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He glanced up at her approach. "Whatsa matter? You look worried."
Worried? She was having visions of them both being ravished and killed by a band of Sherwood outlaws who could be lurking nearby this very moment. "Worried" barely scratched the surface.
The real outlaws had hardly been like Robin's mythical merrie men. In fact, "merrie" was probably the last thing any of them were. A brutal, bloodthirsty bunch, medieval criminals. They had to be with the penalties for crimes so harsh in this era. Once a man broke the law, he had little left to lose. Those who escaped capture lived like animals in the woods, doing anything to survive. If there were outlaws close by, ones who knew they were here, who watched them even now...
Her stomach knotted as she stared Orlando in the eye. "Just tell me one thing. When you ran off before ... um, you didn't really meet anyone, did you?" She held her breath.
Her breath whooshed out in relief. Thank God. He had been bluffing. Which still didn't explain why Sir Guy's company bolted, but she'd work on that question later. One problem at a time. With a last look around, she made her decision. They'd follow the road, in the opposite direction the men took, but stick to the shadows of the trees. That would give them a little cover. Maybe. Hell, it would be full dark soon and no one would be able to see a damn thing, anyway.
"Okay then, let's get moving." She grabbed Orlando's hand and pulled him to the edge of the forest.
He pulled back. "Hang on. We can't go anywhere yet."
"Because they'll be here any sec. We gotta wait for them."
"Who's 'them'?" She wanted to shake him."You just said you didn't meet anyone."
"That's right. Not anyone. Robin Hood and his men."
A shriek sounded. Marian's.
"Orlando, there is no Robin Hood."
"Bullshit. There is, too. He told me who he was. Who do you think chased off Sheriff Sleazeball? You saw what happened. They heard he was coming, and hauled ass." Orlando paused, his brows pulled together. "Huh. Maybe I shouldn't have warned them. I didn't realize what a badass reputation he's got. He must be cooler even than he is in the movies."
Marian clenched her teeth to keep from screaming again. Things were becoming too surrealistic. She closed her eyes and counted to ten, then rested her hands on his shoulders and leaned forward. "Orlando, listen to me. Whatever those men were running from, it was not because of anything you said."
He blinked and stared past her. "You might be right about that."
"I know I'm right. And you did not meet anyone who told you he was Robin Hood. There's a good chance no one around here even knows who Robin Hood is. The earliest known legends about him haven't been written yet. Do you get what I'm saying? He's not a real person."
"Does he know that?"
"He doesn't know anything. Robin is just a myth, a folktale, a literary invention. Understand? Historians have been researching him for years. I've researched him myself." God, how she'd researched him. "But I've never found any solid evidence he really existed--not now, not ever." Only in my dreams. She drew a deep breath.
"Yeah? Well maybe you just never looked for him in the right place."
Marian stepped back and planted her hands on her hips. "And where would you suggest looking for him, Mr. Know-It-All?"
Orlando grinned. "Right behind you."
She spun about--froze.
"Shit," she heard someone say. Herself. Surprising. It wasn't a word she often used, but she couldn't think of a better one just then. She couldn't think at all. The woods were moving, shadows detaching from shadows. Weird shapes materialized in the mists between the trees, figures on two legs, crowned with antlers and horns. Some wore leaves, some feathers, some fur. One had a wolf's head, one a bear's. And one...
Her legs went weak. She knew him--the tall one who stood in a tunic of forest green, his bow in hand, his face hidden behind the folds of a deep hood.
A dream, just a dream...
He stepped toward her.
Marian forgot how to breathe. Dizziness swamped her. She swayed, locked her legs to keep from falling--crumpled, anyway.
The hooded man caught her, just as he had a thousand times before.