** Please read Part One first 🙂 A Beltane Tale: Part One
After Beltane the days grow bright, the summer sun golden as shadows stretch long in the early evening. There is more time for chores and tedious tasks. Marion does as she has been taught in the Priory; washes laundry in the river, sheers the sheep, brings the cows back for milking from their lazy afternoons at pasture.
But Marion is changed and now she grows restless, She thinks often of the green-hooded man she met in the forest. Was he real or merely a dream? She wonders this only to herself, sharing the story with no one, for on Beltane all manner of illusions and trickery are like to happen. And yet, there is the lock of hair she found beneath her pillow, along with the note etched in green cambric. Surely they must be his, and surely he is real. Real as the flesh she has touched, real as his seed that spilled within her. She has taken that lock of hair and that swatch of green cambric and placed them in a locket that she wears beneath her kirtle, keeping them always close to her heart.
She knows only that she loves him. She longs to see him again.
The Prioress seems to read her mind. “What irks you, my child?” she asks one morning as they break the night’s fast. The matrons have brought fresh honey, cheese and pannam, but Marion can eat none of it. Instead, she stares at the Prioress. She longs to tell everything! But how could such a woman understand?
The Prioress takes Marion’s hand and nods knowingly. “You traveled alone to the Greenwood on Beltane, did you not, my child?” Marion nods timidly. “And stood you in the ring of mushrooms as well?” Marion nods again. She cannot lie to the Prioress.
“Ah well. You had been warned against THAT.” The Prioress cocks her head. “THAT is a thing which brings trouble and mischief.” The Prioress purses tight lips. Marion expects a reprimand, but instead the Prioress softens. “The Greenwood,” she sighs. “I know it well. You are of an age, daughter, and such things of the flesh beckon you. I understand.” She clasps her hands together. “Although you may find it hard to believe. I too was once young.” Marion blinks wide eyes. She feels her cheeks grow hot. She thinks of the touch of the man who called himself Robin. How could the Prioress, so gentle and proper, in her stiffly starched robes, ever possibly understand?
“I was not always living in this nunnery.” The Prioress smiles. “I know something of desire, my girl.”
She winks a sly wink and Marion is near come undone! The Prioress has raised her since childhood. She is indeed the only mother Marion has ever known. Yet to speak of this, to speak of these intimacies, it is more than shame!
“What keep you in the locket, child?” the Prioress asks. “The one you wear beneath your kirtle since the Beltane.” Still embarrassed, Marion pulls out the locket, revealing the lock of Robin’s hair and the stitched note. “Well, it is settled then,” the Prioress says. She runs her fingers over the cambric swatch. “You must go to the Greenwood and find him.”
Just then comes a knock at the door. Sister Jude-Thomas leaps to answer it. Behind the heavy oak lurks the Sheriff Nottingham.
“Reverend Mother.” He approaches and gives a bow of greeting to the Prioress. “Forgive me for disrupting your break of fast, but I have urgent news. I fear there is trouble in the village.”
“Trouble?” the Prioress asks coolly. She hides Marion’s locket in her lap.
“Aye, Madame,” the Sheriff continues. “It seems a band of hoodlums have been caught poaching game upon Lord Weatherly’s manor grounds. Two deer have gone missing and quiver of stray arrows found on the land. I seek only to warn you, Madame, and alert you of the danger, for this band of outlaws are most despicable. One wears a cloak of green. All are armed with bow and arrow.”
“Thank you Sheriff,” the Prioress answers. She gives him a tight lipped smile, one that suggests the visit has ended. Sister Jude-Thomas leads him to the door and he exits politely.
“Quick now, Marion,” the Prioress whispers. “You must go to the Greenwood. He waits for you there.” Marion is taken aback. She almost refuses, but the Prioress presses the locket to her hand. Marion feels Robin’s hair, thick and smooth on her fingers. Yes, yes! She must go.
Marion runs through the forest, May grass soft against her slippered feet. In the bramble she spies him, a flash of green cloak, the hood that covers his face. “Robin!” she dares call his name and he turns. “My lady.” He smiles and runs toward her, pack of arrows jiggling on his back. She falls to his chest, his long, strong arms circling around her.
Just then there is a rustle of leaves, the clap of horse hooves upon the dirt road. It is Constable Sloane, the Sheriff’s man, come to capture him!
“Robin, you must flee!” Marion whispers desperately in his ear. “They accuse you of poachery. They will lock you in a cell!” He should fear for his life, but he only smiles flippantly. “The Sheriff’s men have no claim to me,” he says. “But you, Marion…” He runs a finger across her cheek. “There is a possibility, my fair maid, that you may have many a claim upon me.”
The Constable Sloane then spies them in the thicket. He rides closer, halting his horse and pulling a sword from his sheath. “Outlaw!” he yells. “Outlaw and poacher! Make not a move or I’ll slice you in two!” He points the blade to Robin’s neck. Marion’s heart beats fast as a rabbit’s, but Robin only smiles. He gently pushes Marion away. “Run now, run quickly,” he commands but she cannot move, her feet firmly on the earth. Oh no. She will not leave his side, that she knows.
“Girl, move away from that villain!” the Constable shouts, but Marion does not budge.
“Lay down your arms, Sloane,” Robin says calmly. “Lest you injure this maid.”
“If she be one of yourn I’ll not lack to kill her too!” the Constable retorts.
“She is of the Priory,” Robin says. “An innocent.” That should be of some status, surely. Yet the Constable keeps the blade firmly pointed under Robin’s chin. Just then Will Scarlet and Alan of Dale emerge from the bushes, their brown garments blending like extensions of the trees. In one swift move they aim arrows, surrounding the Constable.
“Lay down your rapier, Sloane!” Will Scarlet commands, but instead the Constable pierces the blade closer to Robin’s neck, drawing a pinch of blood. Marion winces, then throws herself in front of him. “Take me first!” she shrieks. “Stand down, Marion!” Robin commands. In that very moment Will Scarlet shoots his arrow. The Constable, struck, tumbles from his horse like a sack of lumpy flour.
“Quick now Marion!” Robin shouts. He grabs her hand and the two run through the forest till they come to the place where the mushrooms grow wild in a ring.
Robin holds her close. The purple sky swirls around them like a fierce tornado. In minutes they fall through, down the hole of the earth to a soft landing, the place where on Beltane the fairy folk danced and played fiddles. Even now Marion hears strains of their music in the distance.
“’Twas a narrow escape,” Robin says. “But Nottingham’s men, they’ve got nothing upon me. Not a stitch.” Marion looks into his eyes. Dark as kohl, they seem to swallow her as the earth itself has swallowed her. “Who are you?” she asks, her mouth dry as dust.
Robin only smiles, pulls her closer and runs splayed fingers through her hair. He kisses her, his lips warm satin against her cheek. It is as though the earth has stopped in its orbit and time itself stands still. He kisses her again, full and wet on the mouth. In that moment she forgets her question, forgets her very self and falls deep into his arms.
She knows only that she is loved and safe, here in the underworld with this man they call ‘outlaw’.