Although the threat of the Captain and his men being held was great to us, I had to allow a night's rest for our group. They were tired and scared after our shock about the fae returning, and so I announced that we would attack the castle at dawn. Everyone immediately set to sharpening weapons as the food cooked on the fire and night came. I sat on a log, making arrows and staring in to the fire. Half a year ago, we knew who our enemy were and we knew what to do. But now the shades of grey had spread. It was difficult to understand who we could trust now. All I knew was the a couple of months ago Corin had been the enemy and now...
"Hey." I glanced up, torn from my thoughts. Robin sat next to me. "So you've dealt with the fae before?"
"We thought we'd gotten rid of them."
"They breed like rabbits. I'm guessing these new ones are babies they had while they were here. That means they won't be as powerful as some of the older ones you've encountered, but they're faster, more instinct based. They'll attack just because instead of for a reason."
"Because there was a reason before." I rolled my eyes sarcastically.
"So," He said, changing the topic. "How is it possible that a small army of ladies have been living in the forest all this time without being caught? Surely the villagers missed such pretty faces." I turned and gave him a withering look until he threw his hands up in mock surrender. "Alright alright. It's just, my merry men were only a few days behind me; I expect they shall arrive any moment. And I know how... protective you are of these women. I just thought I'd better discuss boundaries with you."
"Like your boundaries? If the rest of your men are anything like you, I want them no where near us. I am not dealing with another wave of pregnancies and broken hearts."
"Another? Ah yes, your alliance with the Marshall and his men. But something tells me it wasn't just your women that were getting a little close to them." He grinned at me.
"Robin." I smiled. If he knew me better he would have known that this particular smile was one he should run from, but he seemed delighted as I shifted a little closer. "Bite me." And with that I pushed him backwards off the log. He sprawled on the ground, a look of shock on his face. Griever ran over, hauling him up.
"Griever, I think she likes me." Robin laughed, regaining his composure. Griever groaned and shook his head, clearly despairing.
"Try anything again Robin, and I'll personally remove your ability to have children." Corin had appeared, hand playing with his knife. I rolled my eyes. Here comes the pissing contest. Although part of me felt a little twinge of happiness at Corin defending my honour, I was not so amused at him interrupting when I could handle myself. Robin was grinning, facing him, sizing him up.
"I think I've just discovered who is trying to steal Kate's heart. Come Corin, shall we fight for her?"
Before Corin could even drawn his weapon I was up.
"There will be NO fighting over me. Robin, you are only interested because I'm not. Why don't you stop meddling and be here only to help until you have to return home?"
"I'm hurt Kate." Robin replied. "I thought we had something, as two leaders of rebels..."
"I don't even want to hear the rest of that sentence. Go drown yourself in the river, wash off some of that self righteous bullshit."
There was a loud, rough guffaw from behind me. I span, as did the audience that had been watching the argument, and found several men dressed in greens and browns and sporting weapons standing at the edge of our camp.
"How did you get through the guards?" I managed before Robin laughed and shouted;
"Ah my merry men! Welcome, welcome to the camp of our female friends."
"Robin, met your match I see." An extraordinarily large man said, striding forward to meet Robin in a hug.
"Never Little John!" Robin replied. "No woman has ever been able to resist my charms."
I snorted and tucked away my knife. Little John looked at me grinning.
"Ignore him lady, it is mostly an act." Then he spied Griever and embraced him fondly. "Cousin!"
"John, good to see you." He turned and grinned at the other men who were all gathering round Robin to greet him. "Men, this is Kate, the leader of the Hawks. And Jem, her second. And this man is Corin, who fought with us against the fae in the past."
He then introduced the band of men, Will Scarlet, Much, Alan, Friar Tuck... they were all names they'd heard of in the rumours of the band of outlaws. As the men moved further in to the camp, introducing themselves to the others, I felt the familiar feeling of being too crowded come back to me. It'd been happening ever since I'd returned as leader, after my months of almost complete solitude.
"I'll take over patrol." I muttered to Jem. She gave me a look, clearly asking if I was alright. "I'm fine. Just need to think about tomorrow. Fill the men in on our plan. Don't let Robin take over." She nodded and I slipped away, grabbing my bow and quiver of arrows at the same time. I excused the women on patrol and climbed a tree, sighing once I was seated facing the border. I could look down on the camp from here, watching the men and women come together. And I could see in to the forest, although it was dark, the eyes of the fae would show up if they dared to attack.
"Kate!" A loud whisper rang out. I looked down to see Corin striding through the forest. I sighed. I didn't mind that he'd come to find me, but I had wanted to think through the strategy. I climbed carefully down and dropped from the last branch. He whirled around, knife at the ready, and then smiled and placed it back in his belt. "Kate." He murmured.
"I though I told you that you were a distraction." I said, smiling a little. We were in the dark, but the light from the camp fires lit us in a faded orange glow. I could see his scars, his lips, the expression in his eyes as he grinned at my comment.
"Better to be distracted the night before battle than during." He replied, edging closer.
"Corin, I'm on duty."
"I know. I came to watch with you." I suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired. "Are you alright?" He asked, concerned.
I nodded and tucked my arms under his and around his back in a hug. I lay my head on his chest and sighed. After a moment, he curled his arms around me and stroked my hair.
"I've never seen you like this." He murmured.
"I'm tired of it all Corin. These fae, they are something I never thought I would have to face. They're not some unfair law, they're not humans ignoring basic morals. They play by their own rules."
"And they probably think the same about you. Everything will go well. I've seen you face them before, I've seen you stand against... worse things," I knew from his tone he was thinking about the time he had tortured me, I tightened my grip around him, letting him know it was okay. "You'll get through this. You are good, so good and true. There is no way you won't be victorious."
"Is it just me or are you being uncharacteristically sweet?"
"Don't tell anyone."
"Wouldn't dream of it." I murmured, looking up and kissing him gently on the lips. "Come, sit down." I gestured to the base of a tree. He sat and I kicked one of his boots aside, making space so I could settle between his thighs, back resting on his torso and head on his chest.
"You're being uncharacteristically soft." He murmured in to my hair, wrapping his arms around my stomach. He brought up one leg and I rested an arm on it, leaning further back in to him.
"Tell anyone and I'll... what was it? 'Personally remove your ability to have children'?" He chuckled and the motion sent vibrations through me. I smiled.
"Is that something you want?"
"What? To cut of your-"
"-No." He said, poking me gently in the side. "To... to have children." I froze. He seemed to realise he'd said the wrong thing. "Not that... I wasn't... never mind." We sat in silence for a while, looking in to the dark depths of the forest.
"I'd removed that thought from my mind." I admitted eventually. The steady rise and fall of his chest stopped for a moment, and then returned. "You have to understand Corin, after..." I stopped, realising he knew nothing of my past. "When I came to the forest, I fully intended to die here. Alone. And then when I found the Hawks... I thought I would die helping people. And the Hawks, they were the only family I needed. I wasn't alone but no one would ever get close enough to hurt me again."
"Again?" He murmured, stroking my arm.
"My village was burned to the ground on the eve of my fourteenth birthday. I hid in the woods and watched as..." I bit my lip, tears forming at the memories that came flooding back through the wall I'd built to protect myself. Corin's arms tightened around me. "I watched as the Sheriff tortured my mother. He stuck knives in my father, let him bleed out... slowly... while he watched my mother... burn. And my little sister..." I couldn't carry on. Corin's arms enveloped me, turning me in to his chest as I cried. Without his armour on he wore just his shirt, and I cried in to it, feeling the muscles of his chest contract as he breathed heavily, obviously angered by what I had said.
"I'll kill him Kate. I'll make him suffer for you."
"No!" I cried. "No..." I dashed away my tears and shifted myself so I could look up at him, my legs curled together and knees resting on his thigh. "He's mine." I gritted my teeth and glared.
"Okay." He replied, kissing my forehead gently. "He's all yours. Make him pay." I nodded, sitting up. He released me reluctantly. I leaned forward and kissed him, placing my hands either side of his face. The roughness of his stubble, courtesy of our busy couple of days, scratch against my hands. I smiled in to the kiss, opening my lips to his tongue. His hands found my hips and pulled me against him. I paused, looking down at him with a smile.
"I told you not to distract me."
He chuckled and kissed me again.