered he had told John that Herne had called him over a year before—just after Robin had been killed— and he had run scared.
Why was it different now?
She smiled and curtseyed as Nasir and Little John approached, remembering how she had behaved before choosing to live with a pack of male Wolfsheads in Sherwood Forest. “Will I do?”
Nasir murmured something in his native tongue and inclined his head as John replied, “Marion. You look lovely.”
Robert’s eyes returned to her. “Like a star drawn from the heavens to walk upon the earth.”
Little John’s eyebrows rose towards his unruly bangs as Much snickered behind him. A moment later an ill-humored voice cut through the darkness. “Well, if it ain’t the Lord and Lady of Sherwood Forest come to make a call on we poor peasants.” Will Scarlet thrust his way through the underbrush and fell to one knee before them. He bowed his head and then looked up. When he spoke, his lips jested, but his eyes were deadly serious. “Any scraps for the scum, milord?”
“Will.” Little John touched his friend on the shoulder.
“What is it, John? Can’t take a joke. Robert...” Scarlet paused and his voice grew tight. “...Robin can. Can’t you, Robin?”
“You don’t have to call me that. Not here. Not when we are alone.” The young man shook his thick blond hair. “I don’t demand it.”
Will Scarlet’s eyes shone in the darkness. “Now that’s a twist. An earl’s son asking.” “Will,” Little John moved his hand and struck the other man on the head as their new leader moved away. “What’s gotten into you? He’s Robin now. He’s on our side.”
Running a hand through his close-cropped hair, Will struck out with his foot, kicking an unyielding tree root. “I know, John. I know.” He gazed at the young man who had crossed to one of the two horses they had appropriated and watched as he gave Marion a hand-up, “It’s just... Well, seeing him like that....” He stared at the finery, at the costly metal furnishings glistening in the starlight, and at Robert’s slender form and noble bearing. “I’ve said it before. He isn’t one of us. He’s one of them.”
John knew Will’s wife had been raped and murdered by them and that the scars ran soul deep. His hand fell on his friend’s shoulder again. “It wasn’t Robert who did those things, Will. He’s not like that.”
The young man had taken a seat on his own horse now. Will Scarlet watched him as he leaned forward and patted the animal’s neck. “Are you sure?”
“What? Will, you know....”
“What do we know?” He looked at his friend. The big man seemed puzzled. “Herne’s chosen him and we’ve followed because of it. That’s all.” He nodded in Robert’s general direction. “Oh, he talks a good piece, John. But when push comes to shove—.”
“After all we’ve been through with him?” the big man protested. “After the risks he’s taken with us? For us?”
“What? What has he done? He went to Owen of Clun’s to rescue Marion. To save the lady in distress....just what an earl’s son would do.”
“What about the executioner? And him being wounded? Albion accepted him and protected him. Marion has.” Little John pointed toward the pair. Robin was seated on a black horse just to the right of the copper-haired woman. As the moon broke through the clouds and cast its white light on the two of them, he stopped short: they might have been the king and queen of the land. His voice unexpectedly hushed, he asked, “Why can’t you trust him, Will?”
The other man glanced about unwilling or unable to answer. His eyes fell on Nasir but the Saracen wasn’t paying any attention to them. His mind as ever was on the woods and the whispers of the trees and sounds that either belonged or didn’t—ones that would give him fair warning of approaching danger. He nodded to Much as the boy caught him watching and then turned back to the giant before him as their new Robin urged his mount forward “Breeding will out, John,” he said at last, “breeding will out.”
“We should be back by nightfall the day after tomorrow or the next morning at the latest. Once I confirm what I have been told is true, we’ll decide if it is worth looking into.”
“What makes this castle and this man, this earl, any different from the rest?” Will Scarlet stepped up to Robin’s horse and grabbed the elegant cloth-covered reins. “There are plenty of peasants and servants being abused right here. Why travel half the night and leave the protection of the forest when there are more than enough battles here?”
Robin’s blond head tossed and he pulled hard at the reins, dislodging Will’s hand. “Why? Because I said so.” And with that he kicked the horse’s flanks and began to move out, drawing Marion behind.
Little John exchanged glances with Nasir and then turned to meet Will Scarlet’s knowing stare. His friend’s frown was so deep he could have drowned in it.
“Need I say more?”
“That was rather harsh.”
Robin looked at Marion and sighed. “I know. I’ll apologize when we return.” He paused to draw a breath. “It is just that sometimes Scarlet.... Well, he just makes me want to—.”
“Strangle him?” Her coppery eyebrows rose and she laughed. “Feed him to the Sheriff? Robin often said—.” She stopped and her head went down. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m glad you can remember him. You should remember him. He was your husband.” The young man indicated his fancy dress and then hers, “For now, I am only a poor substitute.”
“Robert, you have proven yourself. Herne himself has chosen you....”
“That means nothing if the people don’t trust me.”
“They will.... They do.”
He shook his head. “Will doesn’t.”
“Will isn’t people.” At his look she continued, “Will is...well, an accident waiting to happen. A storm raging with no purpose other than to consume itself. Will is—.”
“One of you. I am not.”
She reined in her horse and looked at him disapprovingly. When she spoke, her tone was cross. “And why not? Are you above all of this?”
His blue eyes glistened. “You see? I didn’t mean it that way. What I meant is that there is a bond between you. You belong to each other. I don’t.” He kicked his mount again and began to move forward. “Not yet.”
Marion fell silent for a moment. When she spoke at last her voice was soft. “Then where do you belong, Robert?”
His silhouette was sharp against the argent trees. “No where. Not anymore.”
They rode on some time in silence, only the sound of the pounding of their horses’ hooves disturbing the forested night. At length Marion spoke again. “This place we are going...”
“Why did you need me to do this? To pretend that we are married?”
He glanced at her and then looked forward again. “I need you to join with the ladies of the household. There is certain information I am interested in obtaining and I thought that you....”
“Would have access to it as an overnight guest and the wife of the Earl of Huntington’s son?” He nodded again. “What information?”
“I need to know she is all right.”
“She? Who is she?”
The pale young man who rode beside her was silent for a long moment. “Her name is Elaine. She is...someone I knew well. Someone I hurt badly and left—long ago.” He paused and then spurred his horse on, pulling ahead of her. “We need to pick up the pace. We will never make the castle by dawn.”
Marion followed in silence. She was not certain which had stunned her more: the fact that he had had a life before Sherwood, or the realization that she had not seriously considered it. Oh, she knew he had left the earldom behind. But that was only money and means. She had never thought he might have loved before. And lost just as she had. As had John and Will.
“Oh, Robert,” she whispered, so softly he could not hear her, “you very much belong.”
“So what should we do? Just wait here?”
“That’s what he said.” Friar Tuck lumbered past Little John and shoved him aside as he reached into the pot of stew that had been brewing for hours and scooped out some of the rich mix with his wooden bowl. “They’ve gone beyond Sherwood. Nearly out of the shire. It isn’t safe....”
“Yeah,” Will added, grabbing a bowl, “we have our orders, John. Don’t forget it.”
Little John frowned. “We’ve always followed orders. Robin—.”
“Robin?” the brown eyes fixed him. “Which one?”
“You know who I mean.” John was growing angry. “Loxley was strong-willed. He didn’t listen to no one. This one’s not so different.”
“I don’t know.” Will shook his head. “Somehow it just seemed we had more say—.”
The big man struck him behind the ear. “That’s all in your head. Let it go.”
“I say we should follow them.”
John frowned at Will and then looked away, seeking the boy’s eyes. “And why is that, Much?”
The young man shook his head. Little John could tell the wheels were turning in his head, and as usual, they led his thoughts nowhere but in circles. “I don’t know. I just.... Well, I just do.”
Scratching his beard, the man who had been John Little frowned at the fat friar who was reaching for his second bowl of stew. “Tuck? Why do you say that?”
The heavy-set man laid his hand on the shoulder of the step-brother of their former leader, Robin of Loxley. Much gazed at him. “I don’t know why, John. I just have this feeling....” He moved away then and lowered his bulky form to the ground and began to run a dry hunk of day-old bread about the rim of the bowl. “We need to look out for him. He’s family.”
“Family?” Will Scarlet flung himself to the earth beside him. “Family?”
“Aye. Robert of Huntington needs us.”
“Us?” the angry man scoffed. “Whatever for?”
“He very much needs a family. He has lost his.” Tuck swallowed and washed the
stew down with a bit of ale. “Everything he was, he has given up for us and for those he has been called to aid. It can’t have been easy.”
“Nothing is easy.” Will gnawed on a hard crust of bread and then winked at the fat friar. “Except, maybe, dying.”
“Dying isn’t easy,” Tuck countered quickly.
Scarlet’s smile was a snarl. “It’s easier than livin’, ain’t it?”
Robert reined in his horse and sat staring at the castle before them. It rested like a slumbering beast on a slightly elevated plain in the middle of a vast clearing. A mirrored lake shimmered behind it and a thick moat ringed its high-reaching towers like a torque on the throat of a Celt. He and Marion had left the safety of Sherwood behind sometime before and were now close to the adjoining shire to the east. It seemed odd to be riding in the broad daylight, without a hood, in full view of every man and woman they passed, and yet it seemed unlikely word of his unmasking had come this far. It was hardly known in Nottingham yet, the sheriff and his militant follower having decided for reasons of their own to remain silent. Perhaps in deference to his father. According to the man who had come to him, a former servant of his father’s sent by another who worked at Brentwood, no one here had knowledge of his new identity. He would be welcomed simply because he was Robert, the Earl’s son, the boyhood friend of Michael, the heir to all that lay before them. He inhaled sharply the crisp wintry air. It had been nearly five years since he had seen Michael or talked with his sister, Alyce. Five years since he had passed several months here as their guest.
Five years since he had betrayed Elaine.
He glanced at Marion. She had her hood back and her coppery hair shone in the waxing morning light. He blew the air out and watched it turn to a white cloud as he pictured her before, riding into danger at the side of the dark man who had first been called to the hood. What had her thoughts been then? Had she deemed it an adventure? Laughed and welcomed it? Had that all turned sour now that the dream had ended with a broken body riddled by arrows and savaged beyond recognition? Could she ever be truly free again?
Free to risk loving another?
“Are you ready?” he asked.
She looked at him. Her white hands were crossed over the saddle-horn. “No.”
She ran a hand through her cascading locks and gazed at the grand structure before them. “What is this about Robert? Really?”
“I told you. The man who will inherit this estate is someone I grew up with.”
“Word came, through one of their servants, that the old man is ill and his son may well be working things to become master before his time.”
Marion waited. “And...”
He shook his head. “You would not want Michael to be your master. His hand is heavy. He believes everything we were ever taught: that we are better than those about us, that God has ordained us to rule. That the peasants are here for our pleasure and have no purpose other than to serve,” he paused, knowing she would take his meaning, “in whatever capacity.”
She looked into his face and knew there was something more. “Robert.” She watched as he turned towards her. “You have just described practically every landowner and baron in England. What makes this one any different? For once, I am forced to agree with Will. Why have we left Sherwood to come here?” She hesitated and then added, “Does it have to do with this girl? Is that why you told the others to remain behind? Is this personal?”
“Michael is very wealthy. He takes everything from those about him and gives nothing.” He stopped to swallow. “Even from the local abbey. We can help—.”
His head went down. When he looked up she thought she saw tears in his eyes, but then it might have been a reflection of the early morning light. “When I was very young—.”
“You are very young.”
That brought a smile to his lips. His eyes flicked to her face. “Thank you, oh wise old woman....”
She struck his shoulder with her fingertips. “You are, Robert. Younger than most of us.”
He straightened in the saddle and gazed ahead. “While you were running through Sherwood Forest, seeking to escape the Sheriff’s men, fighting to feed the people and save them from the king’s foresters and the landed gentry, I was trying very hard to become one of them. Will is right in one way. I was born one of them. You have to understand, Marion, I was brought up to believe all the same things. That this,” he opened his arms wide to encompass the land and the cattle at pasture, the servants tending the fields and the flocks of innumerable sheep, “was my destiny.” He looked at her at last, his aspect sober. “While you were trying to help these people, I was learning to use and abuse them. Now that I am Robin Hood....”
She drew a deep breath and suddenly understood. “You have to make amends?”
He nodded. “Yes. I have to right what I did so long ago that was so very wrong.”
“Robert, the future earl of Huntington and the lady Marion, his wife.”
Marion stiffened her back and laid her hand on top of Robert’s. He smiled briefly at her and she nodded. Together they advanced into the great hall. All about them servants shifted in the shadows, preparing for the events of the coming day. As they walked the length of the dining table Marion noted one in particular who stared at her ‘husband’ hard. She met the man’s eyes briefly, but he turned away after depositing kindling by the hearth and vanished into the false darkness.
“Later,” he whispered and inclined his head. “That is Michael.”
Marion turned back and found a dark sharp face. The man who rose to greet them was perhaps twenty-five at most. A little bit older than Robert. He was moderately tall and well-built and dressed in a rich red robe embellished with gold brocade and lined with sable. His features were Roman, his black-brown eyes keen as a hawk’s; the edges of his full lips already showing signs of a life lived chiefly for pleasure at the expense of others. He rose and took a step towards them, a seemingly genuine smile breaking over his face.
“Robert!” He walked to them and clasped his old friend by the arm, “How long has it been?”
“Near five years, Michael.”
“And how is your father?”
Robert glanced at Marion, “Well. And yours?”
The man tossed his dark head. His lips curled as he answered the earl’s heir, his eyes on his ‘wife’. “I am certain you have heard. Is that not why you are here? Didn’t your father send you with his regards for a dying old man?”
Robert took his lead. “Yes. But I came to see you as well.”
The smile broadened. “Ready to relive old times, eh?” He turned to Marion and lifting her hand, kissed it. “You have caught yourself a ravishing beauty. There will be no need for some of the old games, I see....”
Marion glanced at Robert and saw a pained look pass over his face. “No. I am not here to play games.”
Michael’s dark eyes narrowed and flicked to his old friend. “Elaine is here.”
Robert stiffened. His fingers tightened on Marion’s hand. “I thought—.”
The other man straightened. “You thought wrong. You always were a little on the soft side, Robert. What does it matter to you what the fate of one young peasant girl came to be? There are thousands more like her. Take a walk through the local village and you’ll see.” At Marion’s look he added quietly, “But then I forgot, there is no need of that now. You have your own pleasure bound at your side.”
They had been shown to their room. It was richly appointed and the bed was feather-soft. Robert stood gazing out the narrow window toward Nottingham and the forest beyond. He was very quiet. They had been given time to change their travel-stained clothes and rest before the midday meal, then there was to be a day of hunting and gaming. Marion intended to plead illness and stay behind. That way she could spend time with the women of the castle and perhaps learn what her ‘husband’ wanted to know.
She looked at him standing motionless before the narrow slit in the castle wall, as the breeze caught his pale blond hair and tossed it about his face, and knew there was something deep within his soul that stained it. Something he regretted that would not let him go. She sighed and walked to stand behind him and after a moment, laid her hand on his shoulder.
He started and blinked. They had traveled all through the night and both were weary beyond reckoning. She was glad she did not have a day of pretense to look forward to as he did.
He stirred slowly and then looked at her. “Yes.”
“Will you tell me?”
He shook his blond head. “I can’t.”
“You were a child....”
“Was I? Some men are masters at fifteen or so. Some are kings.”
“And others are children. Your life was sheltered. You did not have to grow up so soon.”
He turned from her and left the window to sit on the edge of the bed. “I still don’t understand....”
“What?” She came to stand by him and stared at him. He was wearing a simple burgundy tunic belted at the waist. Gold braid sparkled at his wrists and throat setting off his pale skin and hair. “What don’t you understand?”
“Why Herne would chose me. When he knew...he had to know what I had done.”
“Why? What had you done?”
He avoided her eyes as she knelt before him and sighed. “I never told you,” he said, gazing at his soft supple hands.
“Told me what?”
The blue eyes lifted and met hers. “That I had met Robin.”
She blinked and rocked back on her heels. “What?”
He nodded. “Once, when I was young and on my way through the woods on the outskirts of Sherwood. During my stay here.”
He looked away, his mind going back to that night. “Yes. I didn’t realize it was him until Little John and Tuck were talking the other day. It seems I reminded them of a story he had told them. About an earl’s son.” He smiled softly. “He wasn’t with the others. He was alone.”
“I’m fortunate I didn’t end with an sword-blade through me. Perhaps that was Herne’s influence even then.”
She shook her head. “Robin didn’t harm children.”
His eyes found her again. “I told you. I wasn’t a child. What I did...what we were doing was the doings of men.”
“And that was?”
He sighed and shifted on the bed. “You know there was once an abbey on the eastern border of Sherwood?”
“Elaine, the girl I came here to find out about, was on her way there.” He closed his eyes. “Apparently she never made it.”
Her hand sought his. “Why is that?”
“I had thought....” He didn’t pull away but swayed a bit with fatigue. “After Robin stopped us, I had thought she escaped. Now Michael says she is here. I don’t understand....” He passed his hand over his face. “Why?”
“Robert, you’re exhausted. We both are. It will wait until later.”
“It has been five years. A few more hours cannot matter.” She gripped his fingers and pulled him to his feet and led him about the bed. Pressing his shoulders to the soft covering, she forced him to lie down and then sat beside him, stroking his hair as she had done little more than a week before when he had been poisoned and dying from the arrow the executioner’s man had lodged in his thigh. “You are a good man, Robert. Whatever it was, it can be forgiven. And made right.”
He nodded. “Thank you.”
“For understanding. The others. If Will knew....”
“We’ve all done things we regret.”
“Not like this. Not like....”
As he fell asleep she moved to the other side of the bed and laid down beside him and placed her hand on his back. Already she knew she was beginning to love him and it frightened her. How could she take such a chance again?
There had been a gibbous moon that night, bright but with a patch of darkness, much like his soul. He and his friend were dressed as outlaws, carrying long-bows and bright swords. Michael had brought half a dozen of his servants sworn to secrecy with them. It had been his idea. Elaine had worked in his father’s house. She was a beautiful girl. The daughter of a cobbler who had died over the winter and left her to his father’s care. When she had asked the old man if she could go to the abbey, he had given her his blessing and sent her on her way. He had been heart-broken. During his stay at the castle, they had become close friends—and he thought more. Her hair was like sunlight bound and her skin white as cream. Roses danced in her cheeks and sapphires in her eyes. He thought he had loved her, and when Michael had come to him with a scheme to stop her, he had willingly agreed. They had laughed and brawled pretending to be highwaymen, swinging their swords wide. But when the night had come and they waited in the trees above the path, something sinister had overcome the other boy. He had drawn a mask over his face, instructing Robert to do the same and pulled an arrow taut, and when the party had passed by beneath them, he had killed the priest who led it and laughed.
Robert had hesitated in the trees watching the carnage, listening to the
women’s screams. He had seen Elaine raise her hands towards him as she was
dragged from her horse. Outraged he had risen to go to her when a hand had
fallen over his mouth and he had frozen. A young dark-haired man with eyes keen
as a falcon’s held him tight, his long shining sword to his throat. It gleamed
in the moonlight like a thing alive. A soft voice whispered close to his ear and
told him to remain where he was. Then the lithe creature swung to the ground and
drove the blade through the man closest to him—one of Michael’s
servants—and pivoting, turned on his friend. Suddenly certain he would kill
him, he left the safety of the tree branches and dropped to the grassy floor.
Already well-trained in combat he had drawn his weapon and faced the highwayman.
By this time Elaine had found her feet and one of the priests had placed an arm
about her and was helping her onto a horse. Michael stared across the bloody
corpse at the one who had spoiled his fun and then tossing his sword at him, he
turned and fled, taking his men with him.
Leaving Robert alone to face the hooded man.
As he shifted the sword in his hands the moonlight struck the outlaw’s
face and he realized they were not so far apart in years. Still, other gulfs lay
between them that were insurmountable. He tried to sneer, to hold his head high
as befit the son of an earl faced with an uppity serf, but he couldn’t. He
felt dirty and ashamed. His thoughts wandered and his hand wavered and in less
than five seconds the sword was at his throat again.
“Who are you?” a quiet voice demanded.
“Robert,” he answered. “Robert of Huntington.”
There was a pause and then the hand spun him hard, pulling off his mask.
He fell to the ground exposed and terrified.
“Why, you are just a boy.”
“Not so much younger than you,” he drew a breath and forced the word,
The man moved like lightning to catch his collar and pulled him close.
“Listen, boy, I will tell you who the scum are. Men who would kill a priest.
Men or boys who would attack a helpless woman in the middle of the night and who
chose to interfere with the call of a god!” The outlaw raised his sword again
and it glistened like starlight. “I should kill you here. Now.”
“Will what? Reward me for saving you? Destroy me for killing you? Well,
let me tell you my fine young pup, that means nothing here. Here you are no
better than the next man. Here your life has less meaning than a serf’s. Do
you understand that?”
He nodded quickly, swallowing hard.
“What were you up to?” His grip tightened. “Tell me....”
“The girl. I didn’t want her to go to the abbey. I love—.”
“And this is how you show your love? Well, Robert of Huntington, I
think all the money your father has spent on your education has been wasted. You
are a fool.” He spat the word and tossed him to the ground. “But you are a
young fool. You may yet learn.” The tall man sheathed his sword and stared in
the direction the others had gone. “I mean to see she gets there. If he
interferes, I will stop him.”
Robert nodded. In his heart he had hoped someone would.
“Go home, boy. Think about what has happened here and what you were
about to do. Realize the gift the gods have given you—power, wealth,
learning—and use them to help. To aid the oppressed. Be a better man than the
one who came before you. And if you don’t know how, just open your eyes.” He
pointed at the dead priest and one of the men who had escorted Elaine from the
castle. “These are your betters, as are the servants in your father’s own
house, learn from them.”
And with that he was gone.
Robert struggled deep in the throes of a nightmare. He was back on the forested floor. The sword-blade was at his throat. The dark man stared at him and snarled. Marion lay wounded and bleeding at his feet and Michael stood above her laughing.
“You led her to this. She was yours to look after as my successor,” Robin of Loxley intoned, “you deserve to die.”
The blade came down and he sat up gasping and bathed in sweat.
Marion stirred beside him. Someone had knocked at the door.
It was time for the day to begin.