TAT: Destiny's Circle (TEEN)Conclusion Sept. 5

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Kath7
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TAT: Destiny's Circle (TEEN)Conclusion Sept. 5

Post by Kath7 » Tue Jul 26, 2005 12:02 pm

<b>Title: Time After Time: Destiny's Circle </b>

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Author: Kath7

Rating: TEEN

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from Roswell, nor from the Robin Hood legend. I am just borrowing them. Some original ideas by ddawn and Angel_Parker. The character of Parkyla was created by Sunnie D.

Summary: Medieval mayhem involving our favorite Roswellians. Just a warning: Kyle is a villain (well, sort of anyway, but not without some reason) in this one. It was started long before we all liked him so much. It’s too bad there was no Sean Deluca way back when.

Category: C/C

Author’s Note: Please do not think I am reposting this to pimp for more feedback. I can’t find it ANYWHERE on the board. I think it must have gone down in flames during the great summer purge of 2004 (good times those were for admins - NOT!). This story will now be a part of the Time After Time series, which comes from a challenge by Fred. I will eventually be writing two other stories in the series - one set during the French Revolution, and one during the Regency Period.

Time After Time is a series of loosely linked stories throughout history. Each story will feature Max and Liz in a CC relationship. Most of the other pairings will be CC, but it is not required (meaning that mild UC is a possibility, but will be identified). Nor is pairing the other characters with anyone necessarily going to happen. The stories in this series can all be read independently, but will be connected by Max and Liz's relationship, and by one other trend. See if you can pick it out! The stories may end happily, or not. This is at the discretion of the author. The backstory in each fic might be different. These stories are not necessarily canon based. The events of the TV show Roswell are just another link in the time after time chain.

<u>Part 1</u>

<b>Castle DeHarding, Nottinghamshire, England - 1192</b>

"We're going to be in trouble if we're caught." Tess sounded scared. Of the four of them she had always been the one who least liked to defy Lord Edmund. "He is more powerful than he lets on, Max."

"So are we, Tess. And let's not forget that Maxwell <i>is</i> our leader." Isabel was dancing around the tower room, holding up a gold girdle studded with rubies. It matched her red gown perfectly. She pouted her lips in approval and quickly attached it around her hips. She sat on her stool in front of the glass. "Besides, I promised Sir Kyle we would come and watch him win the archery tournament."

Tess quickly came to stand behind her, helping Isabel plait her long blonde hair in two perfect braids. Tess was so short she was only a few inches taller than the seated Isabel. Max watched both of them, an affectionate smile on his lips.

"You really should not be encouraging Sir Kyle," Tess lectured her sister. "I understand from the servants that the announcement of his betrothal to a wealthy heiress is imminent. Not to mention your betrothal to Michael. And what if we're caught by Sir Edmund? He was angry enough when you invited Sir Kyle to feast with us when we met him in the forest." Tess placed a slip of transparent silk on Isabel's hair, after having bound her plaits around her head. She added a gold circlet with a ruby winking in the centre to hold the fabric to her sister's head. "Oh, Bella! You are exquisite!"

Isabel turned on her seat and regarded Max, who was seated in an alcove in the wall. Behind him the sun filtered through an arrow-slit, lighting up his dark head, so that he looked like one of the angels in the paintings in the castle’s chapel. His eyes were in shadow. "Max? Will you please tell your betrothed that it will be all right?" she pleaded.

"I promised Bella, Tess. We'll be lost in the crowds in Nottingham today anyway and Sir Kyle will be suspicious if we do not arrive. He was suspicious enough when he stumbled across two unknown ladies in the forest. The sheriff now knows we are here. We must keep up the pretense that we have only recently arrived in the neighbourhood. People are coming from all the neighboring shires for the Fair. I hear that Queen Eleanor herself will be in attendance. It will be strange if we are not there."

Tess did not look convinced. "But can we trust Michael not to enter the archery competition?"

At the sound of his name, Michael looked up from where he was sprawled on Isabel's bed, a scowl on his chiseled face. He had been pensively turning an arrow between his fingers, ignoring Tess's concerns, as was his usual habit. He now looked offended.

"I know that I can't, Tess. I'm not a complete imbecile, you know. Even though I could beat any of those upstart lordlings sure to enter with one hand tied behind my back."

"Anyway, Tess," Isabel interjected before her sister and her betrothed ended up in one of their usual arguments, "You've wanted to leave the castle as much as the rest of us."

"I meant that I wanted to be able to leave the walls. I didn't mean that I wanted to visit the busiest town in the shire."

Isabel smiled at her sister, using the charm that always worked on her. "But, Tessie, imagine what the queen will be wearing..."

Tess smiled despite herself. Isabel always knew what to say to convince Tess to go along with one of her schemes. She sighed, knowing that as usual she would give in. "Very well. I want to see the Fair as much as the rest of you. But I insist that we bring a guard with us."

Max jumped up from his alcove, light on his feet as always. "No guards. Today we are going to pretend that we are normal people instead of refugees from a planet none of us can even remember."

Tess frowned slightly but finally nodded. "All right." She pointed a small finger at Michael, who had also climbed to his feet, replacing his arrow in the quiver at his waist. "But I mean it, Michael - one word out of you about entering that contest and I'll tell Lord Edmund."

Michael rolled his eyes, but nodded.

"What can possibly happen, Tess?" Isabel continued to reassure the smaller girl, as they left the room, trailing behind the boys. "No one even knows we exist. We'll be perfectly safe."

<b>Nottingham Castle, Nottingham Town - That same day</b>

Lady Elizabeth de Parkville sighed as she descended the stone staircase leading into the great hall of Nottingham Castle. Today was the day that the sheriff planned to announce her betrothal to his handsome but boring son, Sir Kyle. Elizabeth had been thrilled when Queen Eleanor had decided to include her in her retinue to Nottingham, but she had been shocked when her beloved queen had then declared that her ward would not be returning to London with her. Elizabeth had never felt so betrayed. The queen had engaged her to Sir Kyle DeValence without even consulting her.

"It's not that Kyle is that bad," Elizabeth tried to convince herself. "He's steady and loyal and he appreciates me." She sighed again. "It's just that he's not my ideal."

Elizabeth paused briefly on the staircase, closing her eyes, remembering the dream that had haunted her every night since she could remember. A tall man with dark, sun-burnished hair regarded her across a forest glade. He was dressed in the colors of the trees, all browns and greens and he had a bow slung over his shoulder. His dark hair curled across his forehead, just aching for Elizabeth to brush it back. But it was his dark eyes that claimed her. They seemed to penetrate her soul. He began walking towards her, reaching out his hands. "Come to me, my Liz. I will never forsake you."

Elizabeth knew that the man was only a fantasy. She had never seen him in reality and no one had ever addressed her as anything other than Lady Elizabeth since the day she was born. Well except for Alex. He called her Lizzy all the time, but she knew that the man in her dream was certainly not the boy she considered a brother. She had liked it when the man had spoken that diminutive to her so seductively. It felt like she had heard it many times before, spoken from those same beloved lips.

She shook her head forcefully. <i>Focus Elizabeth!</i> she ordered herself sternly. <i>You are cool, practical, and logical. You do not believe in dream men. You understand that you are a wealthy heiress and that, as the queen's ward, you are to marry where she chooses. Sir Kyle likes you and will treat you well. His father is the powerful Sheriff of Nottingham. Few girls could ask for a better marriage. No one marries for love.</i>

Elizabeth patted the veil on her head to assure that it still covered her long, dark hair. She entered the great hall and approached Queen Eleanor, who was seated with the sheriff, James de Valence, on the dais at the far end of the room. They were watching Sir Kyle practice his swordplay with one of the queen's men-at-arms. Elizabeth recognized him immediately as her childhood playmate, Alexander Delucie of Whitfield.

When Elizabeth had been deposited in the queen's household at the age of seven, she had been a scared orphan, afeared of her own shadow. It had been Alexander and his twin sister, Mary, who had pulled Elizabeth from her shell. The three had been inseparable friends from the beginning, constantly falling into one scrape after another. They had amused the elderly queen with their foibles and now the three sixteen year olds were her pride and joy.

Queen Eleanor was watching Alexander soundly whip Sir Kyle in the duel in which they were playfully engaged. The sheriff was scowling slightly at his son's poor showing, but was trying to hide it. Elizabeth smiled to herself. The sheriff was an ambitious man. He had arranged an advantageous marriage for his son, but there could be no doubt that Sir Kyle often disappointed him. Elizabeth pitied Kyle for it. She knew that no matter how hard Sir Kyle tried, he would never live up to what his father wanted him to be.

"Ah, Lady Elizabeth!" Sir Kyle abruptly stopped parrying Alexander's blows, clearly eager to end the one-sided and humiliating battle in which he was engaged. Elizabeth winced as she saw Alexander barely manage to pull his last sword-swipe in time. Alexander looked horrified by the fact that he had very nearly taken the sheriff's son's head off. The sheriff had jumped to his feet, terror written on his craggy face. Elizabeth was relieved to see that at least the Sheriff loved his son enough to be concerned for his life.

"Kyle! You fool! Never turn your back on an armed man!" Elizabeth could tell that the sheriff did not mean to be harsh with his son, but his concern rendered him unable to control his temper. Elizabeth saw Kyle tense up immediately. He did not understand this. All he heard was another lecture from his father.

The queen was watching the exchange, amusement written on her still beautiful, if aged, face. Eleanor of Aquitaine had once been the most famed beauty in the known world. She had also been the richest. She had divorced the King of France to marry the King of England and she was now the mother of the heroic warrior king, Richard the Lionheart, and his nefarious, scheming brother, Prince John. She knew how to mediate with the best of them.

Eleanor smoothly ended the tension before it could take over. "Elizabeth! You have finally arrived! I have some pleasant news." She placed her wrinkled hand on the sheriff's arm, urging him to retake his seat. James de Valence did so stiffly. "The Lord Sheriff tells me that there is to be a fair in Nottingham town this afternoon. We will all attend."

Alexander had come to stand next to Elizabeth, his dark hair wet from his exertion. He was still white from the tragedy that had nearly befallen them all moments before, but he played along with the queen. "Imagine, milady! There is to be an archery competition!"

Elizabeth smiled at her friend. He only ever addressed her as "milady" in front of the sheriff and Sir Kyle. He was a stickler for the proprieties in public situations. Alexander, however, often called her "Dizzy Lizzy" in private.

"We'll have to be sure that Mary does not bring her bow to the fair then," Elizabeth laughed. "She is sure to win!"

Sir Kyle smirked. "Surely you jest, milady! While there can be no doubt that Lady Mary could easily win a competition of beauty, archery is for men."

Elizabeth exchanged an amused smile with Alexander. "I'm sure you're right, Sir Kyle," she murmured, her brown eyes twinkling. Kyle was not to blame for the fact that he did not know Mary. It was too bad that Elizabeth’s friend could not show him the truth of the matter.

"Where is Mary, by the by?" the queen demanded suddenly. "We will be leaving shortly and if she if left behind, she stays behind." Mary exasperated Queen Eleanor on a regular basis with her tardiness. But Mary was irrepressible. The queen forgave her more often than she punished her.

"Oh, she is feeling unwell your grace," Alexander replied airily. "She has requested that she be allowed to stay in the castle." Elizabeth eyed Alexander suspiciously, but the queen, the sheriff, and Sir Kyle seemed to accept the excuse readily enough. Elizabeth was unable to reflect further on this, however, because Sir Kyle had changed the subject.

"I wondered, my Lord," Kyle addressed the sheriff nervously, "If we might announce my engagement to Lady Elizabeth at the conclusion of the tourney, after I have triumphed?"

"I think that is a marvelous idea," the queen interjected. Alexander was eyeing Elizabeth, a mischievous expression on his face.

"I have an even better idea!" he announced. Elizabeth felt her stomach sink. She knew that she was not going to like whatever her friend suggested. He appeared to be in a teasing mood and she was apparently to be his target. "I propose that you announce the betrothal at the beginning of the tourney and offer a kiss from the beauteous bride as the prize for the winner!" Alexander smirked at Kyle. "Then, when you win, Sir Kyle," Alex winked at Elizabeth, "Think how romantic it will be for you to claim your bride's kiss!"

Kyle looked pleased at the compliment to his athletic prowess. Alexander had played right to Sir Kyle's weakness - his vanity. Alexander knew that Kyle would never refuse the idea now. The sheriff looked pleased at the plan as well. Eleanor smiled knowingly. She knew that Alexander was not happy that Elizabeth was betrothed to Sir Kyle, that he was loathe for himself and his playmate to grow-up. He would be most pleased to see Sir Kyle fail and have to relinquish his betrothed's kiss to another.

Elizabeth was simply annoyed.

"I think not!" she announced. "I am no man's prize!" But the warning look on the queen's face told her that she would be giving in. Eleanor appeared amused by the idea and wanted to see this little drama play out. Since very little truly interested the elderly queen these days, Elizabeth knew suddenly that she would give in, if only to please her guardian.

Sir Kyle offered her his arm loftily. "Fear not, milady. I will win your kiss. It will be a most pleasurable way to end the day."

With that, the sheriff offered Queen Eleanor his arm and swept her out of the great hall. Sir Kyle and Elizabeth followed, Alexander on their heels, but not before Elizabeth muttered to her friend, "I'll get you for this, Alexander of Whitfield. When you least expect it. Revenge is a dish best served cold."

Alexander just grinned.
Last edited by Kath7 on Mon Sep 05, 2005 6:13 pm, edited 32 times in total.

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Post by Kath7 » Wed Jul 27, 2005 12:15 am

AN - Thanks for the feedback, guys! I'm glad that some people are still discovering this fic. It really is one of my favorites.

Drogyn - have you read this before? :wink: Or do we just know our Roswellians so well, there could only be one direction in which to take this? But that's all later...for now, two parts...one which sets up what is to come, and the second which introduces our soulmates Max and Liz. :D

Oh, and I'm going to the lake through Tuesday, so I'll be back then with Part 4. Behave yourselves while I'm gone! :wink:

<u>Part 2</u>

Maxwell DeHarding raced his horse through Sherwood Forest, the wind pushing the hood of his dark cloak off his head. <i>Sweet freedom!</i> The thought teased his mind as he pushed Evander to even greater speed.

Max was aware that Isabel was right behind him. Of the four of them, she was the one who most craved release from their virtual imprisonment in Castle DeHarding. Both Max and Isabel knew that it was for their own protection, but it did not stop either of them from rebelling against their guardian Lord Edmund at every opportunity.

Tess and Michael had always been more accepting of their fate, Max reflected now. He always did his deepest thinking on horseback, for it was the one place he felt truly at home. Michael had only ever wanted to return to their planet, while Tess had always been happy with her place in the world, in her destiny to be his wife. But, both Isabel and Max had always wanted more.

Although Lord Edmund had always told them that Tess and Isabel were sisters and that he and Michael were brothers, Max knew this for the lie it was. Isabel was the sister of his spirit, like him in so many ways there could be no question that they were of the same blood. But Max kept his counsel, knowing that Lord Edmund would reveal all when the time was right. Michael was like his brother in all other ways anyway.

While Max had always quietly obeyed Lord Edmund to his face, but then followed his own path behind their guardian's back, Isabel had ever been more open in her opposition to their oppression. She had run away from Castle DeHarding numerous times as a young girl, always weeping with despair when she was hauled back by Lord Edmund's loyal retainers. Isabel was seeking something just beyond her grasp, as was Max, although in a different way. Max wondered briefly if they would ever find it.

Today was a good start. Today, at least for a little while, they were free.

Max reined in Evander, Isabel breezing past him on her mare, Sunshine, before she became aware of his stopping. She glanced back at him impatiently, her dark eyes more alive then he had seen them in months. Her veil was askew and one golden braid had come unbound and was hanging down her back.

"Max, please! We're going to miss the tournament!"

Max smiled reassuringly. "We have plenty of time, Bella. We must wait on Michael and Tess. They have obviously fallen far behind." Isabel sighed, but nodded her understanding.

The pair were excitedly conversing about all they wanted to do in Nottingham that day when the silence of the forest was suddenly shattered by a scream. Isabel and Max exchanged frantic glances.

"Tess!" Isabel cried, spurring Sunshine back down the road they had just come up. Max followed, quickly passing Bella on his much bigger stallion.

"Wait, Max!" Isabel called from behind him, as Tess screamed again. "It's coming from off the road." Max glanced back over his shoulder, and then reined Evander off the road, plunging him through the lush, green foliage.

Max and Isabel broke through the underbrush almost simultaneously. They both reined in sharply at the sight that greeted them.

Michael and Tess were off their horses, backed up against a tree. Michael had his sword in his hands and was standing in front of Tess, obviously trying to protect her from the crowd that was gathered around them. What seemed like scores of longbows with knocked arrows were pointed straight at the duo. Max was surprised to see another man cowering behind Michael. He wore what appeared, from the distance at which he was placed, to be the attire of a man of the Church.

<i>Outlaws!</i> Max thought briefly to himself. Michael and Tess had obviously been held-up further back on the road. The outlaws had herded them into the woods to rob them under cover. Many people would be passing on the road through Sherwood, on their way to the Fair. The outlaws could not afford to have another party come upon them in the middle of their robbery. The priest had obviously been a victim of the outlaws as well.

Max realized that a large quantity of the bows were now pointed at he and Isabel, who had acted in haste and had ended up in exactly the same predicament as their siblings.

A tall thin man stepped forward and eyed Isabel appreciatively. Max felt his spine stiffen instinctively. Max knew that other men considered Bella to be beyond lovely. He had often heard troubadours compare her beauty to that of the angels. Of them all, she was certainly in the most danger.

"Well, well. What have we here?" The leader of the outlaws smirked. "Another fine lord and lady have found their way into our hospitality!" He reached up, grasped Isabel by the arm and hauled her off her horse. "And a pretty baggage we have uncovered, too!"

Max was off his horse in an instant, his sword unsheathed and in his hand without conscious thought. "Get your filthy hands off of her!" He grabbed Isabel's other arm and pulled her away from the outlaw, thrusting her behind him.

The outlaw scowled at him. "Filthy am I, me fine lord?" He advanced on Max threateningly. "We'll see how filthy ye are when I'm done with ye!"

Max glanced at Michael across the clearing. He could see that his brother was slowly losing a grip on his anger. The last thing they wanted was for Michael to expose them all because of a lack of control. But Max was not very worried - yet. He knew that Michael would try not to act without permission from Max, if he was able to hold on to his temper. If it came down to their lives or the lives of the outlaws, there would be no choice other than to allow Michael to use his gift. But Max had not lost complete control of the situation yet.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he ground out through clenched teeth. It went against every instinct in him to be polite to the man who had threatened Isabel. "My sister is most dear to me. I do not allow men to put their hands on her."

The outlaw eyed him assessingly. "Aye," he said finally, "I can understand that, when one has a sister as lovely as yours." Max heard Isabel snort behind him. He hoped that she would be able to control her wicked tongue until he got them out of this debacle.

"My siblings and I are on our way to the Nottingham Fair. If you would be so kind as to let us pass, we swear that we will report none of this to the sheriff."

The outlaw tilted his head to the side, seemed to be considering. Max held his breath.

"Well, we only wanted a toll from your brother over there anyway," the outlaw conceded. "When he refused, we had no choice but to bring them here, in order to convince him." The outlaw grinned nastily, displaying several rotting teeth. "Mayhap you can convince him for us, milord."

Max sighed. Trust Michael to choose the most difficult route. Why could he have not just paid the outlaws and then been on his way? "Very well, sir. If you would be so kind as to allow me to converse with my brother, I am sure we can reach an agreement that will be mutually satisfactory." The outlaw lowered his bow, nodding. He raised it again when Isabel tried to follow Max.

"The lady stays with me." Isabel's mouth straightened mutinously, but Max stared at her warningly.

"Fine, but I insist that she be allowed to mount her steed." At least the villain would have to keep his hands to himself if Bella was beyond his immediate reach. The outlaw looked as though he was going to refuse, but then he nodded.

As Max crossed the clearing, he realized that there were not nearly so many outlaws as he had originally perceived. Only about ten men stood between he and Michael and Tess.

Michael was glaring at Max mutinously when he reached his brother and his betrothed. Tess threw herself into Max's arms. "Oh thank goodness! Max, are they going to kill us?"

Max disentangled himself from Tess's embrace. He always felt uncomfortable when Tess became too affectionate. While he accepted that he would marry her one day, he considered her more like a sister than anything else. Still, it was his duty to reassure her.

"We'll be fine, Tess." He turned to stare at his brother. "But no thanks to you, Michael. Why did you not just pay them and let it go?"

"I told him so, my lord." This was from the priest, who looked relieved that it appeared that he was about to be saved.

Michael rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to respond. Max’s brother had no time to speak, though, because, suddenly, a disturbance on the far side of the clearing caught all of their attention. Max whirled in time to see Isabel back off her horse and in the outlaw leader's arms. She was fighting him, but he was quickly gaining the upper hand.

"Bella!" Max yelled, but was thrust back by the bows in the hands of the other outlaws.

"You just stay where you are, milord," one of them ordered nastily.

Max felt his anger mounting. Isabel was clawing at the outlaw's face and he suddenly thrust her to the ground.

"Think you're so special do you, my lady?" Max could hear the outlaw as though he was Isabel cowering under him. Isabel had connected with Max and was sending him the information he needed to deal with the situation. But the problem was, Max had not idea <i>how</i> to deal with anything. Ten brawny and cruel outlaws stood between him and Isabel.

Max's mind was whirling in a thousand directions. But all thought stopped as a bright light suddenly lit up the clearing. Max whirled to see Michael standing with his arm upraised, his palm glowing, an expression of absolute rage on his face.

"Michael! <i>No!</i>" Tess tried to grab his arm, but he shook her off easily. She fell to the ground, sobbing. Max just stared, shocked disbelief on his face. "We are all betrayed!" he heard Tess cry, as though from a great distance. The only thing upon which he could focus was his brother, who was about to expose their secret to a group of more than ten humans.

And there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop it.

Max noticed the priest backing away from Michael, an expression of absolute terror mangling his wizened face. He started to cross himself frantically.

A moment later, it was over.

Where seconds before there had been eleven threatening outlaws, there were now eleven bodies sprawled on the ground. Isabel was getting to her feet on the far side of the clearing, her face mirroring Max's own shock.

Max knelt beside the nearest outlaw, putting his ear to the man's chest. "He's dead." Max watched Michael's expression change from absolute conviction-filled anger to that of a scared boy, which he really was.

"You are all demons!" the priest cried in terror, cowering against a tree, still crossing himself repeatedly. "Blessed Father, preserve me. Mother Mary, full of grace, save me!"

Max took a step towards the old man, his hand outstretched, "Father, please..."

"No! Stay back! I will call on all the angels of Heaven to preserve me from the likes of you." The priest fainted dead-away at Max's feet. Max let his arm drop.

Tess was on her feet, her arm around Michael. She was trying to comfort him. "You did what you had to do, Michael. He was going to hurt Bella. You had no choice." Michael pulled away from her and turned his back, leaning forward against a tree, his forehead propped against his forearm.

"Max, what are we going to do?" Tess implored him. Isabel had picked her way through the scattered corpses and slid her arm around Tess, who had begun to sob again.

Max stiffened his spine. He was still shocked by the destruction that Michael had been responsible for. Until that moment, he realized, none of them had truly known the power of which they were really capable.

<i>Be strong Max!</i> he ordered himself. <i>The others are depending on you.</i>

"First of all, we are going to bury these men. Then we will return to the road and finish the journey to Nottingham," Max told the other three.

"Do you really think we should, Max?" Isabel asked quietly, after they had buried the outlaws, gathered their horses and had started to make their way back to the road. They had left the priest where he had fallen, but only after Tess had connected with him, erasing his memory of the past hour's events. "I think that Lord Edmund needs to know of this." Max knew how worried Isabel was if she was considering going to Lord Edmund. Michael was several feet behind them, a brooding expression on his face. Max knew that her main concern was for Michael's state of mind.

"We are going to the Fair," Max stated firmly. "Michael, you were not to blame." He told his brother. Michael raised his head and looked at him blankly. "We will all forget this ever happened." The other three stared at him. Max gentled his tone. "It has never been more clear than it is today. We are visitors on this world." They had reached the road. Max mounted Evander and looked down at Isabel. "We have to behave normally. If anyone were to ever discover who we really are..." He let the thought trail off.

Tess's eyes widened in terror. Max knew that visions of being handed over to the Church as heretics were foremost in her mind. It had always been her greatest fear, since the day they had all realized that they were not normal. Isabel nodded her understanding, while Michael just looked broken.

"This never happened," he repeated, as the other three mounted their horses.

But it had. Max allowed the brief thought that their destiny had been irrevocably changed to pass through his mind, before ruthlessly banishing it.

<u>Part 3</u>

Elizabeth had never seen such crowds before. Her life with the queen had been sheltered and, to her uncertain eye, it appeared as though the entire shire had come to the capital for the Fair. Elizabeth gripped Alexander's sleeve and pointed to a mummer who stood on his hands a few feet away.

"I'd like to see you try that!" she teased him.

Alexander looked down at her with twinkling eyes. "So, you've decided to speak to me again, have you?"

Elizabeth rolled her dark eyes and sighed. "I can never stay angry with you for long. You really should stop trying to embarrass Sir Kyle though," she chided. "You know that he has absolutely no chance of winning the archery competition." Alexander grinned, not looking the slightest bit ashamed. Elizabeth frowned at him. "What are you hiding from me?" she demanded. "It has to do with Mary, does it not?"

Elizabeth had known that the story of Mary's illness was just that - a story. Now she was beginning to suspect what the falsehood was meant to conceal. "She is not planning to..."

Alexander placed a finger on her lips. "Don't concern yourself, Lizzy. You'll know soon enough." Elizabeth just shook her head. Alexander had only ever encouraged Mary in her rebelliousness. He was incorrigible. "Where did the brave Sir Kyle meander off to anyway?" Alexander asked, changing the subject.

"He went to procure me a sweet," Elizabeth responded, sighing again. "He is most attentive."

"Methinks you prefer it when his attentiveness means that he has to leave your side." Alexander raised a brow teasingly.

"Now, do not start," Elizabeth scolded, "You know I am not happy about this match, but the queen has my best interests at heart. It is time for me to grow up. True love is only a fantasy the troubadours have created to earn their supper." Alexander just smiled knowingly.
"Stop looking like that, Alexander Delucie!" She smacked him lightly on his mail covered chest. "You are going to drive me to lunacy with your teasing."

Elizabeth's lecture of Alexander was cut off abruptly as someone bumped into her. The crowds seemed to be pressing ever nearer, some trying to get closer to the mummer, others trying to get to the stall selling ale and meat pies. Alexander and Elizabeth had inadvertently stumbled into the busiest part of the Fair.

Elizabeth felt herself being jostled and, suddenly, Alexander was no longer at her side. She briefly saw him across several other people, but then he was gone, swallowed up by the crowd. She could still hear him calling her name though.

She felt panic begin to overtake her. Strangers surrounded her on all sides. They all seemed to be trying to head in the opposite direction from her. Elizabeth felt herself swept along in a tide of humanity, everyone pushing and prodding for position. Small in stature and unused to such physical treatment, Elizabeth could feel herself losing her footing. <i>I'll be crushed!</i> she thought frantically, trying to stay on her feet.

She suddenly felt strong arms grab her. Alexander! Thank the Heavenly Father. She was swept up against a broad chest. Alexander began to push his way through the crowd, elbowing the crowd aside. They suddenly broke through the periphery of the mass of people.

It was only then that Elizabeth realized that the man holding her was not Alexander. His cloak was a different colour and he wore no chain-mail. Elizabeth felt herself stiffen. The stranger was instantly aware.

"Please do not be concerned, milady." His voice was deep, but reassuring. She felt herself relaxing instantly. "I will set you down as soon as we are further away from the throng."

A moment later, the stranger set her on her feet. She looked up at him curiously. It was impossible to see his face, as the hood of his dark cloak was over his head, but there was something infinitely familiar about him.

"Thank you, sir." The gentleman did not respond, just stood where he was, motionless Although she could not see his eyes, Elizabeth knew that he was staring at her. "Would you be so kind as to remove your hood?" she whispered, her heart thundering in her chest. The stranger paused, but then very slowly reached up and pushed back his hood.

Elizabeth gasped. "You!" It was the man from her dreams. Every detail of his face was as familiar to her as her own. His hair was dark and curled on his forehead. And his eyes...They were the deep, soulful pools she had always seen in her heart. She reached out a hand to touch the beloved face.

Elizabeth suddenly realized what she was doing. Her hand snapped back to her side. The stranger was blinking, as though coming out a trance. He appeared to be trying to pull himself together.
"Do I know you, milady?" he asked. From his tone, Elizabeth knew that he was forcing the words. He seemed to recognize her too. <i>This is impossible!</i> she reflected. <i>He was a figment of my imagination! </i>

Elizabeth shook her head, forcing herself to focus. "No! I mean, I apologize, sir. I thought you were my betrothed." She saw the stranger's face tighten at her last words. "I am Lady Elizabeth DeParkeville," she continued quickly, hoping to erase the sad expression that had appeared on his face.

"I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, milady." He picked up her hand and pressed it to his lips. His eyes never left her face. "My name is Maxwell de...." He paused briefly. "Um, pardon me. My name is Maxwell of Huntington." Elizabeth frowned slightly. She wondered why he had not given her his family's name. She knew of Huntington, however. It was a small town on the far side of Sherwood. She had passed through there with the queen's party the day before, on their way to Nottingham.

"Lord Huntington, I am most pleased to meet you. Thank you for saving my life."

Lord Huntington reddened slightly. "I am not a lord, milady." He seemed to be searching for words. "Please call me Max. All my friends do. And please do not think on my helping you anymore. It was a pleasure." Elizabeth could tell that he really meant it. She felt her own cheeks heating up.

"I know it is not proper," she responded, "But I would be pleased to call my rescuer by his Christian name." She had no time to sat anything more because suddenly Kyle was at her side.

"Lady Elizabeth! Are you quite well?" he asked, concern in his voice. "I saw you being swept up in the crowd but I could not get to you." He turned to Max and offered him his hand. "Thank you, sir. I saw you..." He trailed off, recognition dawning in his eyes. "Maxwell! You have come!" Kyle looked around nervously. "Are your sisters here?"

Elizabeth saw Max's eyes narrow. She wondered what this was all about. She looked at Kyle curiously. "Yes, Sir Kyle. Isabel and Tess are with my brother observing the jester." He pointed towards a large group that was gathered around the sheriff's fool. Elizabeth saw a graceful looking blonde girl in red watching them with interest. The smaller blonde beside her was laughing at the ridiculous antics of the jester, while a boy with tousled dark hair fiddled with the long bow in his hands. Max turned back to Kyle and Elizabeth abruptly. "I really must join them." He bowed stiffly and started to walk away. Elizabeth felt disappointment invade her to the bone. "Good day, Lady Elizabeth, Sir Kyle."

Elizabeth watched him go, her heart still pounding, shock sinking into her. How could he possibly exist? What could this mean?

Sir Kyle offered her his arm. "Come, my lady. We are wanted at the tourney ground. My lord father wishes to begin the competition." Elizabeth placed her hand on Kyle's arm, without conscious thought. She turned for one more look at Max, as Kyle led her away. She felt her pulse speed up as she met his grave eyes. He watched her go, no expression on his handsome face.

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Post by Kath7 » Mon Aug 01, 2005 2:53 pm

AN - Thanks for reading, Drogyn!

If anyone else IS reading this for the first time, let me know, 'kay? I'm always interested to see what people think. And, if you're rereading, let me know too. :wink: Because I'm greedy that way.

<u>Part 4</u>

Max watched Sir Kyle lead Lady Elizabeth away, feeling his heart begin to slow down as she disappeared into the crowd. He had been on his way to the stall selling meat pasties to provide a mid-day meal for himself and his siblings when he had suddenly seen the young lady in acute danger. Always protective of Tess and Isabel, he had thought that it was just a natural instinct within him to aid a lady in jeopardy.

That idea had quickly changed after he had swept Lady Elizabeth into his arms. It had suddenly felt as though he had found exactly what he had been looking for his entire life. He had known that she felt the same way when he had removed his hood and she had looked at him as though she recognized him. And he knew that she had - from the same place he knew her.

From his dreams.

Max had had a recurring dream his entire life. In it, he was not a stranger on this world, but a regular human man, with a wife and children. The wife in his vision had the face of Lady Elizabeth DeParkeville, his children were all small dark-haired, dark-eyed versions of her. He did not know how it was possible, but it was true. He had never seen her before today, but her face was as dear to him as those of Isabel or Tess, perhaps even more so. Neither Isabel or Tess had ever made his heart speed up as though it wanted to beat out of his chest, or made him short of breath, or made him feel that his whole world could end right at that moment if he could have just one kiss.

Max realized that Isabel was looking at him strangely. "Max, are you quite well?" she asked worriedly. The four of them had somehow been able to suppress the horrifying events of earlier that day and had actually started to enjoy the Fair.

Max forced himself to smile. He did not want to concern the others. "I'm fine, Bella. I just realized that I did not manage to acquire any food. We won't have time to eat before the tournament." Isabel did not look convinced, but she let it go.

Tess turned away from the jester, a smile still lighting up her pretty face. "Oh, Max! Did you see the fool?"

Max put an affectionate arm around her shoulders. "No, I missed him. But I only want to see the archery competition anyway."

Michael eyed him suspiciously. "Was that Sir Kyle with whom I saw you conversing?"

Max nodded, frowning slightly. "Yes. He asked after you, Bella." Max stared at her pointedly.

Isabel tossed her head. "Do you have a point, Maxwell DeHarding?" The other three all just looked at her. "Fine," she acknowledged. "I know I should not be encouraging him. It just gets so lonely..." She trailed off, tears appearing in her dark eyes. Max knew that Isabel had no real interest in Sir Kyle DeValence. He was just a distraction from her constant feeling of imprisonment at Castle DeHarding. Max decided to change the subject.

"Well, we'll just drop the whole matter and stay out of Sir Kyle's way," he decided aloud. Isabel nodded, while Michael and Tess looked relieved. They were both afraid of strangers to a certain degree. Tess, in particular, feared betrayal of who they were at all times.

Max led them all toward the tourney ground. He pushed his way through the crowd to the stands, securing seats near the front for Isabel and Tess. Tess was bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement, while Isabel was staring down the dirty man seated beside her, who was trying to get a little too close. Michael, as usual, was fiddling with his long-bow, an expression of longing on his face as he eyed the targets being set up on the field. Max knew that Michael was capable of winning the competition, but being the most careful of them all, he would not enter for fear of drawing too much attention to himself.

Neither Michael, nor Max had chosen to sit in the stands, preferring to lean against a fence closer to the targets. Isabel and Tess were in plain view. It would be easy for Max or Michael to be at their sides in an instant if any sort of trouble arose. Max knew that he could never be too careful with Bella. Her beauty but lack of position made her a constant target whenever she went into public, which was another reason that Lord Edmund refused to allow them to leave Castle DeHarding. Tess was pretty enough as well to warrant unpleasant attention from men. The outlaw's attack earlier in the afternoon had only reinforced this.

Despite being on his guard, Max's thoughts began to drift. Who was Elizabeth DeParkeville? he wondered to himself. How could he feel that he knew her when he had never before seen her? What could this mean?

Just the thought of her made Max's breath catch. She really was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Her dark hair had been covered by a transparent veil, but had still managed to catch the light, reflecting red highlights. Her skin had been perfect, not a blemish anywhere, which was almost unheard of for a girl of her age. And her eyes....They had reminded him of those of the doe Michael had allowed to escape when the two of them had been hunting a few weeks before. Large and dark and shining with intelligence, he had felt as though they were penetrating his soul.

Max was pulled from his reverie, when Michael elbowed him in the ribs. "Wake up, Maxwell! They're about to begin." Max watched the nobles collect in the gallery reserved for them across from where he and Michael stood. He recognized the Sheriff of Nottingham, who was guiding an elderly lady, presumably Queen Eleanor, to the throne in the centre of the observatory. Max's heart skipped a beat as he recognized the young lady in blue who followed close behind the queen. Lady Elizabeth took the seat beside the queen, arranging her skirts gracefully, and smiling when the queen patted her gently on the cheek.

The crowd quieted as the sheriff moved to the centre of the tournament field and raised his hands. "Welcome people of Nottingham! We are pleased to welcome her Grace, the Queen Dowager, to our assembly!" The crowd cheered lustily for the brave queen, who was a legend in her own time.

"Long live the queen! Long live King Richard!" The queen rose, with help from Elizabeth, and acknowledged the crowd.

The sheriff again held up his hands. The crowd gradually settled. "The tournament this afternoon is to be an archery competition, as most of you are aware. However, entries have been short, so we have decided to allow a few more competitors to enter the field without registering. The prize is a golden arrow." The crowd began to murmur amongst itself. No one took to the field.

The sheriff smiled. "Come now, gentlemen!" When no one moved, the sheriff continued, "Well, it appears that more incentive is required. Therefore, I would like to make an announcement. My son, Sir Kyle DeValence, has recently become betrothed." The sheriff indicated Sir Kyle, who was leaning on his bow near the noble's gallery, the few archery competitors gathered around him. The crowd cheered again and Kyle raised a hand in recognition. "His future wife is to be the beauteous Lady Elizabeth DeParkeville."

Max's heart constricted painfully in his chest. She had mentioned that she was betrothed, but he had not realized that it was to Sir Kyle. <i>How imbecilic are you?</i> he asked himself bitterly. <i>Was he not the one who came to lead her away earlier?</i> Max glanced briefly at Isabel in the stands. He was surprised to see that she was staring at him, her eyes slightly narrowed.

Meanwhile, Lady Elizabeth had stood in the gallery, and was being pushed forward by one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting. Max could not see whether she was blushing from the distance at which he watched her, but he could tell by the stiff way she held herself that she was not happy.

"Lady Elizabeth has graciously agreed," the sheriff continued, "To present the golden arrow to the winner of the competition...." He paused for effect. "Along with a kiss." A roar went up from the crowd. "Thus, the competition will take place in ten minutes. Any gentlemen who feel that they can earn a prize as wonderful as a kiss from a beautiful lady should present themselves on the field immediately."

Max stood frozen. A kiss from Lady Elizabeth! How could Sir Kyle have agreed to this! Max could see that Elizabeth had retaken her seat. Her hands were clenched in her lap, but she appeared composed. Deep down Max knew that she was not though. He could see her eyes scanning the crowd and was shocked when they suddenly stopped on him.

Even from this distance, he could see her eyes widen. He gazed at her, unable to pull away. Then she gave him a brief nod. And Max DeHarding knew exactly what he had to do.

<u>Part 5</u>

The girl stepped from the tent, adjusting the hood that was pulled tightly over her head, assuring that it wouldn't fall down. She had wept a little when she had hacked off her long, strawberry blonde hair with her dinner knife a few minutes before, but now her blue eyes were dry and determined. She wore a brown tunic, brown leggings, and a long brown cloak that she was eventually going to have to remove if she truly wanted to win.

And she did want to win. More than she had ever wanted anything in her life.

Mary Delucie of Whitfield had heard the sheriff's announcement and had breathed a sigh of relief when she had heard him announce that the registration of competitors would be waived. Now she would not have to face him down at the table. She had waited until the last possible moment to leave the tent that Alexander had reserved for her. The less time she spent on the field, the better. She did not want to be caught before she even had a chance to begin.

As Mary caught up with the band of competitors being herded onto the field, she spared a glance towards the noble's gallery. She caught sight of Elizabeth seated quietly beside the queen. Her friend was gazing intently at something, although Mary could not decipher what from this distance. She was quite certain, however, that it was not her betrothed, Sir Kyle the Supremely Boring.

Mary giggled quietly to herself as she reflected on the conversation she and Lizzy had had in the bed they shared the evening before. It had begun as a serious conversation about the chances of Elizabeth coming to love Sir Kyle, but had quickly disintegrated into a competition about who could come up with the most humorous title for the poor man. Elizabeth's best contribution had been Sir Kyle the Ridiculously Arrogant, while Mary had been partial to the aforementioned Lord Supremely Boring.

Mary forced herself to silence when the man walking in front of her turned and regarded her with interest. She lowered her head quickly, but not before meeting dark, questioning eyes. She forced back another giggle as she reflected that he had the messiest hair she had ever seen. Fortunately messy-head was quite tall. Mary decided that she would try and stay behind him as much as possible.

As the competitors reached the field, Mary began to assess her competition. Her brother, Alexander, had entered of course, but she had ever been able to best him with a bow. His talent had always lain in sword-play.

Lord Supremely Boring was no worry at all. He was as incompetent at archery as he was with the sword. He would be easily beaten.

There were several yeoman entered as well. Mary recognized Tom of Locksley, who might prove a challenge. He was quite handy with a crossbow, but she was not too worried about him. She knew his nerves were bad. He would never hold up under the pressure. The others would no doubt be competent, but no match for her.

That left the two well-dressed strangers, messy-head and his companion. Messy-head's friend looked determined, but distracted, which was a good sign. If his concentration was not totally on the matter at hand, she could beat him. She followed the direction of his gaze and realized that he was staring at Elizabeth, seated in the gallery. To Mary's surprise, Elizabeth was staring right back.

Mary took a closer look. Elizabeth's admirer was really quite handsome, in a serious way. She could understand Lizzy's interest. He's not as good-looking as messy-head, but then...

Now wait! Where did that come from ! Mary turned and stared at messy-head from beneath her hood. His chiseled features accentuated his dark, brooding eyes. He was tall and rangy but had the appearance of great strength. And he was staring right at her suspiciously!

Mary quickly turned away and focused on the targets at the far end of the field. There were currently three, but as the group of competitors dwindled, they would begin to use one.

She dropped her head as the sheriff came to stand in front of them for last minute instructions.

"Very well gentleman - the competition will begin forthwith. Every man will loose three arrows consecutively. The five competitors with the best three shots will move on to the second round. The last five will have one arrow each. The best shot will win the arrow and the kiss." Mary's head snapped up at the mention of the kiss. She looked at Alexander questioningly. He was watching her, an amused expression on his face, but gave no clue as to the answer to the kiss question. Oh, well! She would find out soon enough.

The competitors ranged along a marked line in the grass. Mary found herself positioned between Alexander and Messy-head. She could see that Messy-head was watching her from the corner of his eye. He was assessing the competition too, she realized with delight. Maybe this would be fun after all!

As each man stepped forward to take his turn, Mary was horrified to realize that the sheriff was asking for each of their names, so that he could announce it to the crowd.

<i>Heavenly Father! What am I to do! He'll recognize my voice for certain! </i>

Mary felt Alexander nudge her. "Courage! I'll take care of it." Messy-head looked at the two of them sharply, but then turned back to watch Tom of Locksley take his turn. He was leaning quite casually on his bow, showing little to no concern, as Tom made three respectable shots, each a little nearer the bull's-eye. Elizabeth's admirer, on Messy-head's other side, was watching the action intently. He stood quite stiffly and occasionally glanced towards the gallery, his jaw tightening with determination a little more each time he did so.

Hmmmm....Mary reflected. This was not a good sign about who that kiss was going to be from. <i>Oh well, I'll just kiss her on the cheek. She is like my sister after all. Too bad we cannot choose who we win a kiss from.</i> She smiled to herself at the entirely foolish thought of kissing Messy-head. Now that would be worth the price of competition.

Finally it was Elizabeth's admirer's turn. He stepped forward cautiously. Messy-head nodded encouragingly at him. He spoke briefly to the sheriff, who then announced, "Maxwell of Huntington." Mary watched Elizabeth in the gallery as Huntington stepped forward and planted his feet. She could see Elizabeth's hands clutching the arms of her chair. Her eyes were wide and Mary doubted that she was breathing.

Maxwell took his first shot, which was quite good, but still slightly wide of the bull's-eye. His second shot was better, but his third missed the target altogether. He stalked back to the group, an expression of annoyance on his face. <i>I think those will still be good enough to get him into the final five,</i>Mary thought. <i>Don't panic yet, Maxwell of Huntington. </i> She abruptly cut off her thoughts. <i>Stop that! You do not want him to do well! He's your competition! </i> But Mary could not push away the expression of longing she had witnessed on both Elizabeth and Maxwell of Huntington's faces.

Messy-head patted his friend on the back and then stepped forward to take his turn. "Michael of Huntington," the Sheriff announced. Before the last syllable had left his mouth, however, Michael of Huntington was done. Three perfect bull's-eyes greeted Mary's amazed eyes. The crowd erupted in cheers. <i>Show-off!</i> thought Mary.

"Well done, son." The sheriff looked astounded and less than pleased. Mary knew he was thinking that there was no way Sir Kyle could beat that.

<i>And there is no way he'll beat me either!</i> Mary thought confidently. She realized that it was her turn. She nodded at her brother to do whatever it was he was planning to do.

Alexander stepped forward. Mary heard him say to the sheriff, "Your pardon, my Lord. My friend Martin of York is mute. I told him I would give you his name." The sheriff appeared to be still staring at Michael of Huntington's amazing shots. He just nodded and managed to announce, "Martin of York," although his tone was somewhat strangled.

Mary placed herself in position and lifted her bow, knocking the first arrow. She casually pulled back the string and let loose. The arrow soared through the air and planted itself in the first bull's-eye. Her second arrow landed equally as perfectly in the second target. She carefully focused on her third shot. It landed an inch wide of the bull's-eye, exactly where she wanted it. A little over-confidence never hurt anyone, she thought as she returned to her position between Alexander and Michael of Huntington.

<i>Let him think I missed.</i>

Alexander's shots were perfectly competent and would assure him a place in the final five. Sir Kyle's first arrow hit the target, but his second two were both wide. He was out.

Mary felt a surge of pity for Sir Kyle as he bowed his head and made his way to the side-lines. His father looked disappointed as well and did not appear to know what to say to his son. Sir Kyle went and sat on the far side of the gallery, a scowl on his face to mask his upset.

<i>Pity won't help him now, Mary!</i> she told herself. <i> Concentrate - you only have one arrow.</i>

"Nice shooting," Michael of Huntington muttered to her as they repositioned themselves. His tone was quite arrogant, Mary thought. She smirked to herself under her hood. <i>We'll see who's arrogant when this is over.</i>

The five finalists were she, Alexander, Michael and Maxwell of Huntington, and Tom of Locksley.

Just as she knew they would, Tom of Locksley's nerves failed him under the pressure and his arrow went wide. Alexander's shot was very near the bull's-eye but not close enough. Mary saw him wink at her as he went past. <i>He had better not have done that shot on purpose! I want to win on my own merit.</i>

Needless to say, Michael of Huntington's shot was perfect. Maxwell managed a bull's-eye as well. Mary's shot bull's-eye assured her a spot in the next round.

"Move the targets back ten paces," the sheriff ordered two men-at-arms. They quickly complied. Mary bit her lip as she eyed the target. It was not the furthest at which she had made a bull's-eye, but it was close.

Michael of Huntington did not even appear to aim. He lifted his bow, loosed his arrow and suddenly it was twanging in the target. Perfect again. Mary sighed. Darn him!

Maxwell was much more careful. He carefully aimed and was rewarded with a perfect shot. He looked a little surprised when he returned to stand beside Michael, who was again leaning casually on his bow. Mary watched Maxwell turn to gaze at Elizabeth again. Mary could see that her friend was smiling slightly, hope apparently beginning to dawn in her that Maxwell might win. When Mary turned back, Michael was following Maxwell's gaze, a slight frown on his face.

Mary felt bad that she was going to have to disappoint Elizabeth, but she had no intention of losing. <i>Kisses come and go,</i> she reflected. <i>I will never have another chance like this. When the queen realizes what I have done, she is going to lock me away in the Tower for a thousand years.</i>

Mary did not demonstrate overconfidence like that annoying Michael of Huntington. She matched Maxwell's care and gently aimed her arrow. She breathed a sigh of relief when the judge at the far end yelled, "Bull's-eye!" Mary could see Michael of Huntington eyeing her with new respect. Maxwell looked disappointed, but managed to congratulate her. Mary was positive that he was sincere. She was beginning to like Maxwell of Huntington more and more. It was too bad that Lizzy was betrothed. Mary could see her friend very happily married to this man.

The target was moved back ten more paces. Mary watched it, tension beginning to tighten in her stomach. She had never hit a bull's-eye at such a distance, but she doubted anyone else could either. It was really very far. <i>Would not today be a wonderful time for a first?</i> she reflected wryly.

The sheriff changed the order on this round. She was first. Mary forced herself to take deep breaths. She heard Alexander encouraging her with half an ear, "You can do it, Martin, old chap!" but she ignored him, closing down all senses except sight. She raised her bow, took aim and let loose, closing her eyes.

The crowd told her what she needed to know. She opened her eyes and a perfect bull's-eye greeted her. Mary let out her held breath.

She tensed again when Michael came forward. <i>I cannot possibly get another bull's-eye. If that target gets moved again, I'll lose. Please, please, please let his shot go wide.</i> She clenched her teeth together. She was pleased to see that the arrogant archer was actually taking his time for once. This distance was difficult for him as well.

Mary's hope was short-lived. Michael performed without flaw. She felt like crying when she saw his arrow in the centre of the target. <i>We're going to be here until Judgment Day!</i>

Mary was barely concentrating as Maxwell of Huntington stepped forward to take his shot.

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Post by Kath7 » Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:17 pm

AN - Hi katrina! Thanks for stopping in. :D Drogyn, I think a lot of people have read this before, which is why it isn't getting much attention. I'm reposting it for the Time After Time Challenge, so it's not new to most, I guess.

<u>Part 6</u>

Max felt his heart sink as he watched both Martin of York and Michael competently achieve two more bull's-eyes. He knew for certain now that he was going to lose. His last shot had been achieved with pure luck. He figured that well must be running dry right about now.

Michael had been shocked, to say the least, when Max had hauled him away from the fence after the Sheriff's announcement about the kiss. "We're entering that competition," Max told him firmly, as they made their way through the crowd to the group of archers milling around on the tournament field. Max noticed Tess and Isabel staring after him in shock, as he pulled Michael after him, but he ignored them. He had only one goal in mind. He would deal with the repercussions - with Tess - later. Michael narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but since he was getting to do what he had wanted to do all along, he didn't ask any questions.

Max was relieved that, for once, Michael had gone along with him without arguing. How could he explain to his brother that he needed to enter the competition; that he <i>needed</i> to win the kiss of a complete stranger or he might as well just stop breathing right then. Even the thought of someone else claiming the prize made Max ill to his stomach. He had no choice. He <i>had</i> to win.

Now, the moment of truth was upon Maxwell DeHarding. He knew that he could win if he cheated. Just a little nudge from his thoughts and the arrow would fly cleanly to the target. But he had made it this far on his own merits and he did not want to spoil it now. Somehow winning a kiss from Lady Elizabeth using underhanded means would tarnish the whole experience. His win had to be as clean and as pure as she was.

Somehow he knew that he was destined to win.

This, however, did not mean that he was any less nervous as he stepped up to the mark. If he simply hit the bull's-eye, the target would be moved back again and the whole process would begin again. He had to end it - now.

Max raised his bow, nocking the arrow in one clean motion. He forced himself to shut out the din of the crowd. His eye was perfectly fixed on the point he wanted to hit. His arm muscles strained as held back the string on the powerful long-bow. One inch off and the competition would be over for him. It would come down to Michael and Martin of York. This could not be.

He felt a strange calm overtake him. It was as though someone was touching his shoulder, settling his nerves. He felt a warm breath against his neck. <i>Close your eyes, Max.</i> Somehow, he knew that it was Lady Elizabeth - his Liz - speaking to him.

He did what he was bid, closed his eyes and let the arrow fly.

His eyes snapped open again when the crowd erupted. Michael was slapping him on the back, Martin of York staring at the target in stupefaction.

He had split Michael's arrow. Automatic victory.

The sheriff stepped forward, a grin splitting his craggy face. "That was unbelievable! Congratulations, son!" Max stared at the target in shock.

And then he turned to look at Elizabeth.

Her eyes were wide, but she had a small smile of triumph on her face. She <i>had</i> spoken to him. He had heard her and the radiant smile that broke across her face as her eyes met his confirmed it for him.

"Go claim your prize, Maxwell, you lucky, undeserving dog." Michael pushed him towards the gallery, a grin on his face. Max eyed his brother, realized that Michael knew exactly why he had entered the competition. He was letting Max enjoy the victory, thinking that it was just a moment in time, one that would not affect them permanently.

Max knew differently though.

It was a beginning.

<u>Part 7</u>

Elizabeth watched the sheriff lead Maxwell of Huntington towards her, her heart in her throat.

From the moment she had laid eyes on him, she had known that their meeting was not chance. It was fate, was meant to be. His winning of the archery competition only reinforced it, seemed to be telling her: <i>this man is your destiny, your future.</i>

But, now that the moment was upon her, she was frightened.

Elizabeth had urged Max on to victory; every part of her being had concentrated on sending positive energy in his direction. She knew, without any doubt, that he had even heard her thoughts at one point. His last arrow had been <i>their</i> shot, had been fate telling them that everything that followed that one flying missile was meant to be - and it was terrifying.

But it was also exhilarating.

She realized that the queen was speaking to her. She forced her eyes away from Max, who was now only steps away.

"He is a very handsome young man. Every girl deserves to be kissed by a man like that once in her life." Elizabeth smiled at her guardian warily. Queen Eleanor was eyeing her, a speculative gleam in her dark gaze.

"I don't know what you mean, your grace." Elizabeth twisted her hands in her lap nervously.

Eleanor smiled serenely and lifted a brow. "Do you not?" Elizabeth swallowed with difficulty, slowly turning back to see the sheriff leading Max to stand in front of the noble's gallery. Michael of Huntington and the hooded Martin of York followed behind. Martin of York's head was still bowed. Michael of Huntington was grinning like he knew something the rest of them did not. His smile made Elizabeth nervous.

The crowd was still cheering wildly. The sheriff raised his hands for quiet and the spectators gradually complied. "Long live Queen Eleanor!" The crowd cheered again. The sheriff and the three archers sketched bows to the Queen Dowager, who acknowledged their tribute with a wave of her hand.

Elizabeth noticed that Max's eyes never strayed from her face. It did not seem odd, because she could not seem to stop staring at him either.

The sheriff rose and looked at Elizabeth. "Will the Lady Elizabeth join us please?" The crowd erupted again, on the edges of their seats in delight, awaiting the romantic moment that was to follow.

Elizabeth wondered briefly if her legs would support her. The queen was pushing her out of her chair, a wicked twinkle of amusement in her eyes. As Elizabeth carefully descended the wooden stairs, she noticed everything and, yet, strangely, nothing. It was all just fleeting images that she would look back on later in her reflections.

Sir Kyle was staring at her sullenly from near the corner of the gallery, annoyance and embarrassment plain in his expression.

Alexander was leaning against the fence, a wide grin of amusement on his handsome face. He was not looking at Elizabeth at all, but rather at Sir Kyle.

Elizabeth had known from the moment "he" had entered the field that Martin of York was Mary and felt a little bad that for Max to win her dear friend had to lose a competition that was most important to her. Her friend's head was still lowered, but she was beginning to watch the scene unfolding with interest rather than disappointment.

The sheriff still looked astounded by the whole business, disappointed in his son, but impressed despite himself by the caliber of the archery that had won the day. He stood stiffly beside Max, the golden arrow cradled in his arms, ready for Elizabeth to present it to the champion.

She also noticed the two girls Max had joined earlier, after saving her - the astoundingly beautiful blonde and her smaller, but equally attractive counterpart pressed up against the fence, pride and wonder on the face of the former, bewilderment and dawning concern on the visage of the other. Kyle had called them Max's sisters when she had asked her betrothed about them earlier, but there seemed little doubt that the smaller blonde was something quite different from being that to him. She looked <i>extremely</i> upset. Elizabeth wondered briefly about it, but then she was standing in front of Max, and all other thoughts fled her mind. He was gazing steadily at her with his soulful dark eyes, shyness evident, but triumph as well.

That was not all she saw there. She saw the gleam of possession in his gaze and she felt heat begin to rise into her face.

Elizabeth knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was claiming her today, before all these people, whether they were aware of it or not.

She was <i>his</i> - mind, body, soul. She accepted this without a shred of uncertainty, for just as she was his, he was hers.

He was hers, betrothal, duty and tradition be damned.

The sheriff handed Elizabeth the arrow and she approached Max shyly. The crowd was eerily quiet, all not wanting to miss a moment of the event about to take place.

"I..." Elizabeth faltered, licked her lips and raised her voice. "I would congratulate you, good sir, on your impressive victory." She extended her hand, as was proper. Max gently enclosed it with his own, bringing it to his lips. Her heart stopped.

She stepped forward slightly. "Claim your prize," she whispered to him, so softly it might have been the breeze.

Max did not hesitate. He brought his hands up, cupping her face tenderly, gently pushing back her veil and the tendrils of dark hair that had started to escape her coiffure. His dark eyes were bright, locked on hers, telling her more than a thousand troubadours could tell in a thousand ballads.

And, then, his lips were on hers.

It was a gentle kiss, but one full of promise.

It pledged thousands of more kisses exactly like it, and thousands more nothing like it.

It made her heart race, her skin tingle, made her want more - things she had never even dreamed of wanting.

It sealed the covenant of fate.

It was a beginning.

<u>Part 8</u>

As Michael watched Max kiss Lady Elizabeth, the grin he had been wearing gradually began to fade.

He was a little upset that his brother, whom Michael <i>always</i> beat at archery, just as Max <i>always</i> beat Michael with the sword, had won the contest. But he was also not particularly interested in kissing some snooty noblewoman - particularly one he had heard somewhere today was betrothed to the arrogant Sir Kyle DeValence.

It had been clear to Michael that Max had wanted to win though - more than he had ever wanted anything before. It was the first time Michael had ever seen his brother display any sort of selfish impulse and it had been refreshing. Not to mention, the teasing mileage he was planning to get out of the whole affair would keep him going for months. It was not often that the stoic Maxwell DeHarding displayed any sort of weakness, and he obviously had a weakness for Lady Elizabeth.

But as Michael watched his brother now, a knawing worry began to work its way into his belly. The way Max had gently touched her face before claiming her lips, the way the girl had gazed at him starry-eyed, the way neither of them had been aware of the crowd at all - it was disturbing.

And very, very unlike Max.

Michael saw Max break the kiss, his eyes opening slowly, a loving smile spreading across his face as he took Lady Elizabeth's hands in his. Max was still leaning very close to her. He was not saying anything that Michael could see, nor was she, but there was no question that something unsettling was happening between them.

Michael became aware of Martin of York, when the other archer shifted the weight on his feet. His hood was still up, which Michael realized was a little odd. The sun was shining brightly and Michael could feel its heat, although he was using his powers to keep his own body at a moderate temperature. A regular human should have been sweltering.

The Yorkshireman had definitely impressed Michael with his skill during the competition. If Max had not gotten so damn lucky with that last shot, it was entirely possible that Michael might have had to concede the event anyway. He decided that he would shake the man's hand. It had been a good contest.

But, just as Michael was about to address the other man, Martin turned on his heel and strode away. <i>That man is very strange,</i> he reflected. <i>And very short...</i>

He was distracted as the crowd began to leave the stands, milling on the tournament field, trying to get close to Max to congratulate him. Lady Elizabeth was still standing at Max's side, her hand on his sleeve. Michael's eyes narrowed.

Suddenly, Tess and Isabel were at his side, both staring stony-faced in the same direction as he. "What is going on with Max?" Isabel demanded, her tone not concealing from Michael her concern about the reckless way Max was behaving.

"How should I know?" he snapped back, rudeness his usual defense against Isabel's snootiness. Tess stuck her nose in the air in the manner of which only she was capable.

"Well, I'm going to get him. If we're not back at the castle before sunset, Lord Edmund will know for sure that we left the keep." Michael and Isabel watched her push her way through the crowd to Max's side. Tess grabbed Max's arm, the one that Lady Elizabeth did not already occupy, and pulled him aside, quite obviously giving him a tongue-lashing. Tess would set him straight, Michael grinned to himself.

He turned back to Isabel, who was staring off into the distance, a perplexed expression on her face. "Michael, look." She pointed into the shadows past the noble's gallery, her curiosity clear.

Martin of York was skulking near one of the tents, looking right and left, obviously doing everything in his power to not be noticed. Behind him, an urchin was sneaking up, clearly intent on robbing him.

"Wait here, Bella," Michael told Isabel. For once his betrothed complied, clearly warned by the tone of his voice.

Michael made his way carefully through the crowd, keeping his eyes on the small archer and the villain gaining on him. Just as the urchin was about to attack, Michael grabbed Martin and pulled him out of harm's way. The screech emitted by Martin was the most piercing Michael had ever heard. The urchin took one look at the expression on Michael's face and beat a hasty retreat.

"Let me go!" Martin was trying to push Michael off him, when his hood fell to his shoulders revealing a head of short, tousled blonde curls and a face that decidedly did not belong to a man.
In fact, it was the loveliest face Michael had ever seen. Her lips were full, her nose pert, and her eyes the shade of blue of the sky. She stared up at him in horror for a full minute, her mouth hanging open.

"If you don't close your mouth, you're going to catch flies," Michael finally told her wryly.

The girl's mouth snapped shut and she glared at him. "I suppose you are going to tell the sheriff about this?" she demanded indignantly. "You could not leave well enough alone, could you?"

Michael felt his temper beginning to rise. "I just saved you from a pickpocket! You could show a little gratitude," he retorted.

She lifted her chin, her eyes disdainful. "There is nothing in my pockets to pick, you knave! I could have easily dealt with him." Michael realized that he was still holding the girl by the arms. He quickly let go, causing her to stumble into him. He grabbed her again and set her straight, letting go again as quickly as possible. His hands felt as though they had been burned.

He used the only defense he could - sarcasm. "Oh, really? And I suppose you would have arrested him as well, and handed him over to the sheriff?"

She pursed her lips in disgust. "No, I would have reasoned with him."

Michael raised his eyebrow, amused. "I see."

The girl stomped her foot in annoyance. "You are most trying. Now please let me pass before anyone else sees me dressed like this. The queen will murder me for certain, if she catches me."

"The queen? What does she have to do with you?" Michael demanded, more roughly than he intended.

"She is my guardian, if you must know." She pulled herself up to her full height, which Michael realized was not significant at all. She barely reached his chin. "I am the Lady Mary Delucie of Whitfield."

Michael raised his eyebrow again. "Impressive," he muttered, his tone such that he made it clear he was anything <i>but</i> impressed. It was designed to infuriate her, and it worked.

"Ohhhh! You beast!" Lady Mary slammed past him, getting ready to stomp away. She whirled abruptly as she was about to enter a nearby tent. Michael had watched her depart in her fury, impressed by her quick temper. She reminded him of himself, if he was honest. "And you better not tell anyone about this," she threatened him. "My brother can have you arrested and thrown into the sheriff's dungeon."

"Your brother approves of this?" Michael indicated the boy's attire she was sporting and the bow swung over her shoulder, evidence of her entirely inappropriate behavior for a lady.

She stiffened. "I'll have you know that Alexander is a progressive man. He believes that woman are capable of anything men are." Suddenly she smiled and Michael blinked, momentarily stunned by her sudden change of mood. "And besides - don't forget that a woman almost beat <i>you</i> today."

With that she turned again and sauntered away. Michael stared after her, his eyes bright, impressed despite himself.

Mary Delucie of Whitfield was no ordinary woman.

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Post by Kath7 » Wed Aug 03, 2005 10:24 am

AN - Thanks everyone! I'm off to the lake for a few days, so this won't be updated. In the meantime, two parts...Now we're getting into the REAL story. :D

<u>Part 9</u>

Isabel joined Tess and Max, who were still embroiled in an argument when she came up.

Rather, Tess was arguing and Max appeared to be ignoring her. He was still watching Lady Elizabeth, who stood slightly to the side, her hands clasped in front of her pretty blue gown, her dark eyes staring at Tess assessingly.

Tess had worked herself into quite a lather, as it stood. The crowd gathered around them was beginning to stir with interest, more and more of the townspeople and peasants gathered on the common halting their own conversations to listen to the small, blonde virago.

"Really, Max! What were you thinking?" Tess repeated. "We were supposed to keep a low profile today. This will certainly get back to Lord Edmund now."

Isabel knew that Tess was truly concerned that Lord Edmund would hear about their trip to Nottingham, particularly about the near catastrophe that had befallen them in Sherwood. However, the peculiar light that had appeared in Tess's eyes was warning enough that Lord Edmund was not her main cause of anger with Max.

Until today, Tess had never had any sort of competition for Max's affection. The four of them had always been aware that they were intended for each other, Michael for Isabel, Max for Tess. While they had always accepted it, there had never been any reason for them <i>not</i> to accept it either. Now, in Max's case, it appeared that there was.

Isabel knew that while she loved Michael, it was not in the way in which troubadours sang of love. It was not with a passion so bright that it scalded, nor with an intensity so strong, it ached. Michael was more like a brother to her. She was aware that Michael felt the same about her and that Max felt the same way about Tess, to the point that Isabel had wondered if they were even capable of romantic love. She had speculated privately that perhaps their hearts were not able to love in the same way human hearts were.

She had wondered this until today - until she had seen the way Max reacted to five minutes in the presence of Lady Elizabeth de Parkville. Until she had witnessed Tess change from cheerful sister to spurned, jealous betrothed wife.

Isabel had not immediately understood why Max had entered that competition, but Tess had. Her blue eyes had narrowed and she had tensed on the bench beside Isabel. It was only then that Bella had watched her brother more closely and had seen what was transpiring between their brother and Sir Kyle’s betrothed. Even Michael, who was by far the more competitive of the two boys, had not brought the same intensity to his archery that Max had. Max had wanted to win for one reason and one reason alone - to win the kiss of Lady Elizabeth.

Isabel now listened to Tess upbraid him. In many ways she agreed with her sister. Max had endangered them by throwing off their anonymity. But, as she watched him, his eyes bright, his face alive as she had never seen it before, she could not blame him. She had always yearned for something that had seemed just beyond her reach. She had always known that Max felt the same.

She wondered now if Max was not the first to find it.

Isabel's reverie was interrupted, as was Tess's tirade, when Sir Kyle suddenly appeared at Lady Elizabeth's elbow. Bella saw Max tense.

"Good day, Isabel, Tess." Kyle addressed them cordially. Isabel flinched slightly when she became aware of the way the sheriff's son's eyes settled hotly upon her. Perhaps Tess had been accurate in her assessment that Sir Kyle had taken her flirting a fortnight ago more seriously than Isabel had intended.

Isabel lowered her eyes demurely, hoping he would get the picture that she was uninterested. "Good afternoon, Sir Kyle," she murmured. She watched through lowered lashes as Sir Kyle led Lady Elizabeth forward.

"Have you met my betrothed Lady Elizabeth de Parkville, ladies?" Although Sir Kyle's tone was friendly, the threatening look he sent in Max's direction was undeniable and made Isabel shiver. So, she reflected, even the numskull Sir Kyle noticed the interest between the two. Their anonymity would truly be sacrificed if the sheriff's son decided they were his enemies.

"We are most pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Elizabeth," Isabel replied. Tess was no help, simply glaring at the other girl. "I am Isabel de..." She felt Max nudge her. "...of Huntington," she inserted smoothly, "and this is my sister, Tess."

Lady Elizabeth stepped forward, her eyes interested and kind. "I am pleased to meet you both. I was unaware of other ladies in the neighborhood, so close to my own age." She smiled, although it seemed somewhat forced. Her next words betrayed why. "When Sir Kyle and I marry we must renew the acquaintance." Isabel was instantly aware from the other girl's tone that she hoped the event never took place - not visits with Isabel and Tess but, rather, and more importantly, marriage with Sir Kyle.

Tess at last spoke up. "I doubt that will be possible, milady." The four others turned to stare at her. Lady Elizabeth blinked, Max's eyes narrowed, Sir Kyle looked suspicious, while Isabel tensed. "Our guardian is very particular about whom he allows us to see. It just seems unlikely." Tess raked her blue eyes from the top of Elizabeth's dark head to the toes of her slippers and repeated, "No, it will not possible at all."

Isabel watched Max's lips compress to a straight line and his dark eyes reflected that he was about to say something he would later regret.

"Tess!" Bella grabbed her sister urgently by the arm. "Pray excuse us, Lady Elizabeth, Sir Kyle." She offered a smile to the snubbed Elizabeth, hoping to erase the bewildered expression on the other girl's face. "We are most fatigued, unused as we are to such excitement." She motioned to the crowds around them. "Max, we will meet you at the stables in a few minutes. We would be most happy to see you again, milady." She smiled again at Elizabeth, but quickly hauled her sister away before she could get them into even more trouble.

When Isabel had managed to pull Tess out of ear-shot, she turned to her sister in annoyance. "What were you hoping to accomplish with that little display?" she demanded.

Tess raised her chin in defiance. "I was making clear to that little simpering noblewoman that I am on to her." Her blue eyes flashed with barely concealed fury. "I saw the way she was staring at Max, playing up to him. He is mine."

Isabel's eyes widened in astonishment. She had never seen this side of her sister - totally unreasonable and totally oblivious to the fact that Max had been just as infatuated with Lady Elizabeth as the lady had been with him. This was dangerous. Tess had been reckless, totally unlike herself - and so had Max.

"Well," Isabel told her, trying to calm Tess down, "Max will never see her again after today anyway. When Lord Edmund hears of this, he will lock us all away for a year."

Tess's face relaxed minutely. "Yes, I suppose that you are correct, Bella." She began to tap her foot impatiently. "Where is he?" she demanded, her temper evidently beginning to rise again. "And where is Michael? We really must start home. It will soon be dark. We do not want to be waylaid in Sherwood again."

Isabel scanned the crowd. "I see Michael over there. He is joining Max. He'll get Max to leave."

Tess followed her gaze, tensing suddenly. "Bella! Look! It's that priest! The one from Sherwood." Isabel followed Tess's gaze and felt her heart enter her throat as she watched the priest make his way through the packed bystanders, his eyes intent on Max and Michael, who were still conversing with Sir Kyle and Lady Elizabeth. Her stomach clenched when she realized that the Sheriff of Nottingham had also joined the little group. She forced herself to calm down.

"It will be fine, Tess," Bella reassured her sister. "You erased his memory. He will not recognize them." She was not as certain as she sounded though. While Tess's powers were known to be mind-altering, she had never actually practiced them in the dire circumstances they had experienced earlier that day. Yes, Tess could make unicorns appear from the mist and stars seem to dance in the sky, but she had never before had cause to replace entire memories - and the priest had been unconscious when Tess had done it. There had been no proof that she had succeeded.

Isabel held her breath as the priest passed only five feet to the right of where Michael and Max stood, completely oblivious to the danger in which they found themselves. Isabel felt Tess grab her hand, clutching it until it was numb.

They both froze as the priest abruptly came to a halt, staring at their brothers. Horror and terror began to dawn on his face and, as though he was suddenly woken from a nightmare, he shook his head, raising his arm and pointing it directly at Michael.


"Demon!" he yelled, his voice so loud and insistent it carried to where Tess and Isabel stood, helpless and frozen with terror, unable to help Max and Michael in any way.

Michael's head whipped around and Isabel could see him stumble into Max in his shock. Max put up his arms to catch his brother, his posture suddenly stiff.

"Stop the demons!" The priest pointed at them both now, recognition of Max clearly dawning as well. "They killed a dozen men in East Sherwood this afternoon, with no weapons and without laying a hand on any of them!" Max was frantically looking around for an escape, his arm still firmly planted around Michael's shoulders. Isabel could see Michael struggling to get away, his shock quickly turning to anger.

"We saved your life, you stupid old man!" Michael yelled, his fury evident in every line of his body. If Max had not had a firm grip on him, he would have attacked the priest.

Isabel noticed that the sheriff had unsheathed his sword. He was staring from Michael to the priest, trying to get a handle on what was occurring.

Sir Kyle was attempting to lead Lady Elizabeth away, but she wrenched herself from his grasp, clearly unwilling to leave Max's side - particularly if he was in danger. Sir Kyle stepped away from her, annoyance and hurt plain on his face.

The priest was still yelling. Max was trying to make Michael walk away, but Michael stood rooted to the spot, his desire to murder the priest apparently rising with every moment.

"I suggest we adjourn to the castle and deal with this matter in private, " Max finally suggested, appealing to the sheriff. The sheriff looked inclined to grant the request, when Sir Kyle suddenly stepped forward, his tone cold.

"What is there to discuss? A man of the Church has accused your brother of murder." Kyle pointed at Michael, arrogance and disdain plain in his stance. "They belong in the dungeon until this is sorted out." Isabel felt her heart constrict, as several well-dressed nobles who had gathered at the scene began to nod their heads in agreement. She saw Lady Elizabeth appearing to be about to step in, to likely plead on Max and Michael's behalf, when Michael cut her off.

"We will not be thrown in any dungeon." His hand went up. Tess gasped and Isabel nearly fainted. She caught her breath when Max grabbed Michael's arm and started to pull him away.

"We are leaving - right now."

The crowd parted suddenly and a man dressed in the attire of a bishop of the Church stepped forward, blocking their path. "I command that you arrest these men, sheriff. In the name of the Church they will be tried for witchcraft." He eyed the trembling priest, who was clearly beginning to lose his nerve. "A man of God does not lie, and therefore his word must be heeded. Arrest them."

Isabel could see that the sheriff was torn. He clearly did not believe the priest, but he did not want to defy such a high man of the Church in public. The crowd around the little group had grown to almost astronomical proportions.

The matter was abruptly and irrevocably taken from the sheriff's plate when Lady Elizabeth, out of nowhere, threw herself on the bishop, knocking the Church leader to the ground. The crowd bellowed in astonishment at the sight of a refined lady seated atop the head of the Church in the region.

As Sir Kyle moved forward to haul her off, Elizabeth appealed to Isabel’s brother. "Run, Max!"

Isabel could see Norman soldiers beginning to push their way through the crowd.

Max was staring at Elizabeth, clearly undecided. Isabel knew that her brother trusted in justice. It went against every fibre of his being to run away. The decision was taken out of his hands by Michael, who hauled his brother away, grabbing the nearest horse and thrusting its reins at Max.

Max mounted quickly, clearly searching the crowd for Isabel and Tess. Isabel closed her eyes, frantically searching for calm. She connected almost immediately.

<i>Go, Max! We're safe! We'll follow later! </i>

Her brother’s voice was clear in her head but with an underlying note of panic when it sounded in her mind. <i>I can't leave you, Bella!</i>

<i> Do it, Max! Getting yourself arrested will not help us.</i>

With that, Max wheeled his horse around, Michael close on the steed's heels, another pilfered horse under him.

"Sheriff!" one of the barons bellowed. "They're stealing my horses!"

The sheriff stared after Max and Michael, forcing himself to concentrate. "Captain!" The captain of the castle guard quickly broke through the crowd. Isabel watched her brothers disappear through the gates of the city, Max looking back only once, Michael not at all.

Isabel grabbed a sobbing Tess's hand. "Come on!" With that, she pulled her sister away, getting quickly lost in the crowd.

<u>Part 10</u>

Alexander caught Elizabeth's arm as she flew past him, her veil fluttering behind her, revealing her long dark braids. He had never seen his friend in such a state of disorder before. She frantically wrenched her arm out of his grip, until he spoke. "Lizzy! What the devil is the matter with you?"

Elizabeth stopped abruptly and threw her arms around Alexander. "Oh, thank goodness. Alexander, you must help me! Where is the queen?" Her eyes were darting from one direction to the other, clearly searching the crowd for someone.

"She retired to the castle after you kissed Maxwell of Huntington. The excitement was too much for her."

Elizabeth seemed to calm down slightly. "Then she did not see what I did! Alexander, I jumped on the bishop!" She looked momentarily non-plussed, but then quickly gathered her wits again. "Thank goodness. I still have some time. If you see Sir Kyle, tell him I went in the opposite direction!" Elizabeth turned, as though to run off.

Alexander grabbed her arm again, halting her in her tracks. "Lizzy! Tell me what's wrong." He had never seen her so scattered.

Elizabeth did not pull away this time. "Alex! Maxwell of Huntington and his brother are being chased by the sheriff's men. I must find their sisters to help them. They must be beside themselves with worry."

Alexander's eyes narrowed. "Why is the sheriff chasing them?" he demanded suspiciously
"And what, pray tell, does that have to do with you?"

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Really, Alexander! Where have you been? Michael has been accused of murder and witchcraft by Father Desmond."

Alexander's grip tightened on Elizabeth's arm. "Pardon me?"

"It is, of course, blatantly false," Elizabeth told him defiantly. "I just know that Max could not have been involved in anything like that."

Alex raised an eyebrow at her. "Max, is it? And what do you know of Maxwell of Huntington, Lizzy? You kissed him as the prize in a competition. He is a complete stranger to you."

Elizabeth shook her head emphatically. "No, Alex! I know. I cannot explain it, I just do. Now, if you are not going to help me, then let me go!" She wrenched her arm away from him again.

"Lizzy!" he called after her. She ignored him, pushing her way through the crowd at a dead run. Alexander had never seen his friend like this before. He followed behind, more concerned for her than he had ever been. He nearly lost sight of her, when her blue veil was suddenly visible close to the city gates. She was talking to two girls, who were clutching hands. One of the girls, a tall blonde dressed in red, was listening to Elizabeth intently, while the other was trying to pull her companion away.

"....Isabel. Let me help you," Alexander heard Elizabeth say, when he caught up. As she spoke, the tall blonde turned slightly, scanning the crowd. Her profile came into Alex's line of vision and he stopped abruptly, feeling as though he had just been kicked in the stomach.

She was the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. Blonde braids framed a visage of exquisite proportion, full lips, perfect nose, dark full-lashed eyes. The expression of pure terror on that ideal face brought the iron to Alexander of Whitfield's soul.

Alexander was a knight in need of a cause. And he had just found it in the face of an angel.

"Thank you, Lady Elizabeth," the angel was saying. "But you cannot help us. We must find Max and Michael ourselves. They are fugitives. They need us."

The shorter blonde girl standing next to the angel broke in. "Having you involved would just mean more trouble. Have you not caused enough already?" The expression of dismay that crossed Lizzy's face annoyed Alexander. Who was this girl to speak to his kind and loving Elizabeth in such a manner?

"I'll thank you, milady, to keep a civil tongue in your head!" This came from Mary, who had suddenly appeared at Elizabeth's elbow. "How dare you speak to Elizabeth that way, when she is only trying to help."

Alexander came to stand quietly behind his sister and his friend. He did not speak up, simply stared at the small blonde. Mary had always been capable of defending them all with her wicked tongue.

The angel spoke up. "I apologize for my sister." Alex saw her nudge the other girl with her elbow. She turned sad brown eyes on Alexander. They were pools of mystery, serious and wary, with an underlying hint of vulnerability that spoke to Alexander's heart. He felt it thump unsteadily in his chest.

Elizabeth replied, "I understand that you are upset, Lady Tess, but at least let me send my friend Alexander to accompany you. He can protect you in the confines of the forest until you find your brothers." Alex knew that Lizzy was aware that she did not even need to ask him to do so. His chivalrous nature would have guaranteed that he would have escorted the ladies unbidden. He bowed in accommodation.

Lizzy drew him forward. "This is my dearest friend, nearly brother, Alexander of Whitfield. You can trust him. I do, with my life." Elizabeth indicated the angel and her sister. "Alex this is Isabel of Huntington and Tess of Huntington. They are Michael and Max's sisters."

Mary was still next to Elizabeth, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes sparking with annoyance at Tess of Huntington. Alex noted that she had changed from her boyish attire to a gown, but that it was typically plain. "I will go too," she announced, tossing her newly cropped curly head.

"This is not a pleasure ride into the woods," Tess snapped, but Isabel nodded.

"I suppose we do need help." She reached forward and took Elizabeth's hand. "Why are you doing this?"

Elizabeth just smiled. "I do not know myself. I just know that we are meant to help you."

Isabel turned to Alexander and Mary. "I do not understand why you would be so kind to complete strangers, but I thank you." Tess snorted. Alexander noticed that Isabel gave her a perplexed look, but appeared to decide to ignore her sister.

"I hope you do not think you are coming with us. The least you can do," Tess directed her comment to Elizabeth, "Is to keep that imbecile Sir Kyle away from us."

Elizabeth raised her chin, narrowing her eyes slightly. <i>What is going on between these two?</i> Alex wondered to himself. "I was not planning on accompanying you," Elizabeth replied stiffly. "I will come to you tomorrow, after I have gathered whatever knowledge I can about Michael's case."

Elizabeth pulled Alex and Mary slightly away from the two Huntington sisters. "Please care for them. I know that it is what Max would want."

Alex and Mary exchanged glances.

"What is this Maxwell of Huntington to you, Lizzy?" Alexander repeated his question from earlier. "All of this is most peculiar." He felt himself turning back to stare at Isabel of Huntington. She was watching them all, her dark eyes assessing. She briefly met Alex's gaze, blinked and looked away, a faint blush appearing on her cheeks. Alex felt his own skin heat up, but he shook his head, forcing himself to listen to Elizabeth.

His friend was staring off into the distance, her face serene and certain. "I only know that it is important to help Max and his family. I cannot say why, but it must be." She turned her dark eyes on her closest friends in the world. "It is <i>meant</i> to be - for all of us."

Mary nodded. "I feel it too. I met Michael of Huntington." Her eyes narrowed slightly, "And while he is an arrogant pig, he is no murderer. This just feels right." Mary smiled suddenly. "Besides, it has been ages since we truly had an adventure!"

They rejoined Isabel and Tess. "It will be safer if you all hide in the forest until I find out exactly what the Church and sheriff intend to do. I will also appeal to the queen," Elizabeth told them. "Is there anyone I should contact for you?" She directed this question at Isabel and Tess. They glanced briefly at each other, seemed to come to an agreement.

"No, not just yet," Isabel replied.

Elizabeth suddenly started. "Oh for pity's sake! There is Sir Kyle. I will go waylay him while you make good your escape. I will meet you tomorrow at St. Mary's Convent in the forest. Lay low until then." With that, she disappeared into the crowd.

Alexander watched her go, wondering when his friend had become such a forceful woman.
He turned back to the other three girls, who had all begun to eye each other suspiciously again.

"Let us go. The fewer horses we take the better. We will be unable to properly care for them in the forest," he stated. He helped Isabel climb onto her horse, Tess mounting behind. That left he and Mary to share the other one. They glared at each other momentarily. Alexander knew exactly what his sister was thinking. "Fine, you may hold the reins to begin with," he finally relented, sighing.

Isabel and Tess laughed despite themselves.

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Post by Kath7 » Tue Aug 09, 2005 5:04 pm

AN - I'm back! :D

In other news, another story in the Time After Time series is being posted in AU. It's entitled Eternal Summer Fades Away and is by roswellianprincess. Go check it out! :D

<u>Part 11</u>

They had left the King's Highway, and were now winding their way through a deer run in Sherwood, Tess and Isabel following close behind Alexander and his sister. Isabel was holding the reins. Tess was still behind her, having fallen asleep against Isabel's back. Bella was glad. Her sister had complained from the moment they had left Nottingham.

"I do not understand why they are coming with us, Bella." Tess had whispered to her an hour or so earlier. The whisper had been loud enough to carry to Mary of Whitfield, however, as Isabel was now sure Tess had intended. "We know exactly where Max and Michael went. We do not need them and I do not like feeling at all indebted to that Lady Elizabeth."

Isabel had not replied, finding for once that ignoring her sister was the easiest course of action. She briefly met Alexander's eyes, as he glanced back at them. Mary had been muttering under her breath to him, Isabel was almost positive, but he simply smiled at Bella and turned back.

Few words had been spoken since. A tentative trust existed between Isabel and the two Delucies, although Bella could not really figure out why. <i>Perhaps I did not want to have to take control of the situation,</i> she reflected now. <i>Alexander of Whitfield seems more than willing to take on my problems.</i>

As she stared at the back of his head, she wondered what it was about him that she had found so immediately trustworthy. Perhaps it was the concern with which he had treated Elizabeth earlier, or perhaps it was the way he just laughed whenever Mary snapped at him or tried to get him to do something her way.

Isabel noticed immediately that Alexander of Whitfield did not do anything he did not want to do.

Perhaps it had been the way he had looked at her when they had first met - like she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. But then, many men did that. It was something more, something that shone from his dark eyes - a wry humour and a joie de vivre that attracted her immediately.

The small group broke through to a clearing, which was graced by the large oak Isabel recalled from one of her many wild rides through the forest, during her attempts to escape her stifling existence at Castle DeHarding. She and Michael, Max and Tess had dubbed it "Sanctuary" long since, agreeing that in event of any serious situation, should they be parted, this was where they would meet.

Sanctuary was located deep in the dark heart of Sherwood, near enough to Lord Edmund’s castle to be easily reached, but far enough that their guardian was unaware of its existence. The clearing was wide and a stream meandered through the far corner, winding its way back into the green wood. As they rode in, a deer raised its head, stared at them momentarily, and then disappeared into the forest.

They could survive here - in hiding- for quite some time. Isabel was positive that it was the place Michael and Max would head, knowing that the girls would think of it, too.

Unfortunately, as they entered the clearing, her brothers were nowhere to be found.

Tess awoke with a start, when Isabel pulled her horse to a stop. She glanced around and Isabel could feel her sister begin to panic. "Where are they, Bella?" Isabel felt Alexander and Mary's eyes on her questioningly.

Suddenly, Max melted out from behind the oak. His brown cloak had rendered him virtually invisible, something Bella realized he had intended. His bow was slung over his shoulder, ready for instant access.

He was staring at Alexander and Mary, wariness apparent in his dark eyes. "Bella?" he asked quietly.

"Lady Elizabeth sent them to help us, Maxwell," Isabel told him quickly. She saw Max relax visibly.

"Where is the lady?" Max's eyes had brightened at the thought that she might also be with them.

"Elizabeth is in Nottingham," Alexander told him, dismounting and bowing cordially. "I am Alexander of Whitfield, and this is my sister Mary."

Isabel noticed that Mary did not wait for aid in dismounting, but swung smoothly from the saddle, gazing around the clearing assessingly. "Yes, I think this will do nicely," she commented. Max, Isabel and Tess turned to look at her in confusion. Mary noticed and grinned. "For our camp, of course."

"<i>Our</i> camp?" Tess demanded. When Mary only stared at her, Tess continued, with horror, "You are not planning on staying here with us?" Isabel could feel herself wanting to smirk despite herself. She noticed Alexander attempting to mask a smile, as well.

"I believe I am in the mood for a little fresh air," Mary replied breezily. "We promised Lizzy that we would help you until all this silliness with the sheriff is sorted out." She raised an eyebrow, an action that Isabel had noticed she and her brother shared. "Are you out of trouble yet?" she asked Isabel kindly.

"Well, no," Isabel replied, feeling an uncharacteristic urge to giggle. She was finding that she enjoyed this girl's company more and more. Mary had already turned a dire situation into something almost amusing several times that day. She was definitely one capable of making real worries seem insignificant, if they worked together.

Max stepped forward, his expression concerned. "I do not think that you understand, milady. The accusations are not exactly unfounded."

Mary's eyes widened momentarily. "I see."

"Did your brother kill those men?" Alexander asked. Isabel felt a stab of disappointment. They were going to leave them when they heard the truth. She just knew it. She squashed her feeling of sadness ruthlessly. <i>You knew that you could not depend on anyone but each other,</i> she told herself.

"He had no choice," Isabel inserted, using her most snooty tone. It was a vain attempt to mask her true feelings, of fear and disappointment. "They were outlaws. He was protecting me." She stared at Alexander defiantly, waiting for him to turn away, to drag his sister after him, to leave them all alone.

They were always alone.

"I can understand the urge to protect you," Alexander told her mildly. He did not move, just stood his ground, his gaze steady. Isabel blinked, confused.

"Well, we are all outlaws now," Mary decreed. "Alexander and I have aided and abetted wanted men...and women." She smiled at Isabel. She waggled her finger at Max, whom she had apparently deduced was the real leader of the group. "You will not rid yourselves of us now. If you do, we'll just have to set up camp next-door anyway." She snorted. "Betimes, I have no desire to return to that castle. I just know the queen was setting me up for betrothal next." She wrinkled her nose. "And after the horrible taste she showed in choosing Sir Kyle for Lizzy, I'm afraid that I am going to have to insist that I be allowed to decide my own fate. Maybe a few weeks away from me will make the old bat miss me enough to allow it." In spite of her words, the affectionate tone of Mary's voice told Isabel that she really did love the queen.

As Mary spoke, Michael appeared from the forest, a brace of rabbits clutched in one hand. He stopped abruptly at the sight of Alexander and Mary.

"You!" he sputtered, staring at Mary, annoyance pronounced on his face.

Mary smiled at him. "Hello to you, too." She eyed the rabbits arrogantly. "Hmmmm. Only three."

Isabel watched Michael's lips compress with irritation. She allowed herself a small smile.
<i>Interesting,</i> she thought.

Max finally spoke again. "Are you sure?"

"Max! We do not need them!" Tess stated, her nose in the air. "We cannot trust them."

Max ignored her, watching Mary and Alexander closely.

When Mary nodded enthusiastically, Alexander more calmly, his gaze locked on Bella' s face, Max capitulated. "Very well. I do not like the idea of others becoming involved in our problems, but we can certainly use the help, particularly from an archer as capable as you - Martin of York." He smiled wryly at Mary, who sniffed.

Michael rolled his eyes and stomped off to the stream to clean the rabbits. Isabel was not surprised when Mary trailed after him, telling him exactly how he should go about doing so. Tess flopped down in a pile of moss under the oak in a huff, clearly settling in for a good sulk.

Isabel was surprised to see that Max was preparing one of the horses.

"What are you doing, Max?" she asked worriedly.

Max did not reply, just stared at Alex for a moment. Alexander nodded and Max turned the horse, pushing it into the dense foliage, pulling the hood of his cloak over his dark head as he went.

"Where is he going?" Isabel asked Alexander, annoyance at her brother's high-handedness apparent in her voice despite her efforts to hide it. She blinked when Alexander took her hand, gently squeezing it and releasing it. She felt her cheeks redden.

"He is going to see Elizabeth," Alexander told her with certainty.

<u>Part 12</u>

When Elizabeth joined the queen, the sheriff, and Sir Kyle at the high table in the Great Hall for dinner that evening, she tried to avoid all of their eyes. She knew that it was useless, that she was going to be berated for jumping on the bishop that afternoon, but she hoped that she might put it off for a time. Her worry for Max, Mary, and Alexander, as well as the others, was such that she did not know if she would be able to keep her composure during a lecture.

She had tried to plead illness, but the queen had insisted that she join them - and where Queen Eleanor commanded, there was no refusal.

Thus, she now made her way through the hall, circling around the lower tables, stepping over one of the sheriff's hounds, and trying to avoid the smoke from the fires in the two great hearths. Torches were lit along the stone walls, but the light was still dim.

Elizabeth had changed from the blue gown she had worn to the fair, having torn the sleeve during her fall with Bishop Waldemar. She was now wearing a gown of rose velvet, her girdle simple. She had chosen to forgo wimple and veil, her hair neatly braided and coiled around her head, bound with a gold circlet. A single pearl graced the middle of her forehead. Elizabeth had decided that demure and respectable were probably the most likely way of escaping too great a scolding from the queen. For, with too harsh a punishment, she would likely be confined to her room, making it impossible to bring supplies and news to the fugitives on the morrow. She was desperate to join her friends, and would do nothing to jeopardize the opportunity.

She was desperate to see Max, again.

Elizabeth did not understand what was happening to her where Maxwell of Huntington was concerned, but she knew that she had to see him, had to find out why she was so drawn to him. She had to know why she was so eager to help him, she was willing to risk her relationship with the queen, any hope of happiness with her future husband, break the law, and endanger the lives of her two closest friends.

She was frightened by the intensity of the way she felt about him. It was as though she had always known him - that they had always loved each other.

For this was what she felt for him, an almost complete stranger - love. She knew with utter certainty that he was the person she was supposed to be with. He was the one with whom she was supposed to spend the rest of her life.

It was, quite simply, meant to be. She knew it, and, yet, she still did not know <i>how</i> she knew it. To find out, she needed to see Max again.

"Well, look who has finally decided to join us," Sir Kyle muttered snidely as she gracefully took her seat next to him. A servant hurried forward, providing a bowl in which she quickly washed her hands. Elizabeth met Kyle's eyes briefly, was not surprised to see him glaring at her. She quickly looked away.

"I apologize for my tardiness, your grace, my lord." She spoke to the queen and the sheriff.

The sheriff nodded stiffly, clearly not sure what to say.

The queen had no such dilemma. "Well, Elizabeth, I have heard about your adventure this afternoon." Elizabeth pressed her lips together, her eyes firmly on her lap. "It seems that we are going to need to have a little heart to heart later this evening." The kind tone of the queen's voice caused Elizabeth to snap her head up and stare at her guardian. Queen Eleanor's eyes were twinkling. "I do wish I could have seen the expression on old Waldemar's face when you trounced him." She snorted, not at all delicately. "If anyone deserves to be pulled off his high horse, it's that one."

Elizabeth smiled weakly, unsure what to say. She glanced at Sir Kyle, who looked perplexed and annoyed. Clearly he had been hoping for some different comment from the queen. The sheriff just shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"I will apologize to him, your grace," Elizabeth finally replied carefully.

"You should apologize to my father and I as well," Kyle inserted nastily. "Thanks to you, we lost those two outlaw Huntingtons. Not to mention you humiliated me. We couldn't even find their two sisters to hold as hostages." He suddenly eyed her suspiciously. "Where did you disappear to so quickly after their escape?"

"I went to the chapel to pray for forgiveness for my behavior. I lost my head, Sir Kyle. Please forgive me." Elizabeth decided to continue to play the contrite betrothed fiancée, although she practically had to force the words out through clenched teeth.

Kyle stared at her for several loaded moments, finally nodding arrogantly, and turning back to his food.

"There really are more important matters to discuss." The Sheriff cuffed Kyle on the head, earning him a dirty look from his son. "Lady Elizabeth, her grace informs me that Alexander and Mary Delucie are nowhere to be found in the castle. Knowst you aught of their whereabouts?"

Elizabeth feigned ignorance. "Alexander told me earlier that he has a small manor near Nottingham. Perhaps he and Mary went there to pass the night?"

"Without telling me?" Eleanor raised an eyebrow imperiously. "What am I to do with that girl?" She smiled despite herself. "She must have been aware that I planned to introduce her to a potential suitor on the morrow. Sir Guy is riding to Nottingham, from York, for the purpose."

Elizabeth smiled weakly. "I am certain that she knew nothing of the sort, your grace." She was <i>actually</i> sure the exact opposite was true, knowing Mary.

"Hmmm, I wonder." The queen turned back to the trencher she shared with the sheriff. He was still sizing up Elizabeth, an expression of curiosity on his craggy face.

He finally spoke, changing the subject. "As to those outlaws - you are sure you know nothing of either Michael or Maxwell of Huntington, milady?" He looked suddenly annoyed. "I still must speak to the bishop this eve, must tell him something. He is determined that I pursue them." The sheriff clearly thought the whole business ridiculous. For the first time Elizabeth began to feel hope that all would be well for Max and his siblings.

She decided then that she would do her utmost to hear the conversation between the bishop and the sheriff. <i>I will do anything to protect them,</i> she thought fiercely.

"I know nothing, sheriff." Elizabeth bit her lip. She despised falsehoods. "Are you sure that they are guilty?" she asked, hoping to get a clearer picture of the sheriff's intentions. Any news she could provide for Max would be invaluable.

The sheriff just shook his head, sighing. "I hope not. I liked those boys." He indicated Sir Kyle, whose head was buried in his trencher. "Kyle and I will investigate the clearing tomorrow, where Father Desmond claims the men are buried."

"But if they killed outlaws, what is the concern?" the queen asked, clearly irritated by the whole business. "Those boys are heroes, not villains. It seems to me they saved that idiot priest's life."

"And were likely only protecting their sisters," Elizabeth piped up, relishing any opportunity to press Max and Michael's innocence.

"It is the method of the killing that concerns us, your grace." This came from Sir Kyle, entirely too condescendingly phrased for Elizabeth's taste - and she was sure the queen's. "The priest claims that no weapons, nor even physical means were used. Witchcraft, you see."

Eleanor stared down her nose at him. "Indeed." She pursed her lips. Elizabeth could see that Sir Kyle was beginning to sour on her guardian. Elizabeth smothered a grin as Kyle blanched under the queen's frigid stare. He quickly turned back to his food.

As the meal finished, Elizabeth began to strategize her plans for the next day. She realized quite suddenly that she had no idea where her friends had gone. She knew that they were in the forest, but Sherwood was vast and dangerous. After all, the whole disaster in which they found themselves embroiled had been the result of an outlaw attack. She knew that she could not venture to the forest alone.

"Elizabeth." She was snapped out of her reverie by the queen, who had stood up and was wearily leaning on the sheriff's arm. Elizabeth felt a momentary pang. Her beloved guardian was becoming more aged by the day. Few people lived half so long as the queen had - she was already in her seventh decade. Mary often commented that Eleanor's will alone had kept her alive so long.

"Your grace. May I accompany you to your chamber?" she asked now, jumping to her feet.

Eleanor smiled affectionately. "No, my sweet. I am away to bed anyway." She glanced at Sir Kyle, her lip curling slightly. "Spend some time with your betrothed. Good night."

Sir Kyle stood, bowing courteously. He seemed to realize that the queen was not pleased with him and was trying to make it up to her. She had, after all, been the instigator of his advantageous betrothal. She could just as easily end it.

After the sheriff had led Queen Eleanor away, Kyle turned to stare at her. "Well, am I to have an explanation?" he demanded.

Elizabeth blinked. "An explanation of what, my lord?" she asked warily.

"Of what is going on between you and that Maxwell of Huntington?" He glared at her. "I am aware that everyone sees me as a fool." The bitterness in his tone betrayed to Elizabeth that it was not her opinion that really mattered to him, but, rather, his father's. His eyes were bright when he looked at her. She felt her heart go out to him. He looked like a lost little boy. "I am not a fool, Elizabeth."

"I know, Sir Kyle." She realized that his desire to please his father made him potentially the most dangerous person involved in the drama unfolding. She had to keep him happy and unsuspicious, at all costs.

For Max.

"I swear to you now that nothing is going on between Maxwell of Huntington and I." She crossed her fingers behind her back, silently promising to say a few extra Hail Marys that evening for her lie. Sir Kyle stared at her intently for a moment, then finally nodded. She breathed a sigh of relief.

Later, after spending a quiet hour playing chess with her betrothed, Elizabeth was able to retire to her chamber. She wondered where the sheriff was meeting with the bishop. She still had every intention of spying on their conversation. It was just a matter of finding them.

She stopped a servant in the upper passage leading to her chamber. "Pray tell, is the sheriff in his solar?"

The servant curtsied before replying, "Aye, milady. He spends some time with his seneschal. The bishop will be arriving shortly. Would you like me tell my lord sheriff that you require to speak with him?"

Elizabeth quickly shook her head. "Nay. Thank you. I will see him on the morrow." The servant nodded and scurried away.

As she moved to enter her chamber, she felt a shiver descend her backbone. She frowned slightly. It was not a chill, nor was it concern that caused it.

Rather, it was a sudden awareness that she was not alone.

Elizabeth quietly opened her heavy chamber door, wondering why she was unafraid. Her heart was beating quickly, but she was not frightened.

The glow from the fireplace was the only illumination in the room. The shadows were thick, impenetrable.

She felt her heart stop as a figure melted from the velvet hangings shielding her bed. He was cloaked, his hood concealing his features, but she knew immediately who it was.

Her breath caught in her throat.

"Max."

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Post by Kath7 » Wed Aug 10, 2005 11:09 am

AN - Hi Emma and VeronicB. Thanks for reading.

Drogyn - Tess is an interesting character in this story...I'll tell you more about it when we get further, so as to not spoil, but you are not incorrect that she is deliberately portrayed as sympathetic towards the beginning. :D




<u>Part 13</u>

Max watched Elizabeth enter her chamber, his heart pounding. The light was dim, but he could still see her exquisite beauty, which took his breath away.

In the few short hours he had been away from her, he had wondered if he had imagined the extent to which she affected him. But, he knew now, he had not.

It had been a relatively simple affair sneaking into Nottingham Castle. He was sure that the sheriff would be displeased at how easy it had been. He had simply walked through the open gate, past several guards who had been well into their cups. They hadn't even questioned him.

Finding Elizabeth's chamber had not been quite as easy. He finally had to resort to opening every door along the corridor, knowing that all the inhabitants of the castle were at supper. Max had identified Liz's room by the faint scent of violets that assailed him, as well as by the blue veil sitting on the bed, being the one she had been wearing that afternoon.

He had not had long to wait. She was now crossing the room, an expression of hope on her visage. He stepped out from behind the bed's hangings, his hood still in place and stared at her.

Elizabeth paused. "Max," she breathed. He swallowed, unable to say anything, simply shrugged the hood of his cloak off his head. Her eyes were bright, causing him to go weak in the knees.

And then she was in his arms. His mouth claimed hers in a kiss so fierce it left both of them gasping for breath. There was nothing gentle in this kiss. It was completely different from the one they had shared that afternoon - that had been a kiss full of promise.

This was one of possession.

Max broke away, ashamed of his lack of control. Her hands were on his shoulders, her fingers clutching at the fabric of his cloak. Her eyes were half-closed, shining with some emotion he could not identify.

They stared at each other. He brought his hands up, gently tucked a stray lock behind her ear, took her hand and led her to the bed. She sat down, blinked up at him, perplexed.

"I apologize, my lady," he said. "I do not know what came over me."

Elizabeth gazed steadily at him. "I beg you not to say you are sorry. Max, please! We both know that it has gone far beyond that."

Max blinked. He dropped to his knees in front of her, claimed her hand and brought it to his lips. She placed her other hand on his cheek, forcing him to look at her. "I do not know what is happening to me, but I know that we must never regret what transpires between us," Elizabeth continued seriously.

They stayed quietly like that for several moments. She stroked his cheek. Finally she said, "Why are you here? It is so dangerous, Max! I told Mary and Alexander I would come to you on the morrow."

"I had to make sure that you were safe." He clutched her hand tightly. "Liz, you risked too much for us this afternoon. You must promise me that you will never expose yourself like that again." He was determined that she agree. He would not leave until he knew that she would never risk herself again.

Liz dropped her gaze. She looked as though she was hiding something. "I cannot make such a promise, Max." Max felt his face tighten, but before he could say anything, she quickly changed the subject. "I do not believe that the sheriff wishes to pursue the matter, Max, but the bishop is insisting. Sir Kyle and my lord sheriff will be in the forest tomorrow to find the bodies. You must move them tonight."

Max nodded quickly, trying to brush aside her fears. "It will be all right, my love. We have set up camp until all this blows over. Alexander and Lady Mary have decided to remain with us. They are perfectly safe. Thank you for sending them to protect Tess and Isabel." He brought her palm to his lips again, still astounded that he was allowed to do so. The way he felt about her - he had never in a million years imagined that she could feel the same way.

But the way she gazed at him, her heart in her eyes, he knew it was true. She brought her hands up, cupped his face and placed a gentle kiss on his lips. He felt his heart begin to thunder in his chest.
He had never dared to hope that he could feel this way about anyone. He had always known that he was to marry Tess, but she was like a sister to him. She had never made him feel the way Elizabeth did, just at the thought of her.

The memory of Tess gave him a minor pang of guilt, but he quickly brushed it aside. He could not waste a precious moment, in the company of Liz, with regrets.

She was right after all. They had moved well past the point of regret.

"You must go, my beloved. You are in danger here," Liz told him. He didn't know when he had started to think of her by that name. He had realized rather quickly that no one else called her by it. It just seemed natural to him - like he had always called her thus.

"I will not go anywhere, until you promise me that you will do nothing to jeopardize your safety," he replied stubbornly. Liz gave him an annoyed look. "Promise me, Liz. If not, I will go and turn myself over to the sheriff right now." She frowned at him. He thought she looked adorable, but he knew she would give in.

She pressed her lips together, clearly debating with herself. "Very well. I promise," she said quietly.

Max stood, pulling her to her feet. She placed her head on his shoulder, clutched him tightly. "I do not know how or why, but I love you." She pulled back slightly, smiling at him shyly. "I know that I am being most forward, but I cannot help myself. I <i>need</i> you to know."

Max lowered his head, then kissed her thoroughly. He finally broke away, placed his forehead against hers and whispered. "You must always swear to me that you will never keep anything from me. For I love you too. From the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew that you were my other half."

She kissed him again. He felt her tears against his face. "Now, please go, my love. I could not bear it if you were caught here."

Max managed to step away from her, although every part of his being was screaming for him to return to her arms. She was gazing sadly, but lovingly at him. "I will come to you again soon." She nodded, attempting to smile.

As he opened the door, he heard a flurry of movement behind him. He turned and she was in his arms again, placing kisses all over his face. "Please be careful, Max! If anything were to befall you…" She trailed off, her voice catching slightly. He caught her lips in another deep kiss, trying to reassure her.

He pulled away, gazed into her eyes and replied, "I swear that I will never give you cause to weep, my Liz." With that, he reluctantly disentangled himself from her embrace and disappeared down the corridor.

<u>Part 14</u>

Elizabeth watched Max disappear down the stone corridor, a small smile on her face. She could feel her body still glowing where he had touched her so tenderly moments before.

<i>How can I have fallen in love with someone I barely know?</i> she wondered, as she crossed her arms, hugging them to herself as a shiver suddenly ran through her.

A premonition claimed her. The image of Max lying in a pool of blood suddenly flashed through her mind. She threw her hands to her head, tried to push the picture away.

She swallowed convulsively, taking deep breaths.

"Milady! Are you well?" Elizabeth's eyes snapped open. She was still standing in the doorway to her chamber. A servant, passing by with a tray in her hands, eyed her worriedly.

"I am fine, Parkyla." Elizabeth shuddered as the horrific vision tried to reassert itself. "Are you taking that to the sheriff and the bishop?" she asked Parkyla suddenly. More than ever it was imperative that she hear what the sheriff was planning. She had to keep Max and the others safe.

Parkyla nodded her head. "Aye, milady."

Elizabeth reached out and took the tray from the serving girl. "I will take it in to them. I must speak to the sheriff this evening. They are in the solar?" Parkyla nodded, curtsied and hurried away, glancing once behind her, her expression curious.

Elizabeth took a deep breath and hurried down the corridor, the tray balanced carefully in her hands.

The sheriff's solar was up a flight of stone steps in one of the castle's towers. As she approached, Elizabeth tried to make as little noise as possible. She was pleased to note that the sheriff had left the door to the room slightly ajar. Had the heavy oak been closed, there would have been no way of hearing.

"......insist that you take care of this, sheriff."

Elizabeth gently set the tray on a nearby ledge, inched closer to the door.

"But, your grace, the whole story seems somewhat outlandish. My men are occupied with collecting taxes for the king. They have no time to chase two, likely innocent, boys through the green wood," the sheriff complained.

"I trust Father Desmond to speak the truth, DeValence. If he says that those boys used witchcraft, then I believe him," the bishop replied in ringing tones. "Do you doubt <i>me</i>?"

"No, of course not, your grace." Elizabeth could hear the sheriff sigh. "Very well. I will send my men out tomorrow, but I must insist that those boys be given a fair..." The sheriff was cut off. Elizabeth heard someone tapping on a door. She recalled that there were two entrances to the tower. She crossed herself quickly, thanking God that the messenger had chosen the other one. She would have found it difficult to explain her presence in the corridor with her ear pressed to the door. Elizabeth felt an hysterical giggle about to erupt. She quickly clamped a hand over her mouth, forced herself to listen.

"....grave tidings, milord." Elizabeth recognized the voice of the captain of the castle guard.

"What is it?" the sheriff barked, clearly annoyed by the interruption.

"We fear that the outlaws, rumoured murdered in the forest, might have been our men in disguise."

Elizabeth threw her hands up, covered her mouth, sure that she was going to cry out.

"What does this mean, captain?" The sheriff sounded confused and even more irritated.

The captain's voice was sheepish as he replied, "We've been trying without success to ferry the taxes through the forest, milord. Every shipment has been stolen to date." Elizabeth heard the bishop snort, then mutter what sounded like "outlaws."

The captain continued, "We thought disguising the men as outlaws might cause other bandits to leave them alone. There is a certain honour amongst thieves, you see. We thought that if the real degenerates thought our men had already robbed the taxes, they would leave the convoy in peace."

The sheriff erupted. "That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of! Why was I not notified that this was happening? Who originated this insane idea to begin with?"

"Well...." The captain trailed off. "It was Sir Kyle," he finally admitted, sounding even more embarrassed.

"Well, DeValence, " the bishop interrupted, "If you won't go looking for those demons for the Church, perhaps you will do so to avenge your men."

"We do not know for sure that there were any murders!" the sheriff yelled in frustration. Elizabeth jumped. "We are going to the clearing tomorrow. I refuse to make hasty decisions."

"And if you find proof of what Father Desmond has said?" the bishop inquired imperiously.

"Then, I will act, by God," the sheriff replied coldly. "I cannot allow my men to be slaughtered, whether by demons or real men."

Elizabeth sent up a silent prayer that Max had heeded her warning, that they were moving the bodies. She knew that if the sheriff found any proof whatsoever that his men had been harmed, there would be hell to pay, whether Michael had been acting in defense of Isabel or not.

None of this made sense, Elizabeth thought frantically. Why would the sheriff's guard, posing as outlaws, really rob someone? If the story that Isabel had told was true, then those guards had been robbing and threatening her and her siblings. But, why?

<i>I must speak with Max.</i> The thought appeared unbidden in her mind, but she knew it was true. She was going to have to break her promise to him, a mere hour after she had made it.

She was going to have to find them in Sherwood.

<i>I must! I must warn them that everything has worsened.</i>

"The queen must be informed of these developments," the bishop was saying. "Where did that tax shipment disappear to? She will be furious if we do not let her know. King Richard needs that money to ransom himself from the emperor."

Elizabeth decided that she had heard all that was important. She needed to prepare for her journey into Sherwood.

She would leave at first light.

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Post by Kath7 » Thu Aug 11, 2005 12:08 pm

AN - Thanks for the feedback, guys.

Emma - indeed Max and Liz's connection is fairly immediate in this story. The thing to remember about the Time after Time series is that this is not the first time for them. :wink: In some ways, they feel like they already know each other due to their visions.

<u>Part 15</u>

Isabel blinked awake late the next morning.

They had gotten very little sleep during the night. When Max had returned from seeing Lady Elizabeth, he had informed them that they had to move the bodies of the men Michael had killed. Isabel shuddered at the idea of digging up the bodies, but the look of guilt and fear that had appeared on Michael's face had calmed her down. She had to be strong for him.

Isabel had been most impressed by Alexander and Mary. They had insisted on accompanying them, although Isabel had been worried that they would notice that there was no marks on the men explaining how they had died. Their two new friends made no comments however, just helped to move the bodies, until Isabel could see they both needed to fall over in exhaustion. While Max could covertly heal his sisters and Michael, helping them to work through their tiredness, he could not go near Alexander or Mary, for fear that they would discover the truth about them.

She had been curious enough at their unquestioning aid to broach Mary about it when they returned to the camp. While Alexander, Max, and Michael erected a shelter for the girls, with Tess alternating between ordering them around and demanding that Max tell her what he and Lady Elizabeth had talked about, Isabel pulled Mary aside. "Why are you helping us? I don't understand, especially after you saw those bodies. For all you know we <i>could</i> all be murderers."

Mary replied breezily, "Lizzy trusts you. That's good enough for Alexander and me."

Isabel crinkled her brow. "But, why?"

Mary arched an eyebrow at her. "Well, let's just say that we have all been very lucky in our positions in life. We like to help people in need." Isabel had followed Mary's gaze across the clearing, where Michael was arguing with Max about the roof of the shelter. "Besides, I don't think that Messy-head over there would be capable of killing anyone for no reason. I believe that you were in danger and that he had no choice."

Isabel nodded. "That is the truth, milady."

Mary smiled back. "Anyway, please do not continue with the miladying. Call me Mary. Everyone close to me does." She reached out and squeezed Isabel's hand. "And it appears that you, Tess, and I are going to be very close in a few days, by the looks of that shelter."

Now, as Isabel climbed to her feet in the shelter, she noticed that she was the last of the girls to rise. She passed a hand over her dress, sweeping away the wrinkles, and quickly rebraided her hair. When she felt satisfied that she was as neat as circumstances would allow, she ducked her head and stepped out into the sunny morning.

She was surprised to see only Alexander in the clearing. He was sitting near the fire, sharpening his sword. Isabel watched him quietly for a moment, admiring the way the sunlight filtered through the trees, brightening his kind face.

Isabel admitted to herself that she found Alexander Delucie extremely attractive. Not only had he saved her yesterday, he was the first boy she had ever met who was open and unassuming - who said exactly what he meant. Max and Michael had never had that luxury, due to the fact that they had to keep their secret. She found the trait in Alexander extremely refreshing.

Alexander heard her as she stepped forward. He looked up, a grin breaking across his face. "Good morning to you. Did you sleep well?"

Isabel grimaced. "As well as can be expected. I am unused to the ground," she told him wryly. "Where are the others?" She suddenly felt self-conscious being alone in his presence. He was gazing at her admiringly. It wasn't that she was unused to that - Isabel knew she was beautiful - but it was the first time she cared what the person admiring her thought of her.

She realized that she did not want Alexander to like her only for her beauty. Isabel wanted him to like her for who she was.

"Michael and Mary have gone hunting. They were arguing about who was better with the bow and Mary challenged Michael to a competition to see who could bring back the most game," Alexander replied, shaking his head. "I don' t think your brother has any idea what he's gotten himself into. Tess is off searching for berries with Maxwell," he continued. He patted the log beside him. "Join me. We have some rabbit left over from last night. Would you like to break your fast?"

Isabel approached warily, sat beside him, very aware that his arm was only a foot away from hers. "Thank you," she said, taking a piece of meat from the dagger he proffered. She smiled at him shyly. "Thank you - and not just for this."

Alexander smiled at her. "You are most welcome, Lady Isabel." Isabel felt herself blushing. <i>I never blush!</i> she reflected, indignant. "Are you new to the shire?" Alexander asked, clearly trying to lengthen their conversation.

Isabel paused, not sure what to say. "Not particularly," she replied carefully. "Our guardian is very protective," she explained.

Alexander nodded. "I see." Any further comment was cut off by the appearance of Michael and Mary at the far side of the clearing. Isabel smiled when she heard Michael bickering with her new friend. She had never heard Michael speak as much as he had over the past day. Everything Mary of Whitfield said seemed to annoy him. Isabel was glad. Arguing with Mary seemed to keep his mind off of the catastrophe that had happened yesterday. She knew that he would only brood, about the men he had been forced to kill, if left to his own devices.

Not to mention, Isabel had noticed the way Michael looked at Mary, when he thought no one was watching. His eyes were bright with admiration. It made Isabel more comfortable facing the feelings she was developing for Mary's brother.

"I told you a snare would work better than a bow," Mary was saying as they joined Alexander and Isabel at the fire. She held up three rabbits and a quail for their perusal. Michael tossed his own lone rabbit on the ground in disgust. He stomped off in the direction of the stream. "Come back here, Michael. I need to show you how to clean them properly." Isabel giggled as Michael slammed his hands over his ears and kept walking.

Mary looked at Bella, perplexed. "Was it something I said?" she asked. Alexander and Isabel exchanged glances and burst out laughing.

***

Elsewhere in the forest, Max was trying to ignore Tess, who had been lecturing him all morning. He was fiddling with his bow as Tess picked berries.

"I just don't understand what you were thinking, Max," she was saying for what seemed like the hundredth time. "We cannot trust anyone. Why did you allow those two twits to stay with us? If they were to discover the truth about us..."

Max cut her off abruptly. "They will not find out, Tess. We are used to being careful." He frowned at her. "I would prefer that you stop referring to our new friends as twits, by the way. They have been nothing but helpful, and you should be grateful."

Tess snorted, tossed her head and turned her back on him. Max stared at her, unsure what to say. He did not feel bad that he had defended Alexander and Mary.

But Max did feel bad - and guilty - for wishing Tess away from him. It was not Tess's fault that they found themselves in the predicament in which they were currently embroiled, nor was it Tess's fault that she was not Elizabeth. He had realized quite quickly that his annoyance with Tess derived from the resentment he felt that he was tied to her, a girl he loved as a sister, but nowhere near did he feel for her what he felt for Liz.

Which in many ways was ridiculous. He knew that he could not be with Lady Elizabeth, for any number of reasons, not the least of which was that he was not even from this world. There was also the, not insignificant, fact that she was betrothed to the Sheriff of Nottingham's son, the same sheriff who was currently hunting him and Michael.

Yet, Max could not help the hope that existed in his heart. The time that he and Liz had spent together the previous night - it had demonstrated to him even more clearly how lucky they had been to find each other. Something that felt so right to both of them...it could not be wrong, could it?

Max was snapped out of his reverie by a shrill screech from Tess.

"What's wrong?" he demanded impatiently. He immediately felt horrible when he saw his betrothed across the clearing, clutching her ankle, her face white. Max hurried to her side. "What did you do?" he asked gently, dropping to his knees at her side.

Tess blinked her large blue eyes, trying to hold back tears. "I fell over that rock," she told him, pointing at the offending piece of the landscape. "Is it broken?" she asked fearfully as Max pushed aside her skirts and felt the joint carefully. Tess flinched, clenched her lips together.

"I believe so," Max told her. "Don't worry, Tessie. I can fix it."

Tess pushed aside his hand quickly. "But, Max, it hurts you to heal." She stared at him. "I do not want you hurt in any way."

Max smiled at her. "It is all right, Tess. I have these powers for a reason. I have to get used to the bad part," he told her. Max gently placed his hand on his betrothed's ankle, raised his head to look into her eyes. "Concentrate on making the connection, Tessie."

Tess stared back at him and Max was instantly in her mind. Images assailed him.

<i>Flash*

He had an image of Isabel, Michael and himself - along with Tess's fright that she could lose them.

Flash*

An image of Elizabeth - along with a feeling of suspicion and budding hatred.

Flash*

An image of Max and Elizabeth together yesterday at the fair, jealousy and fright accompanying it.</i>

Max tore his gaze away from Tess's, stared down at her ankle. His hand was beginning to glow. Max concentrated on knitting together the molecules that made up the bone, healing the crack that he could not see, but could feel.

Max was aware of Tess's pain entering his own consciousness. He tightened his jaw, tried to ignore it. He was almost done.

Max lifted his hand from Tess's ankle, helped her to her feet, stumbling a bit. Tess grabbed his arm.

"Max, are you all right?" she asked worriedly. Max blinked, tried to clear his head of the images from Tess, which had become <i>his</i> memories.

He raised his head, stared at her, for the first time wondering if he knew her at all. The hatred he had felt in her - it was terrifying. The way she had felt about Liz - Max simply suddenly <i>knew</i> that Tess would have no qualms about doing whatever was necessary to keep Max away from her.

"I'm fine Tess." Max quickly stepped away from her, feeling slightly ill.

Tess narrowed her eyes, watched him questioningly. Max knew that she would have no idea what he would have seen when he made the connection. <i>She can never know,</i> he thought now. <i>It might push her over the edge.</i>

Max and Tess both turned around when a snapping twig in the bush caught their attention. "Max?" Tess grabbed his arm, fright apparent in her voice. It took all Max's strength not to shake her off in revulsion. He frowned when he realized that his sword was back at the camp and that his bow was about ten feet away, where he had dropped it when he had come to Tess's aid.

Max decided that the best defense was a good offense. "Come out of there!" he called menacingly. "We know you are there."

His heart stopped when Elizabeth stepped out from behind a tree, her eyes wide. She was staring at him, her face white.

"Liz?" Max could tell by her face that something was very wrong. She opened her mouth to speak, seemed to be searching for the words.

"I saw you, Max." She fumbled with her cloak, which was clenched in her fists. "I saw you heal her," Liz continued. "What are you?"

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Post by Kath7 » Fri Aug 12, 2005 11:45 am

<u>Part 16</u>

Elizabeth had set out early from Nottingham Castle. She was dressed in a pair of hose and a tunic that she had filched from Alexander's chamber. They were much too long, so she had taken her dagger and chopped both down to size. She knew that Alexander would not care, and although she looked ridiculous, it was better than trying to sneak out of the castle in her "Lady Elizabeth" attire. She completed her disguise by braiding her long dark hair into two plaits and binding it around her head. The hood of her cloak shadowed her face effectively.

She had wanted to leave before the troop of the sheriff's guard that were going in search of the bodies. She hoped to find Max to make sure that they had disposed of the corpses. Elizabeth was not foolish enough to try and find her way through Sherwood alone. She had invited her servant, Parkyla, to accompany her. She knew that Parkyla had grown up on the edge of the forest, in the small village of Hathersage. Parkyla assured her that she had several ideas about where her friends could be hiding.

The girls enjoyed their early morning ride. Parkyla was an amusing companion, telling Elizabeth several local ghost stories about the forest. They stopped once to allow the animals to rest, not only their two horses, but a donkey laden with supplies to make the fugitives more comfortable for what could be a lengthy stay in the forest if the sheriff decided to pursue the matter.

Elizabeth was eager to see Mary and Alexander and, of course, Max. She knew that he was going to be a little angry with her for breaking her promise to him, but it couldn't be helped, and she had a feeling that he would be happy to see her anyway.

Parkyla and Elizabeth left the King's Highway by late in the morning. Their horses were picking their way along the deer trails. They had already tried two potential sites that Parkyla knew had been used as outlaw camps in the past. They were now discussing how Parkyla knew so much about the forest.

"But, I don't understand," Elizabeth said. "Why can the sheriff not root out the outlaws if these camp sites are so well known?"

Parkyla looked embarrassed. "They are not well known, my lady." Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at her questioningly. "My father is an outlaw," her servant finally muttered. Her head snapped up and she glared at Elizabeth challengingly. "He was caught poaching a deer, milady. He had to flee to the forest or they would have taken his hand," she explained defensively. "We were starving, milady. He had no choice."

Elizabeth smiled at her, sympathetic. "It is all right, Parkyla. I certainly understand. Queen Eleanor has told me many times that she is going to speak to the king about the antiquated hunting laws in the country. No Englishman should go hungry, just so that the nobles can have their hunt uninterrupted."

Parkyla smiled at her, relieved. "Anyway, my father's band stayed at the Great Oak many times in the past. I visited there often as a child."

"How long has your father lived in Sherwood?" Elizabeth asked, concerned.

"For ten years, milady." Elizabeth blinked, felt her heart sink. What if Max, Michael, and the others were never pardoned? Would they have to live in the forest for the rest of their lives?

Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard voices. "Are we there?" she asked Parkyla.

The servant looked confused. "Not yet." She looked around carefully. "It would not do to run across real outlaws, milady. We had better take care." The girl quickly swung herself off her horse. "I will go check this way, while you go that way. We will meet back here in five minutes."

Elizabeth nodded, dismounted and carefully made her way into the green wood. She heard the voices more clearly as she moved. She paused once to unhook her cloak, which had become entangled on a branch. The moment was enough for her to recognize the voice carrying through the forest.

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief. It was Max. They had found them.

"Concentrate on making the connection, Tessie," he was saying.

Elizabeth stopped abruptly, frowned. Suddenly, she felt the need to stay concealed. She carefully hid behind a tree, gradually peeking her head out through the branches.

Max was kneeling beside his sister, his hand on her ankle...and his hand was <i>glowing</i>.

Her eyes flew to his face. It was white and pained. He was staring straight into Tess's eyes, a grimace beginning to form on his visage.

"By all that is holy," Elizabeth breathed.

"Max, are you all right?" Tess was asking. She was standing, testing out her ankle, which had apparently just been healed.

"I'm fine, Tess," Max replied wearily. He was moving away from her, looking slightly sick.

Just then, Liz set her foot down on a dry twig. It snapped, sounding like thunder in the still forest. She froze.

"Max?" she heard Tess say in a frightened voice.

"Come out of there!" Max barked. Elizabeth jumped. "We know you are there."

She stepped out from behind the tree in a daze. She could barely breathe. She did not understand any of this.

"Liz?" Max sounded surprised, happy and panicked all at once. He took one look at her face, seemed to know instantly that something was wrong with her.

"I saw you, Max." Liz grabbed her cloak between her hands. "I saw you heal her," Liz continued. "What are you?"

She did not take her eyes from his face. She watched it tighten. Max swallowed convulsively. "Tess, leave us," Max said abruptly.

Tess grabbed his arm. "<i>No</i> Max. Let me stay with you." She glared at Elizabeth. Liz felt her heart stop. "We have to take care of her. <i>Now</i>!"

Max shook her off. "I mean it, Tess. Go back to the camp." Tess sniffed, although, this time, she obeyed. She walked past Elizabeth, brushing against her, almost knocking her over.

Elizabeth was surprised that she was not at all frightened. Rather she was numb. She realized that she was in shock.

But she knew that, no matter what, Max would not hurt her.

Max took a step toward her, clearly expecting her to back away from him. She stood rooted to the spot. "Max? Please…"

Max stopped, smiled tentatively. "Liz, it's not what you think."

"What do I think?" she asked confused. She didn't think anything. She didn't know what to think.

"That I'm a demon," Max replied simply.

Liz smiled at that. "I could never think that, Max. Are you an angel?" she asked, trying to come up with an answer that would satisfy her logical brain. She knew that angels existed. She had been told so her entire life.

"Well," Max said wryly "That might be one way of putting it."

"Why can you heal people, Max? The only person I have ever heard capable of doing that was our Lord," Liz asked him.

Max blinked. "I am not Christ, Liz." He paused, clearly searching for words. "What I am, I do not know whether you will be able to understand. Your world is not at the point that what I am would even seem possible." He trailed off, watching her face.

"<i>My</i>w world? What do you mean? Please, just tell me everything." She smiled at him. "I know you, Max. Whatever it is cannot be bad."

"No, it's not bad." Max took another step towards her. This time Liz did step back. He stopped abruptly, looked hurt. "Are you frightened?" he asked sadly.

"Not frightened," she replied. "I just cannot think straight with you so close to me." Max smiled at that, looking pleased. "Now stop changing the subject. Tell me the truth."

"Liz, I've never told anyone this before," he explained. "It is most difficult." He gestured to a large boulder. "I think you should sit down, milady."

Elizabeth complied carefully, watching Max pace, clearly trying to get his thoughts in order. Finally, he asked, "Liz, have you ever looked at the stars before?"

"Of course,"she said, confused. What, by heaven, was he talking about?

"Well, the sun is a star," he continued. "And your world travels around it." Liz blinked, nodded. She had always been told that the Earth was flat, but after seeing Max do what he had just done, she was willing to believe anything at this point. "I am from another world that travels around another star, many millions of miles away."

She stared at him, perplexed, feeling incredibly stupid. She hated to feel that way. Max smiled at her, watched her digest what he was telling her. "Why are you on my world then?" Elizabeth asked finally.

"My world is at war," he replied. "I was killed, but my soul was sent to Earth to be reborn." Max stopped when he saw her eyes beginning to cloud over. "Never mind, it's not important. The point is, I am here."

"Mmmmm," Liz replied, bringing her hand to her forehead and rubbing. She suddenly had a splitting headache. Max was watching her with concern.

"Are you all right, my love?" She nodded. He moved towards her again, put his hands at her temples. She looked at him worriedly.

"Don't worry. I can take your pain away," Max told her. "Just look into my eyes and take deep breaths."

Liz did as she was told, finding it quite easy to lose herself in the depths of Max's beautiful dark eyes.

And then something very peculiar happened.

<i>Flash*

She had an image of a small boy, breaking out of a strange glowing egg. He had dark hair and eyes and she knew it was Max. She could feel his fright and then his relief as he found three other children: two small blonde girls and a messy-haired boy.

Flash*

An image of a stern looking man, his eyes cold, saying "You must never leave the castle. You are in danger here. You can trust no one, only me."

Flash*

An image of Max on a horse, flying through the forest, Isabel hot on his heels. A feeling of complete liberation.

Flash*

An image of herself, coming towards Max, a small smile on her face. A feeling of awe…and love.</i>

Max removed his hands from Elizabeth's head, stared at her. "What was that?" she whispered.

"We connected," he replied, sounding equally as dumbfounded. "I don't know how it's possible. We are not supposed to able to do that with humans." His eyes were shining at her in amazement."I saw you Liz...as a little girl."

Elizabeth smiled at him, felt tears beginning to well in her eyes. "I saw you too, Max. It was amazing."

They continued to stare at each other, in a daze. Then, suddenly, Max grabbed her, brought his mouth down on hers. Elizabeth threw her arms around his neck and kissed him back as fervently, throwing her entire soul into it.

"I love you. I love you," he was murmuring into her hair. "I don't understand how I can feel this way about you, but you are my heart, Liz." His lips trailed gentle kisses down her face to her neck. Elizabeth threw her head back, craving something she had never dreamed of wanting.

"What the hell is going on here?"

They were snapped out of their private world, by a very loud voice. Liz gasped, jumping away from Max. She whipped around, and took a frightened step back into Max’s arms at the sight of Michael of Huntington. Max’s brother was glaring at them in such a way, it sent a tremor of fear through Liz’s entire body.

"Maxwell, what have you done?"

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Post by Kath7 » Sat Aug 13, 2005 11:30 am

AN - Thanks for the feedback! It is, as always, much appreciated!

<u>Part 17</u>

Michael's heart stopped when he stepped out into the clearing to see his brother kissing Lady Elizabeth as though he never intended to stop.

When Tess had come flying out of the forest, her face white, Max nowhere to be found, Michael had immediately run in the direction from which she had come, sure that something horrifying had befallen his brother. He had not even waited to hear Tess's explanation.

What he had found was worse then anything he could have possibly imagined.

Instead of finding him at sword-point, Michael had interrupted Max declaring his love to a small slip of a girl he had met only yesterday.

And, somehow, without even the smallest shred of doubt, Michael knew that Max had told Elizabeth the truth.

Max thrust Elizabeth protectively behind him, while Michael advanced on them, unable to control his anger.

"Michael, stop." Max was scowling at him.

An entire lifetime of accepting Max unconditionally as his leader was too much for Michael to ignore. He stopped, spoke through clenched teeth, struggling to mask his fear. "You told her - didn't you?"

Max pressed his lips together. "She saw me heal Tess," he explained, smiling reassuringly at Elizabeth, who did not actually look scared at all, just concerned.

Michael felt his anger drain out of him. Despair settled in. "I told you we had to stay away from humans, Max. This was bound to happen."

Max looked momentarily guilty, but did not reply because Elizabeth spoke up. "I promise not to tell anyone, Michael. Not even Mary and Alexander."

Michael eyed her coldly, unconvinced. He could not like Lady Elizabeth, although she had really only ever been helpful to them. The way Max behaved around her - his brother had always been the centre of Michael's life, the one person he could count on for control and security. This one girl had changed all of it - in the space of one day and night.

He scowled again when he saw Elizabeth take Max's hand, clearly trying to comfort him. Max <i>did</i> look upset, which appeased Michael slightly. "We better get back to the camp," he finally said grudgingly. Max was still staring at him, clearly unsure what was going on in his head. Let him wonder, Michael thought bitterly. He could feel his emotions closing down, trying to erase the pit of fear in his stomach.

Nothing would ever be the same again.

"Wait!" Elizabeth said suddenly. Max had been leading her after Michael, still holding her hand. Michael turned impatiently. "My maidservant is here as well."

Michael could feel a frown becoming permanently etched on his forehead. "Wonderful." He turned to Max. "Does she know too? Who didn't you tell, Maxwell? Next thing we know, the bloody king will be in on the secret."

"She doesn't know," Elizabeth inserted quickly. "I was alone. She is likely waiting for me at our horses." She smiled shyly at Michael. "I brought you some supplies." It was an olive branch - one Michael rejected immediately.

"We don't need anything from you." He turned on his heel and stomped off into the bush, leaving Max and Elizabeth staring after him. He needed to talk to Isabel and Tess right away. They were going to have to go back to the castle to see Lord Edmund, despite the risk of capture. They needed his help.

Michael flinched at the thought of the wrath their guardian was going to inflict on them. He knew it was going to gall Max and Isabel to no end that Lord Edmund had ended up being right. They should have stayed at the castle. This world was unsafe for such as them. One little mistake and they were betrayed.

He emerged into the Great Oak clearing, to the sight of Isabel and Tess in close conference near the shelter. Mary and Alexander were still seated near the fire, the former looking perplexed, the latter worried.

"What has happened, Michael?" Mary asked him, concern on her lovely face. Michael ignored her, stalked past. He felt a moment of regret when a brief expression of hurt flashed across her visage.

No regrets. <i>She is not one of us,</i> Michael reminded himself as he went to join Isabel and Tess.

Almost immediately, he wished he had not. Tess was practically hysterical. "We are doomed, I tell you. Doomed!"

Michael rolled his eyes. He was surprised to note that Isabel did not look frightened. Rather, her expression was pensive. She was staring across Tess's shoulder, not doing anything to comfort her sister. Michael followed her gaze, sighed with annoyance when he realized that she was staring at Alexander.

"Bella?" he demanded gruffly. If she was actually considering telling the other two noble brats too, obviously he was going to have to make her see reason.

Isabel blinked. "I think that we should trust them," she said finally. "I have a feeling about him - er them." she amended quickly, a faint blush creeping up her neck.

"Are you insane?" Tess screeched.

Isabel sighed. "No, I am not, Tess." She turned to Michael pleadingly. "This secret can't last forever, Michael."

Max melted from the forest behind them. "And I don't want it to," he added to what Isabel had said.

"Where is she?" Michael demanded, ignoring Max's statement.

"She's coming," Max replied so calmly, it made Michael want to punch him.

Moments later, Elizabeth emerged from the same direction Max had. She was followed closely by a pretty young girl of about seventeen.

"Lizzy!" Mary shrieked with joy from the other side of the clearing. Michael felt annoyed. That girl was going to bring the sheriff's entire guard down on their heads.

He hurried across the clearing, grabbed Mary by the arm. "Be quiet!"

Alexander stepped forward immediately, his hand on his sword. "Get your hands off my sister!"

Mary was staring at Michael, her mouth open. She closed it suddenly with a snap. Elizabeth had joined them, appeared to be on the verge of tears. Mary shook free, stepped away from him. "I apologize." She turned to Alexander. "Put your sword down, Alex. He is right. I was being too loud."

Michael blinked, perplexed. Mary had tilted her head, was gazing at him questioningly. "Something has clearly happened," she said finally. "You must tell us. We are in this together now."

Michael was shocked by the sudden urge to tell her everything. <i>What's wrong with you?</i> he demanded of himself. <i>She'll be afraid of you. She'll betray you.</i>

<i>But Lady Elizabeth does not seem afraid,</i> a small voice in the back of his head reminded him coaxingly.

Alexander was still glaring at him. Max and Isabel had rushed across the clearing, Isabel now standing in front of Michael protectively. Michael noticed that Tess had plunked herself down on a log near the shelter and was pouting. The maidservant was at the stream, washing her hands.

"Michael, would you please settle down," Max ground out, his annoyance clear. "I am very sorry, milady," he addressed Mary. "Michael is a overwrought." Michael felt his irritation at his brother increasing again and it doubled when he saw Max glance at Elizabeth lovingly.

"You do not need to apologize for me," he yelled. He realized that he was being just as loud as Mary had been minutes before. "I'm leaving," he muttered. "Tell them whatever the hell you want to." His gaze raked across Mary's face once more. The expression of sympathy and willingness to understand he saw there was more frightening then anything else could have possibly been.

He could not trust her. He could not. They could not trust anyone.

He turned on his heel, grabbed his bow and quiver, and went to get lost in the forest, in a desperate attempt to escape the hope that would not be quelled.

<i>Part 18</i>

Mary watched Michael stomp off into the forest, her brow furrowed with concern.

He was so shut off, so withdrawn. And, yet, underneath his prickly exterior, his sensitivity and general worthiness were so apparent to her, it made her wonder at it.

He was the most intriguing person she had ever met.

She turned back to the others, addressed Elizabeth. "What are you doing here, Lizzy?" She asked the one question she was sure would garner her a straight answer.

Elizabeth smacked a hand to her forehead. She turned to Max sheepishly. "I almost forgot, with all that has happened." Mary wondered exactly what had happened to make Michael practically come to blows with her brother and had rendered Max at odds with his siblings. "Things are now worse," Elizabeth continued. "It turns out that the men that were killed in the forest yesterday were the sheriff's men disguised as outlaws."

Mary watched Max's jaw set. Isabel looked even more upset. "I don't understand. Why were they dressed thus?" the tall blonde asked. "And why did they attack us?"

Elizabeth just shook her head. "It is unclear, Isabel." She looked back at Max, her face reflecting her fear for all of them. "The important thing is that you are in even more danger. You did move the bodies?"

Max nodded. He looked thoughtful. Mary realized that everyone was waiting for him to make a decision. Max was, without a doubt, the leader of their little band. Even Alexander and Elizabeth deferred to him almost automatically and Mary realized that she herself had often done so in the day that she had known him.

For the first time she wondered, <i>Who are these people, really?</i>

"Well, I guess we are still safe for now," Max finally concluded. He looked at Elizabeth with concern. "And you must return to the castle immediately, my lo..." He cut himself off abruptly, glanced at Tess guiltily. The small blonde had finally stopped sulking and had joined him. Now she stared at Max, her expression unreadable. "Er, my lady," Max finished gracelessly.

<i>Not at all obvious there, Maxwell,</i> Maria thought ironically.

Elizabeth did not look happy. "I do not understand why I cannot stay with you," she replied, sounding a little hurt.

"Because if your betrothed finds out you are aiding and abetting outlaws, he will force his father to come down upon us even harder," Tess snapped.

Max glared at her. "Be quiet, Tess."

Elizabeth blinked, forced a smile. "No, she is right, Max. I was not thinking."

Isabel broke in, clearly trying to ease the tension by changing the subject. "It is time to get word to Lord Edmund, Maxwell."

Max nodded. "I just don't know how we can do it, Bella. I am sure that the sheriff will have soldiers at the castle."

Alexander, who had been silent listening up until now, stepped forward. "I am willing to go for you, Max. They still do not suspect Mary or me."

Isabel and Max exchanged a quick glance. If Mary had not been watching for it she would have missed it for certain.

If she did not know better, she would have said that some sort of silent conversation had just occurred between the two siblings. An expression of happiness had crossed Isabel's beautiful visage and Mary noticed that she briefly glanced at Alexander admiringly, but with a touch of fear as well.

"That would be wonderful, Alexander," Max replied. "But first we must tell you the truth."

"What?" Tess screeched. "No! I forbid it!"

Max silenced her with a look. Tess tossed her head, stomped off into the forest after Michael. Max looked relieved to see the back of her.

All thoughts of Tess and her tantrum fled Mary's mind, however, when Max told them then the incredible truth.

She had never heard such an astonishing tale.

But she believed them. She also found that she was not a bit frightened.

Mary had already seen enough kindness in these folk - well, in at least three of them, she amended hastily - to believe that they were what they said they were.

They were simply <i>visitors</i>, not demons.

The clearing was silent for several long moments after Max stopped talking, as the others waited for Mary and Alexander to digest the news. It was clear that Elizabeth had already known.

"And you knew of this, Lizzy?" Alexander finally asked his friend.

Elizabeth nodded. "I only found out a few minutes ago, Alex. I saw Max heal Tess."

Mary was interested. "What do you mean he healed her?" she asked curiously.

"We have certain gifts," Isabel replied. "Max can heal people. Tess can make people see things that are not there. I can enter people's dreams."

Mary felt a momentary chill at that information. Her dreams were private! But as she eyed Isabel, she felt the trust that had already been built between them. She knew that Isabel would never betray her. "What can Michael do?" she asked instead.

Isabel and Max exchanged another glance. It appeared that another silent conversation was going on. Mary shrugged at Elizabeth, who was watching the whole process with interest.

Max finally sighed. "I think perhaps he had better tell you that himself."

Mary nodded. "Very well. Please know that none of this makes any difference. We still intend to help you. You are still the same people to me that you were before I knew this. Do you not agree, Alex?" Alex nodded his dark head. Mary was not surprised to note that he was gazing at Isabel with admiration. He seemed to actually like her better now that he knew she was different. Isabel was staring back at him, her eyes bright with some emotion that Mary could not quite identify, but was certainly not far from the way that Alexander clearly felt about her.

She watched Max move forward, take Elizabeth's hand, leading her across the clearing for a private discussion. She was not at all surprised to see their heads moving closer and closer together, until their foreheads were nearly touching as they conversed.

Suddenly Mary had a great urge to go in search of the messy-headed brute, Michael. She imagined that he was off somewhere brooding.

She now knew why he had been such a beast. He was frightened - frightened of what they would do if they found out the truth about him and his siblings.

Mary had to find him. She had to tell him that it made no difference to her. She was unafraid of what he was.

The only thing she feared was the way she was beginning to feel about him.

While Mary was trying to decide whether she should go after Michael or wait for him to return, Alexander moved away to his horse. He was preparing to go to Castle DeHarding. Isabel followed him and was now talking to him quietly.

Mary eyed the two budding couples quietly for a few more moments and then made her decision.
She turned on her heel and quietly faded away into the green wood.

Locked