The Merry Men were a legend, a whisper of freedom in the oppressed country that was England. It was fabled that they hid just outside of Nottingham, the closest town to the King John's magnificent castle. They were known for horrible deeds; murder, thievery, raiding, and kidnapping orphans.
This was what the court of England warned their people about. The civilians, however, did not listen. They thought of the Merry Men as benevolent heroes, saviors of all, the rich and the poor. They believed the Merry Men to be serving justice for those who could not do so for themselves.
Their enigmatic leader, Robin Hood, would often survey the castle on his own and to visit a certain woman friend within the castle walls, much to the dismay of his followers. This cloudy night was no different as the Merry Men stood in a tight circle and spoke in booming whispers.
"He has been gone for hours!" the Red Devil Avery shouted.
"Maybe he's wasting his time," a younger redhead, Tom, concluded.
A brunet ran a hand through his dirty hair. "What if the Maid Marion has grown a fond hatred for him?"
All the men but one found a way in to worry about their lovesick leader, but the burly man of forty years listened intently to his compatriots' complaints. His curly brown hair fell into soulful blue eyes which remained intently focused on sharpening his blade on a twig. The men's concerns reminded him of how he'd warned Robin not to go tonight. As always, the Fox grinned sadly. "I have to check one more time," he insisted for the thirteenth time.
"Maybe he was found," a mumble interrupted the man's thoughts.
"Suppose he was put in prison," a worrisome dark-haired boy, Tyler stuttered.
"Maybe he was killed!" The hysterical youngest, Emile, blurt out.
"No," the man finally bellowed, throwing his blade to the ground, "he will return, Emile."
"How do you know, Little John?" One of the men asked, pulling away from the group. "He is so lost without her. He may have... lost his touch."
"He's right, Father," Elliot spoke up. Like John, he had curly brown hair and blue eyes, but he had the pale skin and slim frame of his mother. "Perhaps the King did find him in the castle."
John knelt down to pat his son on the head. "If Robin has taught me one thing, it is to never give up on hope. He will return. We just need a little more patience."
Frederick, a man a few years younger than John, frowned. "I say you trust in your old friend too much. I motion we send out a small party to search a five-mile radius for him."
Little John went back to his blade. "As second-in-command, I forbid any of you from seeking him out."
The men did not like that notion.
"Are you honestly going to let your dearest friend, our leader die? Simply because you have faith that he has not fallen apart?" Derek spat at him.
Winston, the oldest of them all, cleared his throat. "Little John is right, as both our lieutenant and as our leader's dearest friend. We need more faith in that old fox."
At that moment, a rustling started in the woods. The band pulled out their weapons, ready for attack at any moment.
A figure of average height and pristine build limped into the moonlight. His black suit and forest green cloak reflected off the little light provided. He had a cut on his cheek and his lip was busted, along with slivered cuts on his hands. His mussed blond hair was hidden under a green hat adorned with a single red feather, and the men let out a sigh of relief.
"Robin!" They all cheered, rushing to his side. Robin Hood staggered a bit before collapsing into the nearest men's' arms.
John was by his friend's side in a blink of an eye. "Are you alright?" he asked, checking the injuries. Robin let out a weak chuckle, breathing out "You should see the guards."
He went on telling the men of a particularly comedic encounter when Elliot interrupted, "Did you find her?"
John gave his son a reprimanding scowl and Robin heaved a sigh, his head sagging. "Not this time, but perhaps next time."
"There shouldn't be need of a next time, I've already told you," a quiet, young voice called from the trees. The men became rigid, aiming their weapons at all angles, hoping to source the voice.
Robin's eyes widened and he checked himself. "Whatever do you mean?" He knew the voice was close, but he did not expect a young cloaked woman to step out of his own cape. A few of the younger men let out squeals and the girl laughed, the sound as light as a little baby. She laughed a little longer until she turned and looked up, seeing Robin's curious expression. She fell to her knees, ripping the hood off her head. Blonde curls fell around her lowered head. "I'm so sorry for pushing you so fast, sir. We were being pursued."
He rose a brow, fairly positive that he'd lost the guards before reaching Nottingham's borders. "Would you know where Marion is, child?"
"The maiden you seek, sir, is long gone," the girl sniffled, taking a deep breath. "Queen Marion died in childbirth twelve years ago, or... so I'm told. King John hasn't been married since." Robin took a moment to process this information. Marion and John's engagement had gone through. It made sense. Of course, she would choose a king over a renegade.
"Why do you come here, girl?" Little John asked from his tree. "Don't you know our infamy?"
The girl shook. "Please, sir, I was only helping your friend, he was in danger! I didn't mean to stay, I was passing through anyway."
Robin scowled at John. "Do you live in Avon, Miss?"
Her frightened cerulean eyes met his, and he noticed cuts on her face, blood dripping to her chin. "I hope to make a home there. It'll be difficult, but..." her eyes left him, looking past the clearing, towards the trees. Her lips moved, but she made no sound. He raised a brow at the strange creature and motioned John to watch her while he formed the men into a huddle. "We should ask her to stay with us."
A few men frowned, a few jaws dropped, and the men were in an uproar.
"Are you ignoring the fact that that," Tyler sneered in the girl's direction, "is a female?"
Fredrick stroked his beard in thought. "It's clear that she has nowhere else to go. We may as well."
Derek shook his head. "Robin, no, we know nothing about her."
"No, you can't go up there!" Little John interrupted the meeting. Robin turned to see her kicking against Little John's shoulder. "He wants my help!" she insisted.
Robin rushed to them, retrieving the girl from his frustrated second. "Who wants your help, dear?"
She struggled against his hand, going towards the weapons. "The man in the Willow, he wants me to shoot him down."
Robin's head whipped around to share a confused glance with John. They'd heard of this phenomena before, but Robin couldn't remember where it was from. "Can you even shoot an arrow?" he asked her.
She shrugged. "There's a first time for everything, I suppose," she insisted.
He tightened his hand around hers as he led her back to men. "Tell you what; prove that you are a good archer and we will get you your own bow and arrow, and you can shoot whatever your heart desires. Within reason, of course."
She nodded. "Of course."
He threw a final glance back to the men, who all shrugged, murmuring to John. He walked up to Robin and whispered, "They do not wholly approve, and I myself am apprehensive. But as our leader, you have the final word. But she is your problem, you understand?"
Robin nodded. "What is your name, child?"
"Marigold," the girl beamed in response.
There was much to learn of the girl, but he forced a smile and said, "Welcome to the Merry Men, my dear."