GREENWOOD

                                                           By Jo

PART SIXTEEN:

 

 

Robin's recovery was slow. He'd come so close to dying and his strength and energy were not

returning to him nearly as fast as he wanted. There was much to be done to ready the camp

for winter and there he lay, exhausted if he even sat up for more than half an hour. It hadn't

taken anywhere near this long for him to recover from his wound on crusade, but the effect

of the great fever on his already dehydrated and starved body had been nearly overwhelming.

 

He wanted to go hunting with the other men, to gather supplies, to ready the huts. He wanted

to make love to his wife.  Reclining on his bed, propped up with a mound of Peper Harrow

pillows, he studied his right hand, then made it into a fist, squeezing as hard as he could. He

couldn't hold it tight like that for long and sighed, letting his fingers open. All too well he

knew the strength it took to draw the longbow, the fluidity of motion to let fly one arrow

after another.  He wasn't used to this weakness and he hated it.

 

Though Marion stayed with him as much as she could, she had many tasks to perform, many

responsibilities that took her out of the hut. Even though there was a new equality in the camp,

the people were still used to looking to her as the lady of the manor and much of that had not

changed, so ingrained was it over the years. She handled it well, too, her intelligent mind able

to see the larger picture of things many of them missed. Responsibility sat with the familiarity

of experience on her slender shoulders and she rather liked it, had a mother heart about her

that wanted to watch over the others.

 

She was, at this moment, in a hut at the other end of the camp, tending to a woman who was

struggling to give birth. John and most of the men had gone hunting, the boys were gathering

nuts to store and tall, dried grasses to plug cracks in the camp's structures. The women were

busy with their endless multitude of daily tasks.

 

Robin felt well enough to be bored. Autumn was coming on and he missed being outdoors.

His mind wandered to the spring over the hill and the more he thought about it, the more he

wanted to be there, sitting beside it, watching the waters, listening to the rustle of crisping

leaves. He thought about it for some while then he slid his legs over the side of the bed, staring

at his boots, knowing he would never manage to tug them on. However, there was a pair of

Sir Robert's more slipper-like house shoes that had been liberated from Peper Harrow and

he eyed them. Stretching out his right foot, he pulled them one by one close to the bed, fitting

his feet easily inside them.

 

He was clothed. It made him feel more normal to have on his pants and shirt, less like some

useless invalid. His new leather breeches were somewhat loose. Marion had made them that

way, insisting that in time he'd fill them out. Sitting there, he looked longingly at his longbow,

then shook his head and stood, holding onto the wall to support himself. There! He'd managed

quite well so far, he thought, pleased with himself.

 

Wobbling to the door, he pushed it open, standing there, holding onto the edge of it, looking up

at the sky. He gave a quick survey of the camp. Everyone was busy. No one noticed him. Good!

With great care and slow steps, bracing against the outer wall of the hut, he went to the back

corner of it.  There were ten steps with no support until he could reach the first tree of the

woods. He leaned against the hut for a long moment, waiting for his breath and heartbeats

to slow.  This was probably foolish, he admitted to himself, but he'd come this far and as he

looked at the forest so close, it seemed to beckon to him. Ten steps. He could do that.

 

He did do it, but by the time he reached that first tree he had to hold onto it tightly with

his eyes closed.  When he felt ready again, he made his way from tree to tree until he got to

the rocky slope. Before, he'd simply walked up it. Now, after a few steps, he found himself

with his hands on the ground, pulling himself awkwardly upwards. He hadn't remembered

the thing being quite so tall.

 

Once at the top, his vision had gone a bit fuzzy and he missed a step and fell forward. Unable

to catch himself, he rolled all the way down the far side, which, thankfully, did not have the

rocks of that facing the camp. He came to a stop on his back about two feet from the spring.

Shaken, but unhurt except for a bruise on his cheek and a few cuts and scratches, he lay there

in the tall grasses and fallen leaves that covered the area near the edge of the water.

 

"Damn fool!" he muttered to himself, then just breathed for a while until his heart stopped

pounding.  Shortly he was distracted from himself by the way the breeze moved the branches

above him.  Shades of yellow and rust were beginning to show, some more on certain trees

than others. Through them he could see the clouds and the sky and despite the effort it had

taken, and the long tumble, was glad he'd come.

 

He had such vague and confused memories of the last time he was here. There was terrible

heat, sudden cold, pain all through his body, the sound of Marion's voice. It was here, he knew,

he'd come to death's threshold yet not crossed. He'd done a lot of thinking since then, had all

too much time to think, and as he lay there now in the rest and the peace of the place, his

mind ran back again along the trails of those thoughts.

 

He remembered lying in the desert sands, cut off from his men, aware of the warmth of his

blood flowing down his side. For a while he'd even watched it puddle beside him, then sink

almost suddenly into the sand as though something lay beneath and had sucked it down.

He expected to die then, expected to find himself afterwards in some place horrid beyond

all imagining. It was so soon after Acre and he was consumed with the feeling that in his

new godlessness, God Himself would naturally turn His back on him. His faith had always

been uncomplicated, a fact of life like eating and sleeping. The people who had raised him

had taken him often to mass. He'd been fascinated by the stained glass windows in the church,

by the stories they told. The priest had taken an interest in the boy, had taught him to read,

had talked with him about God, about his personal understanding of God. When he was

still quite young, he'd learned the art of soldiering, had taken part in some of the ceaseless

local warring, had gained skill and experience. When the call to crusade had been issued

by Henry then taken up by Richard upon his father's death, he'd come back to that church,

had talked with the old priest again. The man had a passion for the deliverance of Jerusalem

from the hands of the heathen. Robin had heard stories about the battle of Hattin, of how the

crusader army had been decimated by Saladin in July of 1187.  The terrible defeat there,

followed by the loss of Jerusalem itself, had roused passions all through Europe for a third

crusade. Listening to the stories, and to the priest, Robin's heart, too, had been stirred and

he knew he must join the crusader army, must be a part of all that would come.

 

And he had been. He smiled wryly to himself as he rested there now by the spring. Just the

getting to the Holy Land had taken so much time, so much effort, and Acre, well, it was the

first city they came to on this crusade that was to end all need for future crusades, this

crusade that would be honorable and glorious and upon which God would smile in gratitude

and praise.

 

And then...there they were...the eyes of the bound Muslim woman who had pitied him as he

stood there under that almost painfully clear blue sky, sword in hand. How often had his mind

gone back to that single moment, that hinge upon which his life had swung. He'd tried to tell

Marion about it but wasn't sure if anyone who was not there, who had not done what he had

done, could really, truly understand.  How could they grasp what had gone out of him that

day?  He wasn't even sorry that so soon after he was dying. He knew he deserved death, knew

he deserved for God to turn away from him.

 

He'd lived...and lived with that, recovering, fighting because he must, fighting without heart,

fighting for survival for himself, for his friends. Survival. That had become all there was. Then

Chalus. He couldn't believe Richard himself had asked him what he had. Was it some sort of

revenge on God's part that he was put in that position of having to answer that one question

in all the world he did not want to answer? He so clearly recalled his feelings in that moment,

Richard's eyes boring intently into him, had seen the negative, warning shake of Sir Robert's   head. He'd bowed his own head, squeezed his eyes so tightly shut they hurt, and then he'd told the truth of it. Eyes closed, he'd gone deep within himself until he could go no deeper, and there he'd found the overwhelming truth of the matter lying, waiting to be said. No one had ever asked him such a thing before and now, no matter that it was the king who asked, he had to say what he must. It was the first time he'd spoken it forth, put it into words, what he'd felt since Acre. They had become godless, all of them, Richard, too.

 

 

Richard had proclaimed him honest then had him clapped into the stocks. There had been a

secondary hinge in that as well. Over the long years, there had remained at least some certain

sense of loyalty to the crown simply because it was the crown. The very moment he learned

that Richard had died, all that faded away and survival was the be all, the end all of not less

than everything.  And he'd felt some pull toward England, England where he'd been born,

where he'd been abandoned, England that he barely had any memory of.  He'd been in France

the last five years fighting for Richard. He was tired of France, wanted something...different.

He had no idea what. Perhaps if he just got there, he'd find it or it would find him.

 

Heading quickly north, keeping off the main roads, they'd stumbled upon the ambush, a minor

interruption on getting to the boats. Only it had been more than that. He lifted his right hand,

holding it close to his face, examining his palm. There, right in the center, was the smallest

scar left from where the copper wire wrapped around Sir Robert's sword had pierced it. He

remembered how he'd brought the sword to give it to the dying man but Robert had clamped

his hands over Robin's, holding it down to his chest. Robin had been surprised that the man

had strength enough left in him to grip him so tightly. Instantly he'd felt the piercing in his

palm, had ignored it because the piercing in the man's eyes was greater for a time.

 

 

He'd promised what Robert asked.  How did one honorably refuse such a request no matter

how reluctant one might be?  The yes had been dragged from an unwilling heart, from a man

who'd surprised even himself by his yes. Another hinge, so very close on the heels of the last.

He'd closed Robert's eyes then crossed himself, an ingrained habit finding expression in such

a moment, a moment of respect for the dead, of some level of dread that he'd uttered that one-

syllable, fateful word. He crossed himself for Robert's sake and for his own as well.

 

 

Then the hurt in his palm made him turn it, look at it, at the blood there in its center, and Allan

had spoken of an oath made in blood, had found significance in the fact of its existence. Robin

was not ready for that, rejected that it had meaning, had said it was only a scratch and that was

all it was.  Immediately, turning away from anything that could possibly have more meaning,

he looked at the dead English knights and survival was all important again. He'd become quite

adept at surviving and he would survive now. So he smiled and said they should dress themselves

as knights, should take full advantage for their own benefit of what had fallen into their laps.

 

 

It was only on the Channel boat when he looked at his palm again, when there was nothing to

do but wait until the crossing to Gravesend was done, that he began to think about it again. The

blood was still there. He'd not sweated nor rubbed it off. It was as though it had remained so

his attention would be attracted to it. A pierced palm. How could he not think of the statue in

the church in Aquitaine? He'd closed his fist at that thought, feeling a yearning for something

long lost.

 

He had the sword, made the connection again between the sword and the small wound. Had

the wire not pierced him, would he have even noticed the break in it, have begun to unwind it?  One thing led directly to the other, on until a long-blocked memory tried to shoot itself into conscious thought, not quite making it.

 

But...now...he knew, remembered it all, his father's arms stretched widely out by soldiers as

though he were being led to his crucifixion, a sacrifice for what he believed in. The memory

of his father's face in that moment, of the fiercely grand passion on his features, had

stirred him when it had fully come back to him. Even setting out on crusade, he knew he'd

never felt that fierce a passion about anything...ever. And the discovery that his father had

not abandoned him as he'd believed, when it had had time to simmer and settle inside him,

he'd begun to wonder if...just maybe...his Father had also not abandoned him. Perhaps it

was he who had turned away? Guilt does that to us, makes us turn from the one we feel

we've offended. He'd begun to find a pattern, a possible reason in all these connections and

for a while he didn't know what to do with it. And Marion was there and Nottingham itself

was there and he wanted suddenly to protect both her and it. Her survival, its survival was

quite strangely more important than his own. He'd known the fullness of that when they were

under attack. He also knew that as he had ridden to defend them, he'd felt a fierce passion

in the doing.  In Barnsdale he'd felt the passion of his father flowing through him, becoming

his. He felt it now, just lying here by the spring, thinking of Marion and the others he'd come

to care so for just over the hill.

 

Again he looked a long while at the little scar. This...all this...had started with a pierced palm.

Slowly, one by one, he folded his fingers over his palm, then laid his hand on his chest. "Thank

You," he breathed, then went to sleep.

 

The baby had been born, a large boy. The mother was worn to the bone, but all right. Tired

herself, Marion went back to her hut, intending to lie beside Robin for a while. Always she

opened the door and stepped inside quietly for he was often asleep. Shutting the door behind

her, she turned, a smile on her lips, a smile that had been there ever since she'd known for

sure that he would live. Instantly it was gone. He wasn't there! How could he not be there?

He could barely stand.

 

Flinging the door open, she rushed outside calling, "Robin! Robin!"

 

No one had seen him. She turned, eyes wide, staring this way and that. Timothy and John, who

had been hunting together, were just returning to camp, several small animals hanging from

strings they carried. She dashed up to them. "Did you see Robin? On your way in, did you

see him?"

 

"He's not in the hut?" Timothy asked, quickly handing off his strings to someone else.

 

"The baby. I was helping all day with Martha's birthing. He's gone. I just went back and

he's gone!"

 

"He can't have gone far, Marion," Timothy said. "He can barely move."

 

John turned his head, looking up the slope. "The spring. He'll be at the spring."

 

"How could he possibly have gotten there?" Marion cried.

 

"I don't know, but he's there. That's where he'd go," John insisted, already striding in that

direction.

 

With Timothy holding Marion's elbow, the three of them made their way quickly up the steep

slope, all the while Marion mumbling, "He can't have come up here. It's too hard. He can't."

 

At the top they paused side by side, looking down toward the spring. Robin lay there on his

back, his eyes closed. "Oh...God!" Marion gasped, pulling up her skirts and fairly flying down

the hill.

 

She practically flung herself to her knees beside him, her hands hovering over him. He had a

bruise on one cheek, a few cuts that had bled, but it was how quietly and unmoving he lay that

stabbed through her.  Her hand trembling, she touched his face, making a little sound of relief

when it was still warm.

 

John and Timothy had crouched nearby, their brows knit in concern. At Marion's touch,

Robin slowly blinked his eyes open.

 

"Oh, hello," he murmured sleepily, then let out a long, contented sigh. "I like it here, you

know. I like it here a lot."

 

Marion had been terrified and pressed a hand to her rapidly-beating heart. "Robin...how...?"

 

"My place," he said with a sleepy smile. "I belong here."  As Timothy and John exchanged looks, shaking their heads, he blinked slowly several more times, looking up at her, then added, "Do you suppose you might kiss me?"

 

 

 

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(NOTE: At the end of chapter 15 I thought I didn't know what else to say, but in the last day,

chapter 16 was suddenly there and required of me that it be written. Now that it is, it seems

to me to wrap Greenwood up and so I am going to pronounce it finished. When I take up

Robin's story again...when...it will then have a different title. I find myself endlessly attracted

to the psychology and spirituality of the characters and wanted to say here a few more things

about the man Robin is to me.)

 

 

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