Enclosed in the privacy of his study, Lord Malcolm turned his kind, steady gaze on his son and said, "Now, Robin, do you have any questions for myself or Lord Knighton, concerning the time I will be away?"
"Yes, Father, I do," Robin answered, his eyes filled with hope. "Am I to go with you to Ireland?"
Marian held her breath, waiting for Lord Locksley's answer, willing him to say, "No." Then, for good measure, she crossed her fingers, being careful to hide them in the folds of her gown so no one would see.
The Earl's response made her breathe a quiet sigh of relief.
"No, Robin, you are not," Lord Locksley stated. "You are to stay here, and continue your education."
"But I could learn in Ireland! I could learn about battle!"
"There will be no discussion on the matter. You are staying here."
Robin's expectant face fell. "Yes, sir," he agreed, dejectedly.
Surprisingly, Robin's father stepped forward and put his arms around his son. Robin gave a quick gasp, then snuggled closer into his father's unaccustomed embrace.
"Your time to learn of war and battle will come all too soon," Lord Malcolm said with a sigh, lightly stroking the boy's sandy colored hair. "For now, consider yourself lucky to shoot at targets, and not your fellow man."
"Not to mention apples," Lord Knighton added, lightening the mood. "My orchard isn't safe with you around, young man."
Marian's heart felt light, now that she knew Robin was staying home. And even though she had not been addressed, and was continually being lectured that girls must never speak unless invited to do so, her pretty voice piped, "Excuse me, my lord. I have a question."
"Forgive my daughter," Sir Edward hastily explained, embarrassed. "She speaks when she should be quiet."
"No, no. It's quite alright," Lord Locksley assured him, releasing Robin and smiling gently down at Marian. "What is it, child?"
Marian felt uncomfortable with all eyes looking at her, until she saw Robin's twinkling with amusement. What did he find so funny, she wondered. That she had a question, too? What could be funny about that? She'd make him tell her, later.
"I was only wondering, my lord," she began politely, throwing Robin a glare that only made his grin widen, "whether you want to go, or if you have to."
Robin's face lost its smug, amused expression. Like the others in the chamber, he was impressed by the thoughtfulness of her question. It came from an unselfish, deep thinking mind, so different from any other girls he knew. He looked at Marian in near wonderment.
"Well," Lord Locksley stated, once he had recovered from his surprise. "That is a very good question, Marian, but not a simple one to answer. His Majesty the King summoned me to fight alongside him. I have the option to refuse, but would never think to do so. I do not wish to fight, but I must, but not because the King demands it. It is simply that, a man must fight for his King."
Marian tried to understand, but couldn't quite. She decided she would talk it over with Robin later.
She was glad of one thing, however. If the King called her father, he, too, would have the option not to go. She didn't want her father going off to war and leaving her.
"Well," Lord Locksley announced, "since you don't seem to have any more questions at this time, why don't you children run along and play?"
"We don't have to leave yet?" Marian asked her father, delighted.
"We're staying for the feast tonight," Sir Edward told her, causing Robin and Marian to break into smiles. "But if you go outdoors, young lady," he continued firmly, "you must wear your own cloak. Robin has seen your new dress, and he needs his own cape. Alright?"
Marian nodded, then turned shining eyes on Robin.
He was grinning joyfully back at her, delighted too by the prospect of spending time in her company all day, into the evening.
Suddenly, he remembered his scheduled archery contest against Will Stutely.
Bidding their fathers goodbye, the children clasped hands and went off to seek the master bowman.