SHORT FIC - AD 1189: The Sheriff's Black-haired Daughter - Pre-series
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May. 4th, 2011 | 05:28 pm
posted by: nettlestonenell in robinsociety
Author: Nettlestone Nell
Word Count: 1938
Characters/Pairings: Robin, Much, Marian, King Richard, Robin/Marian
Spoilers/Warnings: Pre-series. Spoiler-free.
Summary: Pre-series standalone. Set during Robin's time on Crusade. Some memories (thankfully) never truly desert you.
*Part of a longer work, "Death Would Be Simpler to Deal With", written as Neftzer at fanfiction.net
Disclaimer: No one can truly own the legend of Robin Hood, but BBC/Tiger Aspect seem to hold rights to this particular iteration.
Category: Drama; Short Fic
Community: Robin Appreciation Society
The Sheriff's Black-haired Daughter
A desert battlefield.
He felt the hair on his head, slick and matted from nearly a half-day of hard-fought battle. They were to the close one-on-one now, swords flashing in the hot Palestine sun. Like two suns, really, his mind told him. Utterly shadeless. And still he fought. Lunge, parry, sidestep. Always looking for the good ground in the ever-shifting dunes of sand. His mind had begun to wander from its own weariness, from the exhaustion of his physical self.
He battled this opponent, but he was beginning to lose the ability to be fully mentally present. Dangerous stuff, Locksley, he heard himself say quietly aloud between grunts and roars and more ringing steel. He used that name when he talked to himself in his head, its hominess like a prayer, or a tonic to him. It was a meaningless place word (to most) which one would not tend to hear on Crusade. Meaningless to most. To him, all. He did not doubt his bones could feel, even over this distance, the very vibration of the thrice-daily rung chapel bell on Locksley's lake, the tremor it made on the waters a millisecond before the blessed sound came to your ear. Locksley. And he was to the deathblow, and this fellow before him dispatched. Finished.
Attuned again to the present moment, he did not even wipe the sweat from his eyes before looking up from the man's body. The sun again. Ah! the sun. It forgave nothing and no one. The fighting was dying down now. He cast his eyes about for his next skirmish, then, to the distance. He thought he saw palms, clumped as they would be about an oasis. Had that been there before? Or was it a mirage? Something on the wind turned him sunward, and he was met with a flash of brilliant jewel blue, a long scarf aloft, high overhead, attached to naught, impossibly here, flitting, flirting above the battlefield carnage. His neck spun him quickly in the opposite direction: where had it come from? And there, among the littered field walked, in a dress of equally brilliant blue, Marian, the Sheriff's black-haired daughter, her gait that of almost floating, scanning the ground with her eyes, and yet not seeming to behold what was before her. The sun's heat did not touch her, only its light brought further depth to her dark hair, intricately plaited down her back.
He beheld her wordlessly, his breath coming slowly and deeply as a thirsted man might drink a cask of water; in long, measured draughts. He did not wish to blink his eyes. He did not know how long the hallucination might last, and yet he thanked his overwrought mind for gifting it to him. "Robin, to me!" he heard Richard shout beside him, heard the clangor of the day return to his ears, and he turned as he must, as he must, sword to the King's ready, and she was gone.
...Another time, still crusading in the Holy Land. Early evening in the tent home and camp of a sheik on land captured and held by the Lionheart. A sheik (most-likely forced) to offer a version of "hospitality" to his conquerors; including making all women in his camp and under his protection available for the king's knights' pleasure. Still, for all the nasty truth behind the gesture, there is an air of near-gentility in the encounter, though it is, in essence, an enforced slave brothel. On this occasion it is possible some war machinations/planning/diplomacy will take place, as this sheik is connected to Saladin himself.
The flap of the tent door pulled back and Sir this and Sir that of the King's guard entered the large tent, its dome draped in intricate fabrics and luxurious carpets; its pillow-strewn floor peopled by the sheik's women. Mothers, sisters, wives, servant and free, and each one seeming more beautiful than the last, outfitted like queens, swathed in jewels and veils, looking more like expensive gifts for unwrapping than unwilling participants in this show of the sheik's submission to Richard, or Malik-Ric as he was known here.
The King, as a rule, ignored the pleasures to be taken from native women, as he similarly ignored/overlooked the way in which his knight soldiers chose to treat the same women. Some few knights followed the King's example. Among these were Robin of Locksley and his attendant, Much, often choosing to stand guard for the King instead of joining the bacchanal.
This evening truly was a spectacular showing.
Few Saracen men could be found within the tent. Those who could be seen clustered together, approximating a social gathering, enjoying hookah pipes, the smoke and scent of which further perfumed the heavy air.
Much let the tent flap fall as he stepped inside, following Robin. His master's easy self-possession in any situation gave Much borrowed strength even here, in the midst of the enemy. They scanned the room ("Well, now, it wasn't quite a room, now, was it, being the inside of a tent and all," Much thought) in preparation of the arriving King, following close behind them.
Robin moved ahead into a point position, his line of sight for sweeping the area for threats constantly hampered by pillows and hookah cords, as well as the women everywhere and their billowing coverings pooling in puddles of silk around them on the floor. Any one could pose a risk for the King. Who could know what "threats", what weapons this native garb might conceal?
Still and all it was an important night, and one whose diplomatic potential even a cautious Robin was not prepared to imperil by over-zealously pressing security issues to the point of offense. He turned to Much, prepared to give the 'clear' sign and bring in Richard, and resolved to be all the more alert to make up for the messy security situation at hand.
Though Robin's eyes looked for threats to assess, in truth he found himself hard-pressed this night to ignore the show of beauty and the display of luxury the King's presence had brought about. Robin of Locksley (Sir Robin here, though he never required the use of that formal address) was not an earl's son for nothing, and though he could live as sparsely (and as happily) as a church mouse, he still knew an appreciation for fine things. And fine things were often a rarity in the desert for the devoted (and uncorrupted) Crusader; even among the King's Own guard.
Caught in a moment of pause before signaling to Much, something like a cool breeze blew past his right cheek, causing him to turn in response. Something cool here? In this desert's tent packed with the breezeless haze of bodies and smoke? In two hours' time when the sun had fully set, perhaps, outside, but within? Not likely.
In an instant he felt as alive as an arrow sprung into flight, his back taut, his muscles primed yet limber. But what was to come?
Much was forgotten in the space of that eye's twinkling, the waiting King forgotten as well. Robin knew not where to look. It was happening. Something-something was happening. His eyes widened, he cast them everywhere, but they kept returning to the women, seated in a long line, as if they were queued among the stalls of Nottingham's market day, yet their only wares themselves. After several attempts to stop looking them over, sure he was fighting some base instinct and not his own intuition, he gave in, letting his eyes travel from woman to woman, attempting to discern as much as possible from the small amount of their faces they showed when in company.
Movement like a ripple in a pond came from further down the row. It was subtle, but one woman in almost-royal amethyst silks stirred from her place, and Robin's world-weary eyes came to rest on hers just as the cool breeze that could not in fact be a cool breeze again portentously found his cheek.
There could be no doubt, though her hair and lower face were veiled: the clear, quick eyes of Marian of Knighton looked into his, standing out as they always did, against her pale-to-perfection skin.
(Even in his daze he had to correct himself: Marian spent far too much time on a horse for the true-pale skin of ladies of the Court to ever take hold over her. Nonetheless, her skin's tone was startlingly different to that of the women surrounding him.)
They were quick eyes, as sharp in their movement as a hawk, but lacking in avian fierceness; never dewy or limpid as he had heard other ladies' described, but nimble as those of the hart, vacillating between parts feral and gentled.
Oh, how he dreamed those eyes in his sleep some nights. How he had pored over their peculiar beauty on unending long marches! How even now his mind became ridiculously poetic at the sight of them.
There was no time to question her appearing to him here. Her eyes, widening upon drawing his gaze, showed him all he needed to know: here, in this sheik's tent, was something to be feared. He watched, the breeze-that-could-not-be still at his cheek. He looked to see her, see what he could of the vision of her like a monk studies his copy work; keenest of attention to the smallest of each fine, intricate detail. Slowly, nearly imperceptibly, her head moved from side to side, warning him away. Coins adorning the fringe of the headpiece she wore caught the light and twinkled, and if he were closer they would have jangled in his ear. He thought that he might gladly submit himself even to a Saracen lash if only she might stand close enough to him that he might hear the tinkling resonance of those coins in this impossible cool breeze.
He lifted his eyebrows in a silent request across the fifteen feet or so between them that he might delay their now-inevitable departure for only a moment to step closer to her.
Her eyes blazed in alarm.
He felt himself start to speak to her, brought his hand to his mouth to stop the words from coming, never taking his eyes off her, and instead spoke to Much, now remembered. The King, now remembered. Everything, now remembered. The girl, the Maid of Nottingham, never forgotten.
The King's entourage left the encampment forthwith, without question.
Robin could not recall when she vanished, could not recall turning his gaze away from her, for in truth, he never had.
He would never have admitted that that evening reopened an ache within him, but he was so distracted by the evening's events, still half-slumbering in them, his mind so enchanted by the unexpected vision that on the return to the King's Camp, when another knight took a moment to renew teasing him about his believed impassiveness toward the native women, Robin (to Much's shock and dismay) admitted having, that night, encountered one he rather fancied quite a lot. A moment of speechlessness overtook their company, and then the guffaws and backslapping started: Huntingdon had made a fine joke!
It was early dawn of the next day when news reached them of the sheik's encampment. Following an attack, not a living thing was left, the camp plundered and razed to the ground. It was never known which side was responsible; neither claimed it for their own. And Robin of Locksley knew only this: his king was, for another day, safe. And the King, the Lionheart, knew only this: he had Sir Robin of Locksley to thank for it.