Filey Manor, Filey, East Riding of Yorkshire
Roana couldn't keep still, humming as she was with both excitement and anticipation. She had barely slept the night before, despite being in her own cozy bed at Filey Manor. But the thought of being reunited with Allan after what felt like so long was enough to disturb her sleep.
Nevertheless, she did not feel tired in the slightest, only filled with hope and expectation. Her stomach churned with nerves as she shuffled from foot to foot, waiting impatiently in the courtyard at the front of the manor house for Allan's arrival.
"But I don't understand," Robert was saying to Robin. "What does Dulcina want with Allan, of all people?"
"Nobody knows," Robin replied with a shrug.
"He's probably tumbling her," Auden said with a laugh, and Roana glared at him. "What? You don't know what Allan used to be like, is all I'm saying."
Roana wondered why the Nottingham man was hanging around. There was plenty of work to do around the farm, of which he was being paid for, yet Robert seemed quite happy to have him lingering nearby at all times. It made her feel uncomfortable, remembering his kiss in the horse barn.
"'Used to be like' is the operative phrase, Auden," Robin said, scathingly. "Allan has changed. Plus, you never really knew him that well, anyway, did you?"
Roana looked at her brother, gratefully. Arriving at Filey Manor the previous day and witnessing how close Robert and Auden had grown, Roana had been unable to hold back on her grievances, and had confessed everything to Robin. He was suitably annoyed, but she had begged him not to approach Auden, who was acting as if nothing had happened. She didn't want to blow it out of proportion. He had clearly accepted her rejection; her only worry was his over-familiarity with her family. It made her feel uneasy in ways she couldn't put her finger on.
Auden shrugged at Robin's words, indifferently. "I knew him well enough. I also knew of him. Sarah of Edwinstowe told me.."
"Auden, stop," Robin interrupted him, fiercely, holding a hand up, palm facing outwards. "Just stop."
"It is inappropriate, Auden," Eleanor added, mildly, and Auden flushed pink, falling silent.
Roana and Robin exchanged triumphant glances.
"Do we know when they are due?" Will asked, looking towards the gateway.
He, Djaq, and Little John had arrived back from Scarborough earlier that morning, all looking decidedly chipper after their night away. Little John in particular wore a satisfied smile, and Will and Djaq seemed closer than ever. The gang were now keen to return to Nottingham, once Allan returned to the fold. After overhearing Bridlington's conversation while hiding in the copse, Robin was determined to thwart any further plans concocted by the Sheriff and Prince John, and he couldn't very well do that from Filey.
The bell in the oak tree began to ring, and everybody perked up at the welcome sound of newcomers. Roger of Stoke and two of the Nottingham men were manning the gateway, ready to admit Allan and Dulcina when needed, and, before long, the group in the courtyard could hear approaching wheels along the rough track leading from the gate.
The Sheriff of Yorkshire's carriage entered the courtyard, drawn by four beautiful black stallions, and flanked by six guards in full regalia. Out of habit, the outlaws moved forwards, hands at their weapons, and Robin held out a warning hand.
The carriage drew to a halt and the door was flung open. Allan alighted, looking resplendent in his freshly-laundered clothes and neatly trimmed hair. His face broke into a grin as his gaze fell instantly on Roana.
"Morning, all," he said, jauntily, before turning to the carriage to help Dulcina out.
She was looking particularly beautiful in an emerald gown and a fur-lined, embroidered cloak, her hair a mass of waves that fell about her shoulders, held back from her face by two jewelled combs. She, too, gazed at Roana and gave a faint smile.
Lastly, Devereux emerged, grinning broadly.
"Good morning, Robert. Thank you for receiving us."
Robert moved forward to clasp his hand, bowing over it very slightly. Then, he turned to Dulcina and inclined his head. "My lady."
"Hello, Robert." Dulcina smiled, and Robert looked vaguely stunned. Roana and Eleanor exchanged glances. It was not often that anybody witnessed the Ice Queen crack a smile.
Unable to stay away any longer, Allan crossed the space between them and took Roana's hand, his eyes riveted on hers. Roana smiled at him, shyly, and he pulled her towards Dulcina.
Dulcina watched them approach, expectantly, her blue eyes glittering in the morning sunshine.
Allan cleared his throat. "Ro, I'd like you to meet Dulcina. My mother."
There was a brief, shocked silence, before the outlaws came to life behind her, conversing excitedly as Roana stared at Dulcina in amazement. The countess smiled beatifically.
"Hello, my love. Isn't this a turn up for the books?"
"Your— your mother?" Roana looked from Dulcina to Allan in bewilderment. "You mean, the mother who abandoned you?"
Allan and Dulcina exchanged glances, and Allan said, "That was a misunderstanding."
"I'm trying to make it up to him," Dulcina added, her bright eyes fixed on Roana's.
Roana nodded, thoughtfully, regaining her composure, and Eleanor stepped forward to greet the countess, taking the attention away from Roana. She regarded Allan, quizzically, and he grinned at her, melting away any lingering doubts.
"You must come inside for refreshments," Eleanor gushed, effusively. "I'm sure we all want to hear the entire story."
She and Robert ushered the Sheriff and Dulcina into the manor house, and the outlaws took the opportunity to converge on Allan, bombarding him with questions. He kept a tight grip on Roana's hand while he fielded them in a nonchalant manner, laughing and joking as if he had never been away. Roana listened, happy to let him have his moment, happy to have him back. She noticed Auden slinking away with satisfaction.
"What the hell, Allan? Your mother is a countess?" Will said in amusement.
"Well, it's not really a surprise, is it?" Allan joked. "I always was a cut above you lot."
Everyone laughed, and Much looked sceptical.
"Does that make you a noble? Because you're probably the most un-noble person I've ever met."
"Well, not entirely," Allan confessed. "But you can call me Lord A Dale, Much."
"Not a chance," Much scoffed. "But it is good to have you back, Allan."
"Lord Allan," Allan reminded him, smirking at Roana.
"Allan, I'm happy for you, mate." Robin clapped him on the back. "But, I have to admit, this is probably the last thing we expected to discover. Lord A Dale. It doesn't even bear thinking about."
The rest of the gang roared with laughter, and Allan pretended to be wounded.
"You're just jealous, Robin. Now that you aren't the only noble around 'ere. Stiff competition, eh?"
Robin laughed and Allan briefly let go of Roana's hand while he pulled him aside to converse quietly.
"I cannot believe it," Djaq whispered to Roana, her tone gleeful. "Lord A Dale. We won't hear the last of this."
Roana laughed. "I know. I'm gobsmacked, to be honest. After all Allan has told me about his parents, I thought his mother was long gone."
"I think he did too," Djaq pointed out.
Roana glanced over at Allan, who had his back to her and appeared to be speaking intently. Robin listened in silence until Allan had finished. Then, he looked briefly over Allan's shoulder at Roana, before returning his attention to Allan, his face breaking into a wide grin. He nodded and placed a hand on Allan's upper arm, speaking to him attentively.
"Thanks, Robin. I won't let you down," Allan said as he turned back to Roana and grabbed her hand again.
"Come on, lads. Let's go and meet the extended family," Robin said, loudly, to the gang, winking at Allan.
Roana made to follow them into the house but Allan held her back, gently, his thumb caressing the inside of her wrist. "Wait. I need to speak to you in private."
She smiled at him and he returned the gesture, before glancing around. He began to pull her towards the guest barn. "This way."
She followed him, eagerly, looking forward to being alone with him, if only for a moment. She had waited to be with him again for so long, and felt like screaming her elation and relief from the rooftops. Dulcina was his mother! And she, Roana, had been concerned about their relationship, when there was nothing to worry about at all.
It was silent inside the barn, with all residents out at work on the farm. Allan pushed the door closed behind them, and, next minute, they were in each other's arms, kissing hungrily.
"God, I've missed you," Roana gasped between kisses, winding her arms tightly around his neck.
"Not as much as I've missed you," Allan replied, breathlessly, his arms around her waist and his hands firmly on her buttocks, pulling her into him so they were moulded against each other.
They were both aflame with passion ignited, and he pulled away with some difficulty, suddenly remembering why he had brought her there. Roana let him go, reluctantly, staring at him with a bereft expression as he stepped back.
"There'll be plenty of time for that," he said with a grin. "I have to ask you something first."
Roana looked at him, queryingly. "I have much to ask you, too. For starters, your mother?"
Allan laughed, bashfully. "It was a shock for me, too. I mean, I thought she was dead! To find out she is actually the Countess of Scarborough took some getting used to."
"But... she left you with your father," Roana said, astonished that he could be so blasé about it. "How can you just forgive her?"
"It's a long, complicated story, Ro." He looked at her, tenderly. "I will tell you, but that isn't why I brought you here. I have a question for you."
She smiled. "You can ask me anything. I'm just ecstatic to have you back."
A brief emotion passed over his face, and Roana had the distinct feeling that he was nervous about something. But it was gone as quickly as it had appeared, and, as he went down on one knee before her, she felt like her heart was about to burst out of her chest.
"Allan?" she said, barely able to speak as her throat swelled with excitement. "What are you doing?"
"Ro," he said, patiently, looking into her eyes steadily. "I've had a lot of time to think over the last few days, and my ma has helped me come to some important decisions, too. She has shown me that, no matter where you come from, you still deserve the best that life can give you, if you only believe in it. And I believe in you, Ro." His voice faltered, and he cleared his throat, self-consciously. "I never thought a scoundrel like me deserved anything decent from life, but you've proved me wrong. I love you, Ro. You make me so happy."
He paused to take her left hand in his, and wobbled as he almost lost his balance. They both laughed quietly as Roana reached out her other hand to steady him, and then he caught her eye again, reaching into his tunic to pull out a beautiful gold and ruby ring, which he held up.
"Will you marry me?" he said in a rush, looking at her hopefully.
For a moment, Roana wasn't sure she could speak, overwhelmed as she was with such love for this man. Her eyes filled up and she wiped the tears away with the back of her free hand before nodding, fervently.
"There is nothing I would like more," she whispered with feeling.
He slipped the ring onto her finger and it fit perfectly. Then, he stood, and she moved into his embrace naturally, as if she belonged there, which he was sure she did.
They stood for a moment, both clinging onto each other, overcome by emotion, and then Roana lifted her hand to admire the ring and Allan said, roughly, "So, we're betrothed, then?"
"Looks like it," she replied, gleefully, and he kissed her, deeply, pushing her up against the wall so he could press himself into her, ardently.
After a while, they decided to join the rest of the group in the house, where they had all gathered in the Great Hall. Robert had arranged for refreshments to be provided, and the room was raucous with good cheer.
Allan and Roana tried to slink in unnoticed, but both Robin and Dulcina sought them out immediately with curious eyes and questioning expressions. Bashfully, Roana raised her left hand to surreptitiously show off the ring, and Dulcina rose from her seat with a squeal and came towards them, pulling Roana into a tight hug, while Robin approached Allan, smiling widely.
"Welcome to the family, my love," Dulcina said warmly, seeming very far from the cool character Roana had always taken her for. She smelled of a slightly spicy perfume underlaid with vanilla tones, and Roana wondered at how comfortable she felt in the countess's presence. It was as if they had known one another for an age. In reality, they had, but only as passing acquaintances.
"Thank you, my lady." She dropped into a curtsy once Dulcina had released her, and the older woman waved her hand, dismissively.
"No need for affects, my darling." She grabbed Roana's hand and held it up, turning to the room.
"My daughter-in-law to be," she announced, gaily, and the room fell quiet as everybody turned to stare at them.
Robert and Eleanor looked surprisingly prepared, and Roana could only imagine that Dulcina had discreetly spoken to them beforehand. The outlaws, however, were delightedly shocked, and left their seats to cluster around Allan and Roana, chattering eagerly, effusive with congratulations.
"This is the strangest day ever," Djaq commented, laughing in delight as she pulled Roana into a hug. "Allan has a mother, and now he has proposed to you. We will make a man of him yet."
"I feel like today has given me everything I ever wanted," Roana confessed, her eyes bright with unshed tears of happiness. "I hope nothing happens to take this away from me."