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Of Days and Knights
I saw him before he saw me, I could say of our first encounter. I noticed him as soon as he stepped foot into the market, the crowded market of people from distant lands and classes, come together to trade and to bargain. The market may have been crowded, but he was more different than anyone had ever seen, than anyone with which I had ever made associations. He stood out in the crowd, one could say. The man, though thin and lanky, was well-built and stood above everyone else of the masses. He hid his face with a hood and, snatching a fruit from a street vendor’s cart, proved his quickness by then almost nearly disappearing and reappearing in the alley near me, a magnificent feat that left the vendor none the wiser.
I seemed to be the only person to notice, so I myself raised my hood and made the way to the alley, ready to apprehend the thief. But, there was no thief in the alley. There was only a small boy, maybe seven, and a toddling baby girl, both in rags, eating the apple gratefully. I could not bear to take away the apple; the children looked like they had not eaten in days. I turned from them, unable to do anything to help, and found my path blocked by a tall shadow that consumed all of the light formerly entering the alley.
“Let me pass,” I ordered the figure.
“Now, now, miss. What are you doing in this alley alone? One should not stray too far from home.” The figure’s deep tone echoed around the alley, making the situation seem dangerous. I reached into my cloak and gripped my weapon, ready to attack.
“I am trying to catch a thief. I saw you steal the apple, Hood. You need to pay the man from whom you stole, otherwise I will report you.”
“Hood, now that is a perfect name. Mysterious, yes? Call me ‘the Hood’. No, it is too simple. Oh well, never mind, I will find a name later. Now, please explain to me what gives you the authority to accuse me of stealing?”
“I am marrie-.”
“Oh, your name is Mary? No, no, you look more like a Marian. Now, let us discuss this somewhere else, please? We are scaring the children. They have had a hard enough time. I found them in the trash. Their parents died of consumption. No one will take them. I need to find a home for them.” Most of his talk was more aimed at himself than me. We left the alley and began to walk along the path that led out of the town. We stopped at the entrance to the forest, whose green leaves only hinted at the fast unknown things behind the branches and foliage.
“Sir, I must say, you are quiet rude.”
“And my lady, I must say, you are like a stick in the mud and a hypocrite. You may accuse me of being a thief, yet you did nothing to the vendor who was selling his apples for three pieces of gold. No one has that money, none except for the king and the nobles.”
“Sir, if your mind weren’t as scattered as a bird, you would realize that the peasants should work harder if they want nice things.”
“You are a noble, I take it? Well, I will let you alone and take none of your money if you point me in the nearest direction to Camelot.”
“You were in it, sir. And I would suggest you leave. We are not fond of your kind here. Now sir, before I leave you, I wish you to tell me your name so that I can report you to the sheriff or the king himself.”
“Call me the Hood, madam, and we shall be meeting again.” He hood fell from his head for only a few seconds, revealing an impish grin and eyes as blue as the deepest lake as he disappeared into the forest, leaving nothing to hint that he had even been there.
I turned on my heel and hurriedly walked to the town, feeling like I was being watched the entire time by the haunting deep blue eyes. That night, I wondered about the mysterious stranger and hoped that his prediction would come true and that we would meet again.
A few days later, I was informed that several new knights were to be inducted into the company and there was to be a celebration, and though I disagreed, I had to attend.
The festivities were grand, as usual; there was beautiful music and a plethora of assorted foods from the distant lands in the East. All of the nobles of the kingdom, as well as some from neighboring lands, were in attendance and had donned their best clothes; there was a chance that some were going to be talking to the Grand King Arthur, after all, so why should they not dress their best?
Unfortunately, I had become the main center of Arthur’s interest long before they had and I had married him, so I was going to be the first and possibly the only person that he would speak to the entire night willingly. Now, I am not saying that Arthur was an unpleasant person, but Arthur was a man dedicated to his work, meaning that I would often go weeks without speaking or laying eyes on his towering, prideful stature and I often found myself in utter boredom, sometimes willing myself not to defenestrate my body from the highest tower in the castle.
At the festivities, after everyone had eaten and Arthur and I were on our fourth dance, one of the new knights interrupted the dance and started speaking rapidly on the importance of some military tactic in battle to Arthur, which allowed me to slip away and catch my breath. I found a seat in the corner, alone, and tried to get a moment’s rest, which was when I was interrupted by another knight.
“You look marvelous, my lady. Tell me, who is the man that is graced by your presence and is blessed to call you his own?” The knight said from behind me.
“I am Lady Guinevere, wife of King Arthur. I would suggest you hold your tongue because my husband is coming.” I said to the knight without even looking at him. I kept my eyes on Arthur and rose as he approached.
“My dear Queen,” Arthur’s green eyes twinkled as he took my hand in his. “This is our newest and bravest knight. I am so glad that you both have become acquainted. This is Sir Lancelot du Lac, a skilled swordsman and well with the arrow. Sir Lancelot, this is my wife, Lady Guinevere. You will be in charge of protecting her whilst I am away on business. You must protect her at all costs. Now, you both must excuse me. There is trouble in a neighboring village and the king is calling for help. Goodbye my wife. Goodbye, Sir Lancelot. Do not fail me.” And Arthur left us alone.
I finally brought my gaze to the knight and was surprised to find that I was familiar with his countenance, with his haunting blue eyes.
“So, the Hood does have a name.” I watched as the knight smirked.
“Sir Lancelot, at your service,” He bowed over-dramatically and seated himself beside me on a wooden chair. “And you, my lady, are not named Marian. You lied to me.”
“And you lied to me. We are even. A lie for a lie and now I must retire. Good night, Sir Lancelot. Try not to cause too much trouble.” I did not want to associate myself with the rude, insolent man known as Lancelot and I was determined to stay away from him, which sadly, was harder than I thought.
As soon as I had entered my chambers that night, there was a tapping at my window. First the noise was light, a soft scratching that could have been the branch of a tree, but a few moments later, it became a profound knocking. I went to the window, thinking of any and all monsters that could have flown to the top of the tower where my bedroom was. The only monster I found was Sir Lancelot, hanging from the sill, waiting to be admitted inside.
I opened it and made no offer of help as he crawled into my room.
“Are you a madman?” I barked. “Why are you outside of my window? How did you get there? You must be a demon because no one should be able to climb the wall.”
Lancelot grinned, using a wicked smile. “Clearly, you have never met someone raised in the forest. I came here to propose to you an idea, my lady. You are very fed up with being queen, correct? Your eyes were dull while you were dancing with your husband, but they seem to sparkle with any promise of adventure. You already know my motives; I want to help the poor that are starving because of the greedy nobles. But, I need someone to help me. You are in need of an adventure and I am in need of a companion. So, do you have an answer?”
Lancelot seemed a foolish man, yet he was entirely correct. I was bored with my mundane life and I needed an adventure. If I went with him, I would be helping others as well, but there was the chance that we could be captured and then executed.
“Lancelot, you are a crazy person, but you have a point. My answer is yes.”
“Then there is no time to waste. The winter is almost upon us and most of the crops have failed. We need to find a way to feed the people. Wait, change into these clothes. You can’t scale a wall in a dress.” He tossed me a set of peasant clothes from somewhere in his sack and disappeared into the next room. I changed into the clothing and then we set out on our adventure.
An adventure in itself is the scaling of a high castle wall in the dead of night. The wind was whipping around the tower as Lancelot and I made our way down the wall. My hair clouded my vision and I resolved from then on to wear a cap. We eventually were able to swing into an open window that was of the kitchen and thus were able to casually leave the castle with no one knowing who we were.
Cloaked by the darkness, Lancelot and I hid in the woods, where he explained that I was to distract any nobles whilst he took what he could. He pulled a dress and a cloak out of his sack and I eyed his back as I changed into it. He had stolen it from my closet, though it was the dress that I myself used for the purpose of sneaking out of the castle and into the village. Anyways, I changed and we waited for a victim.
A wagon came along eventually, and I stepped from my place in the trees.
“Sir, sir,” I called to the driver. “You must help me, for I am lost.”
The driver, distracted, did not notice as Lancelot began going through the riches that were being carried. But eventually, the driver became disinterested in my fake woes and turned around, only to find Lancelot holding a sword to his fat Adam’s apple. “Good evening, my dear sir, I hope you do not mind me, as I was inspecting your cargo.”
“‘Inspecting’ my foot; get away from here before I call upon the king himself to remove your head.” The driver tried to get a look upon Lancelot’s face, but his hoof hid any chance of recognition. I could sense Lancelot’s wicked smile, though, as he raised the sword to the man’s chin.
“Tell him then that I spared your life, that I let you live when others would have mercilessly killed you. I am the Hood, and I only show mercy to those who deserve it. Come along, Marian.” He lowered the sword slowly and then, as quick as a bird, he had snatched my waist and his sack and we were in the trees. We waited for the man to leave, and after we had distributed the wealth to the villagers, we returned to the castle in time for the sunrise.
These midnight escapades continued, each night a new thrill and a richer victim. The only things constant were the stealing, distribution, and the prideful warning that Lancelot gave as the newly named criminal “Robin Hood”.
Every day, we would meet and discuss the next adventure in my chambers. One day, though, there was a feast celebrating Arthur’s return and there was to be a large group of wagons going through the area with riches that would be able to feed the starving kingdom through the winter without the other kingdom missing it. Lancelot and I could not let the opportunity pass, so we both skipped the feast, saying that we were both ill.
Everything was going as planned, well, until Arthur barged into my chambers to find Lancelot and me, both in cloaks and climbing out of the window. Lancelot was able to escape without being seen, but Arthur caught my arm, and before I knew it, I was being hauled to the dungeons, set to be executed for adultery and thievery the next day.
The day was gloomy as I waited in my dark, dank cell. I was allowed no visitors and no food. Only Arthur entered, once, in the middle of the night, to question my actions. But, to him, I did not reply and I kept to myself in the corner nearest the window, hoping for some last chance of reprieve.
Yet the day came with no reprieve, and as a bag was placed over my head and with a sudden heat under my feet, I heard a sound of upset from the crowd and found myself moving away from the noise and heat. Someone removed my blindfold and I found myself on the back of a horse, looking back at Arthur, who had a look of anger and betrayal, who was watching me gallop into the distance with one of his most trusted knights.
The sky was no longer gloomy when we stopped in a small town a few hours away from the kingdom. The sign, declaring the name of the dirt-poor village, read “Sherwood” and Lancelot stopped his horse by the nearest stable.
“We should be safe here,” He told me as he unsaddled his horse. “I’m sorry that I brought this upon you and upon myself. I will take you back if you wish, but you will be burned alive if you return, as will I. Here, in this small town, the officials run rampant and they tax the poorest of people the most. There are so many in need here. Please, stay with me and help these people like you have helped the others. You will be my Marian and I will be your Hood.”
“For the time being, I will stay.” And so we continued our adventure, stealing from the rich and giving to those in need, until some dreadful news arrived with the arrival of the late spring.
“King Arthur has been killed,” The townspeople shouted from the square as Lancelot and I hid in the masses. “He has been cut down in his prime by Mordred, who was mortally wounded by the king himself.”
Somehow, I felt I was the one to blame for Arthur’s demise; my rescue had led to an all-out battle between Arthur and some of the rebels of my family, a battle that led to Arthur being run through with a sword by his own illegitimate son.
Stricken with grief and guilt, I became Sister Guinevere and gave myself to the covenant, where I spent my daylight hours serving the helpless. Lancelot too joined the church, becoming a friar and later a priest. We devoted our days in the same church, but I promised him upon Arthur’s death that he would never see face in the daylight ever again. And he never did.
Though the church had my days, Lancelot and his adventures had my nights as soon as the sun set in the west and I became Maid Marian and he became Robin Hood.