Le Morte d'Ailric by Ness Ayton
This story first appeared in the zine "The Chronicles of Sherwood" many moons ago...
Robin sat cross-legged on the straw, deep in thought. It was three days since his father had brought him to the mill and, deep in his heart, he knew what had happened that night he'd been left, but he still allowed himself to hope. The miller and his wife had been kind to him - almost too kind - and their own son, Much, seemed to have adopted him as an older brother, but all he really wanted was his father back.
He recognised Matthew the miller's voice and clambered from his perch with a sigh.
Dashing through the rain, he entered the house just as Matthew was removing his wet jerkin. The miller turned at his entrance and regarded him solemnly for a moment. The room grew quiet save for the crackling of the fire in the hearth. Matthew glanced across at his wife who swept Much up in her arms and took him to the other side of the room out of earshot of his father.
"Robin. Come here, lad." The miller's voice was calm, but Robin recognised the emotion deep within it and finally knew for certain what he had known subconsciously for the last three days.
"He's dead, isn't he?" Robin said. "My father's dead." The certainty in the boy's voice surprised the miller.
"Aye, lad, he is," Matthew managed to affirm at last.
Robin turned away from the miller who gently placed his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Robin," he said.
Robin nodded curtly.
"Where?" he asked.
"Rhiannon's Wheel. De Rainault's men killed him."
"And took the silver arrow," Robin whispered under his breath as, in the corner, Much started whimpering, feeling the atmosphere in the room.
After a quick glance at her son, the miller's wife swept towards Robin.
"Robin. I'm sorry, love," she murmured, trying to envelop him in her ample bosom. He avoided her with a quick side-step and turned to look at the miller again.
Matthew wished the boy would cry or do something. This calm acceptance unnerved him.
"You'll have a home here with us," he told the boy who was as still as a statue, emotions swirling in his green eyes. "And, in time, the hurt will fade."
"Nothing's forgotten," Robin said suddenly as he whirled away from the miller and went outside, glad to escape the smothering sympathy inside.
It was still raining and he was vaguely aware that it had started raining three days ago and hadn't stopped, as if the very skies themselves were weeping for his father. Standing there, in the wild night, letting the rain lash him and the winds howl round him, he watched black clouds scurrying across the dark moonless sky until he suddenly tasted salt in the water running down his cheeks and realised that he was crying.
Suddenly, through the rain and tears, he spotted a dark shape amongst the far trees. Wonderingly, he watched it move towards him until he could make out the form of a stag. It regarded him with green eyes that seemed timeless and Robin felt an overwhelming sense of peace sweep over him.
He felt the miller's hand on his shoulder.
"Please come in, lad, or you'll make yourself ill."
"All right," Robin agreed and headed for the house at the miller's side. At the door he turned and made out the shadow of the stag still standing there in the dark.
"Nothing is ever forgotten," he whispered into the wind.
As if it had heard, the great beast bowed its antlered head and galloped back to the forest.
The door of the mill opened and Robin, accompanied by Matthew, entered the warmth and love of his new home.