A young man looked up from the table, papers in his hand. He wore a dark green tunic and trousers—peasant’s garb.
“Ah-ha!” Robert said, his voice coming across more cracked then he had intended.
The young man didn’t move. His gaze was frozen on to Robert’s face. Something tickled the back of Robert’s memory…those eyes, resting on him…He pushed it away.
“What do you think you’re doing, scoundrel?” Robert asked, striding in.
The other seemed stricken. The papers he held fluttered to the ground. He made no move to grab the longbow resting against the wall, giving Robert plenty of time to step between him and it.
“What are you stealing, eh? What are you doing here?”
“I thought you were dead.”
The quiet words rang in the room. They made Robert feel queer. He moved closer to the still intruder. He was older than he looked, he realized, and a strange thing made him look young—he was wasting, seeming to shrink out of the limbs he must’ve grown into not many years before. A scar marred his pale face, starting beneath his ear and running to his chin.
Even as he took this in, Robert couldn’t help laughing. “Thought I was dead—?”
He made the mistake of looking the other in the eye. Another flash of memory spasmed through his mind. He took several steps backwards. The peasant flew into motion, ducking past the wavering blade and grabbing his bow. Robert stiffened, looking wildly for a chance of escape. The other stood between him and the door.
“Yes,” he said. “I thought you were dead.”
“Guards!” Robert bellowed.
“You might’ve come,” the other said. “It was over a year that she was sick, after the baby died. Did you care nothing about her?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The blue eyes flashed. “My mother.”
It wasn’t the words, but the flash in the eye that made Robert feel sick. He fought it off desperately.
“I—I can’t be bothered with peasant matters,” he said.
Deep anger sparked in those blue eyes: anger and grief. At last, Robert’s soldiers burst into the room.
“You really don’t understand?” the man asked, dropping his bow. It rattled against the floor like a bone. Robert’s soldiers forced the intruder easily to the ground. His breath rattled in his throat.
“Don’t you see?” he gasped, looking into Robert’s face. “I’m Robin. You left me behind.”
* * * * *
Robert had to constantly remind himself that he did not hate his son.
He did not even hate the look of his son—the flaxen hair, scrawny arms, unwavering blue eyes. What reason was there to hate that look? He was the very image of his mother, and Robert loved her—of course he did.
It’s the bow, he told himself, if he would only give up the bow.
He could never be sure, but he felt almost certain that Rosamund had encouraged it. From the time the boy could walk, almost, there seemed to always be a yew bow clenched in his little fist. He even acquired a great amount of skill at his young age, sending servants running from the little pricks that were his arrows.
All the same, you would expect a little boy—a baby, practically—to grow out of his little baby tricks, and Robin didn’t. Nor ever would, it seemed.
“A word, Rosamund,” Robert said.
His wife looked up from her sampler, pale eyebrows raised. “Yes, my lord?”
Lady Rosamund put aside her sampler and motioned to her serving maids. They gathered up their things and left. She stood in the center of the room, hands clasped in front of her, over the slight bulge of her midsection. She was still so beautiful.
“My lord?” she asked.
Robert moved across the room to her. She stepped back. Hurt, he stopped and looked at her, awkwardly. Rosamund lowered her eyes.
“It’s about—Robert,” he said.
More awkwardness. When had they grown so far apart? They had never been close, thrust together by parents as they were, but she seemed so cold.
“I want you to call him by his proper name.”
He saw her stiffen. Still she didn’t look into his face. He didn’t expect her to argue, just to nod and curtsy and be on her way, like she’d been doing for years. Like she’d done when her tow-headed child was given a Norman name. But this time, she said something.
“Is there something wrong with Robin?”
“I named him Robert!” he exploded after a few seconds of silence.
“You’ve never forgiven me, have you?” Robert stormed. He stood almost on top of her.
She made no reply.
Her breathing escalated. He grabbed her chin, forced her to look him in the face. Her blue eyes darted for a moment in her pretty face: still so young. So few lines on it. She steadied.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But he’ll always be Robin to me.”
Her whole body posture, face, tone of voice, spoke of submission and calm. He almost felt he could, with a twist of his hand, meld her into any shape he pleased.
Her eyes gave her away. Blue, swirling, fierce, loving, intelligent, firm—defiant.
He flung her from him and stalked to the window.
He shouldn’t have.
After only a few moments of looking out on his land, his hands gripped the sill, harder and harder, until they shook with the strain.
He turned again, saw his wife standing where he left her, looking at her hands. He walked past her and out of the room.
“Bring me that boy!”
* * * * *
“Do you know who he is?” Robert asked, toying with the hilt of his sword.
“Why should I know, milord?”
“Oh—I just thought—never mind.”
The soldier shifted in his armor, gazing around the near-empty room.
“You may go,” Robert said, and he did. Robert walked over to the canopied bed. The canopies hung in rags; the mattress sagged and stank of sour straw and mouse droppings.
Though the various High Sheriffs had had the cheek to use his land, it seemed that none of them had dared sleep in Locksley Manor. That said, a good amount of furniture had been carried off—either by bandits or the Sheriffs themselves. The latest High Sheriff, William Brewer, had seemed embarrassed by the whole thing. It seems that they, too, had considered him dead.
When he had reclaimed his lands, he had not thought to ask of his son. His wife had died, the manor was in disrepair—surely some child illness or another had claimed him? He had never been a strong boy. In all truth, Robert had expected his death when he left.
But now there was a young man, tied up and unconscious in his cellar, who had claimed to be that son. He seemed to be the right age. In the deepest corner of his mind, Robert knew he was—those eyes…
But what had he been doing all these years? Why had he not kept up the land? Why was there no talk of Robert of Locksley?
And why did he still have the audacity to call himself Robin?
* * * * *
“Did I not tell you to put a sword in his fist?”
“Well—y-yes, my lord, but—” the servant stammered.
“But what, you idiot?”
“Master Robin did so well at the swordplay that the Lady Rosamund did say he—”
“My son’s name is Robert,” Robert said through clenched teeth.
“B-but of course, my lord,” the servant said.
“It would serve you well to call him such.”
“Yes, milord—Master Robert he is—”
“You say his mother—?” Robert pressed.
“He performed marvelously, and the Lady Rosamund did say he had done enough for the day, and should get to play—”
“And he chose archery,” Robert said, teeth clenched.
“I—suppose he—” the older man said.
“I am the lord of this manor and everything in it. I will decide how my son”—he spat the word—“spends his days. My wife has no say.”
The servant nodded and bowed a bit too much, casting strange glances past his master.
“Father?” a young voice ventured.
Robert turned slowly.
His son stood in the doorway, holding his little bow, with his quiver at his side. He wore a deep blue tunic, which complimented his features and complexion like little else did. It wasn’t exactly that he was an ugly child, he just happened to already look like he had to grow into parts of his body. For one thing, his eyes seemed too large for his face, not to mention that they often had a look of deep pondering unusual enough in a full-grown man, not to mention a child of six.
Those eyes were searching his now, pinning him where he stood. Robert realized that maybe it wasn’t only the bow he hated—it was those eyes, as well.
“Robert—” he began, trying to stop the scrutiny. The eyes stopped searching, but they were still watching.
“You sent for me?” the little boy offered.
“Yes…” Robert said, feeling big and blundering as he walked towards his son.
He took a step backward, reminiscent of his mother. Robert realized his arm was already outstretched, ready to rip the arc of wood from his son’s hand.
And Robin had seen it coming.
“Give me the bow, Robert.”
A delay of several seconds ensued. At last the little boy relinquished his hold on the stick of yew, slipping off his quiver as well. Robert clenched them tight in his left hand.
“I need to speak with you.”
The eyes were frightened now.
* * * * *
A knock. Robert took a deep breath. “Come in.”
The door opened and two soldiers half-carried in their prisoner. When they released him, he crumpled. Robert nodded to them, and they left. He watched the prisoner with curiosity.
His arms were shaking, and it sounded like he had trouble breathing. It didn’t seem to be from fear, but from some kind of fatigue or sickness. At last the blond head came up and Robert again said the blue eyes and the scar. He realized, looking at that face, that the hair had become darker. The eyes looked almost the same as ever, but it seemed that sorrow and pain had been etched into the young man’s face as strongly as whatever blade had cut it.
“Father?” he said, wearily.
It was strange to hear that word again.
“Stand up,” Robert said.
With much difficulty, he did. He swayed on his feet.
“Are you ill?” Robert snapped.
The head nodded slowly. “Aye, I am—”
He fell again, harder. He winced.
“What’s the matter with you?” Robert asked, anger mounting. This wasn’t the way this was supposed to go. How could he question or chastise someone who kept falling over?
“Many things,” the younger man said. “I have a hard time not blaming you for them.”
Robert was taken aback. “Blaming me?”
“You left me.”
“With your mother!”
“You left her, too,” he said. “And when she died, who was there to stand up for me? I was only a child.”
* * * * *
Holding Robin’s hand like a dead fish, Robert re-entered the room where he had had the disastrous conversation with his wife. Lady Rosamund sat now, and only looked up when they entered, and then glanced away. Robin wriggled out of his father’s grasp and ran for her.
“Robert!” his father challenged, stopping him in his tracks. He turned back around reluctantly.
“I have something very important to tell you.”
Rosamund reached for her son’s hand, avoiding Robert’s face: she knew catching his eye would be deadly. Their fingers curled about each other, and she drew her to him. Robert couldn’t think of something to say that wouldn’t sound ridiculous, so he strode over to them both.
“Two very important things, as a matter of fact. One, is that I no longer want to see you entertaining yourself with the practice of archery. The bow is a yeoman’s plaything.”
“Mother says it is the English defense against Norman oppression,” Robin said. Rosamund closed her eyes.
“Does she indeed?” Robert said. “Well, she should be pleased to note that the invasion happened a hundred years ago, and oppression is almost non-existent.”
“That is,” Rosamund said, “if you choose to cease being English and become French.”
Accusations glistened in her eyes. Robert fought the crazy desire to strangle the two of them then and there, mixing their blond hair with crimson blood. Instead, he yanked Robin away from his mother.
“Archery will cease,” he said, glaring down at the boy.
“You’re hurting me,” Robin gasped.
Robert relaxed his hold. “The second is that forthwith no one in this household shall call you by this child pet-name of Robin. You are Robert.”
Robin looked to his mother, who had tears on her cheeks, and then back at his father. He pulled again from his grasp, backing away from both of them.
“My name is Robin,” he said, childish voice earnest and unmistakable.
Robert felt a flash of something that could have been pride, but it turned quickly to anger. So long he had wanted the gentle boy to show some spirit, but the only time he did, it was in utter defiance.
So like his mother.
“Can I have my bow back?” His blue eyes flashed.
He’s pushing me, Robert thought, amazed, he’s seeing how far he can go. How unlike him…
“No!” Robert advanced. Rosamund let out a little gasp. Robin stood his ground.
“I’ll make another,” he said, looking hopeful.
“You will not!”
Robert realized the little bow was raised above his head. Robin’s face faltered, fear showing in his eyes.
In the background, he could hear the boy’s mother pleading with him. He could feel her pulling at his arm.
“What is your name?” he said, almost whispered.
“Robin,” the little boy said, just as hushed.
What are you going to do, Father? the eyes asked, innocent and yet so old-looking in expression.
He shook free of his wife and struck out, almost without thinking.
Robin fell, his cheek reddening where the wood had come in contact with his skin. Blood swelled on his lips. His eyes were wide, hurt, lost. His lips moved.
Rosamund was screaming at him, gathering the little boy to her, her hair in her face, her eyes like bright, sharp stones.
He dropped the bow and quiver and turned his back on both of them.
The next day, he rode for London.
* * * * *
Robert remembered this, and so much more, looking into the accusing eyes of the sick young man on the floor before him. It had been this room, he realized. The last time he’d seen his wife, his son.
He felt dizzy.
“What happened?” he asked, thickly.
“Mother died soon after I reached eight years of age,” Robin said, looking away, “the High Sheriff took over the manor and said that he needed five years of slave labor to pay off the taxes. He then gave me as a gift to the man who would become the next High Sheriff—Ralph Murdoc. I lived in hell for the next seven years.” He glanced up. “You can see why I thought you dead. If you were alive, why would you leave me in such a place?”
Robert turned from those searching eyes. “You were—a slave?”
He’d had such high hopes for his son, from the very moment he made it into the world, pink and squalling.
“Aye,” Robin said.
The word stung. Not only in its meaning, but its usage. How had his son—the son of a noble—become such a commoner?
“Many things you would disapprove of, I’m sure,” Robin said. “I ran away. Became outlawed. There’s one bright side. I married a Norman girl.”
“You did what?”
Slight amusement hung around Robin’s tired face. “What I said.”
“This—outlawry. What did you go by?”
The amusement vanished. They both knew what was coming. “Robin Hood.”
Robert felt deflated. “You have disgraced me.”
“I assumed as much.”
Robin looked at the floor, then pushed himself back to his feet. He stood straight. “You disgraced me as well,” he said, softly, “if that were possible in the codes of honor.”
“Get out of my sight,” Robert said, hand shaking on his sword hilt.
“King Richard pardoned me.”
Robin shrugged and turned, heading for the door. He turned, touching his scarred cheek. “Do you remember that last day?” he asked. “When you hit me? I thought of you. When Murdoc cut me.”
He shut the door.
A childish voice echoed in Robert’s head as he turned to the longbow on the table.
I’ll make another.