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SHORT FIC - AD 1186: The Nottingham May Faire - PRE-SERIES

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Apr. 26th, 2011 | 05:10 pm
mood: mischievousmischievous
posted by: nettlestonenell in robinsociety

Title: The Nottingham May Faire
Author: Nettlestone Nell
Word Count: 4857
Rating: G
Characters/Pairings: Marian, Robin, Much, Robin/Marian, OCs.
Spoilers/Warnings: 100% pre-series speculation. No spoilers for the show. It does build somewhat on my prior flashback, AD 1185: The Pleasure of a Peasant's Revel posted at 'Society of People Who Are Afraid of Maid Marian'.
Summary: Pre-series. Following the autumn betrothal of Lady Marian of Knighton and Robin of Locksley, the May Faire festival comes to Nottingham and reveals how much one of them has been forced to change, and the other, how little.
A/N: Another (pretty much) entirely stand-alone excerpt from a far longer fic I wrote trying to mend the deadly outcome of Season Two.
Disclaimer: No one can truly own the legend of Robin Hood, but BBC/Tiger Aspect seem to hold rights to this particular iteration.
Category: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance; Short Fic (1,001-5k words)

The Nottingham May Faire

It is the May following the autumnal betrothal of the Earl of Huntingdon's son and the Sheriff of Nottingham's daughter. Robin is 18, Marian still 15 (his birthday is October, hers has not yet happened). Edward of Knighton occupies the seat of High Sheriff of Nottingham. His two sons, Edrick and Clem, have both died (as has Lady Knighton), leaving him with no male heir, and a daughter as his only family.

The May Faire has come to Nottingham, and the town and castle grounds swell with its gaiety, and booths spill out beyond the drawbridge and (at this prosperous time) still-filled moat. Color is everywhere, and for those with money to spend (or an eye to earn it) there is fascination of every kind.

All of Nottinghamshire seems to be present. For the many nobility celebrating the holiday, the inner bailey and the castle, where sedate parties and elaborate feasts are planned, is the acceptable social center of their festival.

But, naturally, as we would expect, Robin and his mates have come not for what the castle offers the ruling class, but for the shooting contests, games of chance, and pretty local (and visiting) girls to be found in abundance among the peasantry.

It's May, a month where almost any behavior is excused, and high-spirits (and tankards of spirits) rule the day. For any eighteen-year-old, but particularly for a privileged eighteen-year-old set to one day become Earl of Huntingdon, it is quite the auspicious occasion. No girl is too pretty that he might not catch her eye, no seller's trinket too costly that he might not afford it. He is goldenness incarnate, and nothing can touch him. As such, no door is closed to him, within the castle or without.

Milling about amongst a cluster of young men his age, Robin, as we might expect, is ever the leader. "What say you, lads? Where shall we begin the afternoon's fun?"

"Wherever the prettiest maids might be found," suggested Bor, the biggest among then, and still tightly in the grip of teenage acne, but never allowing it to dampen his always jolly spirits when it came to girls.

"Nah," answered Sim, leaning against a barrel and picking his teeth with a long piece of hay. He was slim and sometimes over-sure of himself. "All the prettiest ones are back at the castle." Sim was just beginning to be of an age where his father's dislike of the masses was claiming him as well.

"Ah, pretty maids know no social class!" Robin protested, confidant that the gift of beauty was no respecter of persons.

"Says the man wot is betrothed to the prettiest of them yet." That from Arth, the ugliest among them, and the least civilized, too, hairy as a Viking, who closed his eyes every night just wishing a girl might take a second look at him.

"She's not really that pretty," dissented Gamien quietly (as he did all things: quietly). "And her disposition is far from pleasant." He had more than once been on the wrong end of said disposition.

"Yeah," Bor asked, his curiosity genuine, "how'd you ever get the old sheriff to agree to that? Wedding his daughter to you?"

"Probably let yer dad do the job for ye, eh?" Arth teased.

Sim's tone was more derisive: "While you were too busy out in your woods to put thought to your future, and the pleasant evenings wot could be had with such a lass under yer covers."

Robin did not like that sort of talk. It was new for Sim. It sounded more like something Sim's father might say when he was in his cups. Robin thought about calling him on it. Marian was, after all, his future wife. He supposed it was up to him to defend her honor, his honor. Well, someone's honor.

He threw the first punch, claiming first blood, and a glory of a scuffle followed, dirt and fists flying everywhere. In his not-yet-finished growth, Robin was slender but spry, and wiry, and he had been allowed to fight more frequently (parts of his upbringing rather an afterthought) than had Sim.

But even in the end, when they were separated, no one could say who had come out the winner. It was like all their fights: a blowing-off of adolescent steam. If the lads didn't have a scrap between some two of them every hour or so, things might combust into something really nasty. And at the end of these tussles they were all still friends again, or at least, as much friends as they ever were in the first place.

"She's here, you know," Gamien pointed out, when the dust cleared. "I saw her at the castle."

"Well, that is more than I can vouchsafe," Robin admitted truthfully, shrugging. "I have not seen her these long winter months". He was the only one of them yet betrothed, his position plummier than theirs, his father (and Marian's) better able to play their advantage in matchmaking and empire-building.

"And you have had no word? No billet-doux to warm your heart? And your loins?" Sim taunted him. "Is that what sent you into Kit Carlisle's arms? Sick for love?"

"Why's she talk so funny now?" Arth asked, preventing Robin having to answer Sim's leading questions. "She don't sound right anymore."

"Her father has sent her for polishing," Robin explained patiently, as he had been explained to patiently, when finally he had noticed that he did not ever see Marian around anymore (it had taken him from September to Christmas to notice her absence, so frequent was his own absence from any social gathering). "He wants her to be posh, I reckon. She was sent to her mother's sister's house near Guildford. That is where she has been this long time. At her lessons."

They had walked along while they spoke, and found themselves in front of a fortuneteller's gypsy wagon, set beyond the portcullis of the castle. Robin turned to move them away from it: he had no desire to hear about his future. He got that news nightly (when he could be found by anyone at Locksley Manor), delivered to him in tones ranging from loud to hushed-with-intensity by his earl father, whose grew less and less satisfied with what he saw as his growing-to-grown son's lack of responsibility taking.

But when Robin turned to avoid the fortuneteller, he and his mates came face to face with a flock of, a pride of, a gaggle of--castle pretties. The noble maidens had been allowed to leave the castle to see the Faire, and there, in the middle of them, standing out from the rest like the North Star, taller than the others, looking straight at him, stood Marian.

The lads froze stock-still, any bravado they had had only moments ago evaporating. Tongues grew thick, brains turned soft, and hands and armpits sweat with fear.

The girls, all silk and fetching hip-girdles, hints of still-growing curves, sweet smells and elaborate hairdos, belied their mature appearance, and collapsed into tittering giggles.

Except Marian. Except Robin. Each held their ground, their gazes locked like the leaders of two rivals gang, sizing one another up.

Why would she not giggle like the others, Robin found himself asking. Would it hurt so much to act (even if it were only an act) like one of the other silly, foolish girls? Weren't all fifteen-year-old girls supposed to be more or less ninnies for 95 percent of the time anyway? (The other five percent were they not supposed to be only irresistible for kissing?)

But they certainly weren't supposed to be able to look. Like that.

Had she heard the name Kit Carlisle, he wondered? Would Regina, standing to her left, her light hair in a braid, keep secret that kiss last Christmas? Okay, those three kisses? Before his mind spun him the logic of further possible disasters, before he could further contemplate that look she was still aiming at him, he turned on his heel and swept past the curtain into the fortuneteller's gypsy wagon.

The woman inside was not old, nor wizened, as he had expected her to be. She was younger, and quite pretty enough to have caught his fancy, were his wife-to-be not still standing (he was sure she was still there, waiting, waiting), distractingly on the other side of the curtain.

What was he afraid of, anyway? He was to be the husband to Marian, the one who governed the relationship, their home, their very life. Had his father not instructed him so as often as he might since their autumnal betrothal? Knowing that, knowing that was how marriage between nobles worked, what had Robin to dread?

That Marian was not much one to be governed, his mind spoke up. That no matter the amount of polish, nor if she had come back from her aunt's speaking only fluent Cornish, she was not biddable by nature, no more than he. And how could he, how could he now, how could he ever, take on such a responsibility that he knew in his heart of hearts he could not fulfill? That he did not wish to fulfill. He no more wished to govern a woman than he wished to himself be governed.

Last fall, cast in the right lighting, and the right mood, eventual marriage had seemed three worlds and several lifetimes away, but he knew now--his earl father had well-apprised him--the plans became ever more solidified, the day ever-closer.

He had not noticed as the woman had begun to light herbs and consult various items in front of her.

She spoke. "You will travel."

Oh, yes, he had heard the like of this before.

She squinted. "An ill-advised trip to the Holy Land."

He attempted a similar squint at the same object. "Will I see the Holy City? Jerusalem?"

"You will see death." She frowned as she looked at something closer, then grabbed his hand to see the lines it held.

He wondered at the calluses from his bow: had those made affect on his future? Had they altered what was to be his path? Could he have such power over his own fate?

Certainly his father would not like such an idea. One was born to the Earldom, to its inherent responsibility to the land, the people, the sovereign. One did not somehow manage to subvert such God-given noblesse oblige.

"The Green Man watches you, I see it," she told him. "He calls to you. His song you know well."

"Tell me of my wife," he asked her, certain that she knew of him, enough to know that he loved the forest (so it seemed), and so would know he was troth'd to Marian.

Her lower lip jutted out from her mouth. "A child," she announced. "Your child. It will be known by all for a bastard."

"Right," he agreed with her, his face now cracking with a saucy smile. "And you probably tell that to every lad what steps in here, trying to keep them better behaved than nature made them."

He flipped several coins into her money pot for her time, for his moment of hiding here, and again stepped out to meet the sun. And Marian.

"Lads, come! Let us have who is next, for this fair sage's prophecies are so spot-on, I have a mind to try my hand at the gaming tables such is my luck!"

"And what has she told you, Robin," sang out Liss, a sometime particular favorite of his, when her two older brothers were not at home.

Marian still had that look about her. Giggle, he thought. Just once, giggle! Simper, something! Something to show you're still flesh and blood.

He stood at the top step of the gypsy wagon, elevated from the rest of the crowd and crowed. "She has predicted seventeen children as the fruit of my marriage! Fourteen of them strong boys."

The gang of young men sniggered deeply and impishly as though he had spoken the naughtiest of double entendres, smacking each other on the back, and laboring to catch their breath.

His announcement did indeed prove Marian flesh and blood. That blood flooded her face in embarrassment at his boast.

"First wife, or second?" asked Fann, a good-hearted freckled girl whose elderly father was the manager-in-residence of Bonchurch Lodge, thus giving her a minor elevation in society to mingle with girls of more genteel birth.

"No," he said aloud, significantly locking eyes again with the still-blushing Marian. Curse her if even in her mortification she would not avert her eyes. "I shall marry only once."

"Oyez, oyez," the crier was heard above the Faire's din before another gibe could let fly (for surely one of the lads would have offered it). "Let it be known the shooting contest is set to begin in one hour beyond the jousting meadow."

The clump of young men and castle girls began to disperse then, slowly pairing up, self-consciously at first, and then the lads, perhaps fearing they might not get a try at the girl of their choosing, sped along the process, several of them getting a lass to each arm.

Shortly, Marian and Robin were without the insulating safety of their entourages.

"You have come to shoot," she said, her tones now indeed round and fluid, though the bow slung over his shoulder made her observation unnecessary.

"No," he corrected her. "I have come to have fun." And his eyes twinkled.

She returned his look of mischief with one far less sympathetic, rather, suspicious.

"Let us have some fun together, Marian," he offered, adding, as incentive (reading her state of mind correctly), "surely your father would like for us to be seen together."

"What, now that all the other girls have gone on without you?"

Why did she always do that, pretend like he selected her out of necessity, instead of by choice?

"You may go after them if you like." She bowed, a Courtly dismissal. "I shall not keep you."

This provoked in him a prickly response. "I have never yet had trouble finding girls to keep me company." With one hand's sweeping gesture he took in the whole Faire, and its crowd.

Marian turned her back to him quickly, to leave. He could not see her wounded expression. She was a mess of contradictions.

"No, wait!" he went after her. "That was not the right thing to say."

She stopped and turned back to him.

He looked to the nearest booth. "I shall buy you a ribbon for your wrist," he offered, seeing its wares, "to make peace."

"No," she said, a bit too strongly to be simply declining the offer of a trinket.

His head jerked up from the display of ribbon he had been inspecting.

"You only do it to brag to your friends that I am yours, that I wear your token tied like a shackle about my wrist. Am I not obviously enough your prize, with your mother's ring on my hand, and veiled for your benefit?"

"What do you mean, 'for my benefit'?" he asked, the way she had said the words as though they were a witch's hex. "Is this not how you choose to wear your hair?"

The veil fabric, though sheer, was fastened about her head so that no part of her hairline was visible. Certainly it was a mark of fashion no eighteen-year-old male spent any time pondering, though upon reflection it was a commonality among married female nobles. He noted that the style made Marian's wildflower blue eyes seem larger by half, and twice as bewitchingly expressive.

"My aunt in Guildford says I must wear it, as the girls there do, once they are affianced. They must cover their hair like married women. It is meant as a sign that their..." she worked hard for the word, ruling out several (more accurate) others, "beauty is to be seen only by their husband."

Robin took a moment and thought back. It was rare that he had seen Marian with her head covered. She had, when they were younger, been outdoors so often that her hair was always a-tumble, never staying neatly put. The last time he had seen her it had been long, two feet well below her waist, plaited so as not to get in the way, but a far cry from the ornate hairdressings and headcovering most noblewomen modeled.

"And so this is my fault? Though it is none of my doing, nor none of my want?" He did not bother to take care in his tone, as he was now in a temper. "I cannot say you have much improved with your time at Guildford."

"Nor you, with your doubtlessly endless time skylarking in Sherwood." He could not know how jealous of him she was for that.

"I think I should like a rotten tree there far better than the company of your aunt."

And she laughed. Not a giggle, not a silly twitter, but a laugh.

"Come," he said, grabbing her by the hand; a peasant's way to walk, not as the gentry, with her hand elegantly resting atop his extended forearm. "We will have no ribbons today," he declared. "But I shall buy you an olive."

Robin bought several large olives from a vendor of Grecian delicacies, and when they had eaten all but two, it was time for the shooting contest to begin. They watched the standard target shooting, and she marveled that he did not enter. Several of his mates had, but none got very far. It was Dan Scarlet of Locksley that took the prize for target shooting, and Marian and Robin watched the award of it, as he stood with his wife proudly by his side to accept the quiver of arrows made by Nottingham's finest (and most expensive) fletcher.

"There," she heard Robin agree under his breath, "now that is just about right."

And so Robin's not entering came to make perfect sense.

He did enter the trick shooting competition.

"Help me out now, won't you?" he asked, without being more specific, and she allowed herself to be pulled along behind him.

Several men before him had been using the same beggar to shoot apples off his head, which proved the most popular trick-shot of the day thus far, but when the poor beggar stepped up to Robin, with his hand out for the small coin that would be his payment for taking the risk, Robin overpaid him by a farthing and waved him away.

"Trust me, Marian," he said to her, his eyes intent on hers for an instant as though there was no one else in the world. She had barely gotten her breath back from the intensity of the exchange before she realized he had backed her up against the wooden wall that served as a target, and was arranging her left hand against the boards at shoulder level, so that she gripped one of the last plump olives between her thumb and forefinger.

"I have been practicing on Much," he assured her, his voice calm and even as though she were a horse that might spook. "Though his nerves make him a bit shaky for a target. You, I think, shall do much better." And then came the smile he knew how to wield so well, even at eighteen.

The crowd, upon seeing that he cheekily used the Sheriff's own daughter as his mark, roared their thunderous approval, and in the wake of their response she found herself loathe to leave the field, though she did not doubt poor Much shook. She was at her wit's end suppressing her own tremors.

Thankfully, with some sleight-of-hand, Robin had distracted her from the fact that he had also set a second fat olive upon her head, giving himself two targets, either one of which it was greatly unlikely any archer might hit, much less the two simultaneously.

His even daring to attempt the trick had the crowd in a frenzy of anticipation.

He fed off their energy, letting it go far to convince him he could pull it off. He had, more than several times in the forest--when Much would stand still for it. Of course Marian was taller, as Much had not yet had his growth spurt, and she wobbled appreciably less.

He nocked the two arrows (his best fletching work of late) on his bow simultaneously and sighted the line to each olive. He took in the direction and strength of the breeze. He could do this.

The green color of the second olive stood out perfectly against the white sheer veil Marian's hair was restrained in. Even on a cloudy day he could have seen it. But then his eyes did a trick of their own, and all he could see, his mind and concentration suddenly muddied, was the headcovering. She wore it because she had to--for him. Because of him. In his name someone was made to do something against their will.

She had not said she would not marry him, that she would dissolve their own agreement, only that she did not wish to be so publicly designated as someone's prize. Robin liked prizes. Hoped to win one for this shot, but how could he be this girl's husband? How could he take on responsibility for another person's life--when he was frequently told that he took so little for his own?

Awash in these unexpected thoughts, he lost his grip on the bowstring prematurely, he forgot to breathe.

The arrows flew, with the crowd's anticipate in-suck of breath behind them.

The olive between Marian's fingers: its pit pinned perfectly to the boards, its fruit shorn in two, on the grass below.

Half the crowd cheered, the other half hissed.

The olive on her head went un-struck. His aim had faltered, and the arrow meant for it had instead split her veil, following the line of her hair's part perfectly, but in doing so the olive had rolled and plopped to the ground. With that blunder, Robin's defeat total.

He would win no prize that day.

"This is fine Venetian fabric!" Marian protested when they were again within speaking distance, but her face showed no emotion of outrage over the cut. She held the rent veil in her hands, sun catching in her dark, uncovered hair, twisted into the severe knot it had been dressed as for the veiling.

"Do not ask me to buy you another," he said, displeased with both his poor shooting and his mind's quandary where she was concerned. "You may have your pick of girdles or sashes, if you like."

Marian studied the torn fabric. She did not attempt to console him (or even mention) his lack of triumph in the contest.

As there had been no giggles before, there was no uber-sympathetic nonsense to comfort his ego, no dramatic over-motherly concern for his wounded pride. She was really not much like other girls.

"I have not been allowed outside for this long in upwards of three months." She spoke to her hands, not looking at him, as though she were in the Confessional. "And I am never allowed to ride. Even when we are traveling I must always sit in the coach." At that, her foot scuffed at the ground, wanting to kick something in frustration.

"Are you tired of the Faire?" he wondered, aloud.

"Oh, no!" she brightened, "Far from it, only, I don't know what I want, only I know I want to do something."

It was a feeling he was well-enough acquainted with. Without telling her why, he directed them through the crowds toward the East Gate. Along the way they stopped at several shows and plays, browsing the booths.

Much was waiting for him at the gate.

"Thought I told you to go and have some fun?" Robin chid the younger boy, two months away from fifteen, and dwarfed in height--and social grace--by Robin.

"The Earl told me, when he found me," dismay was visible in the servant's eye, "to find you and attend upon you, especially once he heard you had found the Sheriff's daughter," a quick cast of his eyes to and away from Marian, "to escort."

"Well, then, you may fetch my horse, please it my father to make you work on a festival day."

Much returned with the horse.

"What think you, Marian?" Robin asked, believing his invitation to a ride clear.

Marian responded with a full critique of the animal, thorough and specific enough to do justice to any horse trader. "...He is not a very elegant mount, and short of stride, too. Is he much fit for an Earl's son, grown?"

Robin almost laughed at her serious assessment of Griffyn, his belovedly familiar, but hardly regal (and somewhat aged) gelding. He drolly reassured her that Griffyn was plenty enough horse for him: "I am not going to war, Marian. I need not sit a destrier."

She ran her hand along the dappled grey's flank with an almost thirsty yen. She seemed unaware of what Robin was offering her.

Without preamble, Robin grabbed her about the waist, and tossed her into the saddle. She landed well, seated (as society expected) with both legs over one side. A moment later he mounted behind her (and the saddle), Griffyn's long back used enough to carrying two, from Much's and his frequent doubling up.

He took the reins, encircling her inside of them and his extended arms, her hands to the pommel, and, with style and aplomb none among the aristocracy could fault, they left through the East Gate, with a wave to Much. There were not many about the East Gate, as action had moved all not ensconced within the castle away to the jousting grounds.

In the saddle, Marian held her back stiff, erect to the point Robin felt pain and effort just looking at it, his arm longing to curve about it in a gentle touch that might say, "it's okay, there is no one watching now". But her rigid posture dissuaded him. The cantle prevented his pelvis from coming into any close contact with her left hip and side, which he imagined cold as ice. This notion saddened him, only making him resent this aunt (and the father who had sent Marian to her) more.

They walked Griffyn, then cantered him a short distance to a coppice of trees away from, but well in sight of, Nottingham's walls.

Robin dismounted, and Marian looked as though she thought she must, too.

He raised his hand to stop her.

"Take him out," he offered. "Give him his head if he will take it. Do as you like."

"My gown is not meant for riding astride," she commented to the empty air in front of her.

"There are none here that I see to care for your aunt's interpretation of propriety," Robin assured her.

She swiveled herself quite efficiently into a forward-facing position on the saddle, and paused.

One look to him and she dismounted. His understanding of her desire was swift: in no time they had unstrapped Griffyn's saddle and she had re-mounted him bareback and astride, impressively without assistance from the flat of the ground.

Her skirts did little to hide her lower legs, such was their narrow cut, but Marian no longer seemed aware of it, smiling a thanks as she galloped Griffyn away at breakneck speed, leaving Robin to himself (but not unhappily so) among the stand of trees.

She returned sooner than he would have expected, at the sun giving its first indications of setting. She rode in with the colors of the coming sunset to her back. Her hair had come undone, or she had taken it down. It fell all about her, knots and tangles well-begun from her wild riding and the wind's mischief-making hand. She did not seem to notice. A flush was on her cheeks and her eyes were bright as she wordlessly extended an arm to help him up behind her. In accepting it he thought he took the arm of long-dead Boudicca, riding hard to fight the Romans and avenge her family; her pride and fierceness, her tenacity well-known to both enemy and friend.

Doubtless, Boudicca had not giggled. Or simpered. Or flirted by placating the ego of a man who knew damn well he had slipped his bowstring prematurely.

He did not attempt to take the reins from Marian. One did not overthrow a Boudicca's power so.

"How fast, do you think," Marian wondered aloud, "with both of us?"

"Well," said Robin, swallowing back a sweet word he might have called her (one did not offer pet names to the warrior queen Boudicca), assaying a humorous tone calling for temperance in the matter; "let us not ruin him. But let us," he abandoned the jokingly serious tone, "afford him the opportunity to distinguish himself."

In short order it became necessary for Robin to hold on to Marian's waist quite tightly. Which, he found, was entirely agreeable.

A/N: The seer's prediction about the child specifically concerns the plot of my longer work "Death Would Be Simpler to Deal With" from which this flashback is taken. That completed fic can be found in its entirety at fanfiction.net.

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