fiction, writing

The Downfall of Nottingham

The city was in ruins. All caused by that foolish child who was in love with an outlaw. My castle still stood high above where I could watch the chaos below. Untouched by the flames that engulfed many noble homes throughout Nottinghamshire. The disintegrating figure of the sheriff was hanging from where they set him on fire after he was strung to the gallows. I watched unblinking as the body fell after the rope finally gave way to the flames. Now there was nothing but ashes decorating the base of the crumbling structure. Despite how far my room was to the city square, I could imagine his skin falling from his charred flesh. The vile display was enough to make anyone with a heart look away in fright.

The “silent” Queen of Nottingham would not look away from the sight. Trivial things such as this no longer phased me. I gave my heart away to a casualty in King Richard’s holy war and, at the same time, lost the best friend a woman of my lower-noble birth could ask for. If it were not for Snow, the eldest daughter of John who then Prince of Nottingham, my title would be “Wife of James of Loxley.” 

Snow White they called her due to her sweet and innocent nature. To think they all believe her death was the doing of the Sheriff and John.  If only they knew the innocent and silent queen was using them as a pawn in a simple game of chess. Besides, the Queen piece is always the one that can move freely. The soft and cold chuckle that followed this thought would give chills down the spine of the strongest of knights. 

I felt nothing for those perishing below. If they were to storm the castle and kill John I would not shed one tear for him. I may act as if I am the helpless Queen to keep up appearances but the real Isa died a long time ago. That innocent girl who gave into her father’s harsh ambitions. Unrecognizable from the naive young woman I was now dressed in black, heavy gowns with red lace traveling throughout. My hair is long and kept up in the golden crown adorned surrounding it. Uncomfortable heels slow me down, but it is not as if there is any need to run or ride anymore. The only item that I wore constantly is the necklace my father gave me on my wedding day. An obsidian necklace in the shape of a heart. It was fitting as it represented the coldness that took over my soul that Queen Isabella replaced. 

I bore John some children but cared for them not. The only thing I cared for was the little magic that my father taught me. Small, little things. Such as the power of manipulation to control the actions of King John as well as the Sheriff. Simple phrases during John’s sleep patterns seeped into his subconscious allowing him to alienate and disown his own daughter wiping her from the bloodline and from history itself. Eventually, he believed that she was attempting to commit treason by killing his own father and overthrowing him. Once she was out of the castle I made moves to find her and take her out.

Before I took things into my own hands, I attempted to use a lowly thief that went by the name of William Scarlett. He was very good at assassination so I figured he would be the perfect pawn. That was until the brat fell for her charms… or was it his charms? William did not seem to fancy my feign advances. My seduction usually worked, but not for him. Instead, he decided to join the group of outlaws hoping to charm his way through the ranks getting emotionally attached to both this “Robin Hood” and Snow. The betrayal is what pushed me to do my own dirty work.  

I used one of my disguises to look like a poor beggar to take pleasure in poisoning that girl with the apple from my favorite tree. I waited until the fruit was at its peak redness. As red as the girl’s lips… and her blood. Snow had gone by the name “Marian” by this point and fooled the outlaw into loving her. I watched from afar as Snow went back to her family and ate from the apple. I sold the apple saying that I dipped the fruit in apricot oils to make an even sweeter taste. In reality, I watched as the oleander that covered the apple worked instantly. First the sweats, then the bowels burst from beneath her perfect skirt. Finally, I heard the sweet gasps of breath escaping her bleeding mouth before it led to her escape of death. I hoped that it would last longer than it did, but I was not disappointed.

What kind of name is Robin, anyway? Surely the name was not his given since he was a secretive man. He hid in the shadows whilst stealing goods from the hard-working nobles. The secrecy made me wonder why Snow wormed her way into his heart at all. Their band was called  “Merry” Men. How could that not be some queer group of individuals? While Snow fell ill and dying, I could only see the outlaw from the back as he came to her aid. 

  The heat of the fires below soon began to brush against my pure and flawless skin melted some powder that decorated my cheeks. I chose this development to get myself out of my vengeful stupor and turn back inside. I closed the balcony doors, pulling the crimson velvet curtains together to retreat to the safeguards of my chambers. The castle was being overrun already. The screams of those being robbed was barely audible through the wooden doors as I sat at my dark apple table taking in a glass of red wine. I never truly cared about being the most beautiful in the Kingdom. I only used that vain excuse to aid my manipulation of King John and the Sheriff to follow my lead.

My fingers absentmindedly slid against the smooth stone where I could feel the energy coming through it. I loved the obsidian stone, but the dark red casing around this necklace stood out to me. It often made me wonder if I was in control of my heart or not…

I did not flinch or look up as I heard screaming and fighting coming from behind the large, cedar doors separating my bedchamber from the corridors of the castle. I stayed in my spot sipping the sweet, yet bitter liquid from my golden goblet that was a wedding gift from the King. I did not care for gifts, but enjoying wine was one of the few things of royal life I enjoyed. 

The yelling and screaming ceased for a moment. It drew in my curiosity, which made me turn my head towards the door. I almost gave a chuckle as I heard the intruder burst through the door. Looking up, I could not deny my lustful fascination. Their thick blood trickled from various arrows coming from their armored torsos and slit throats. He’s silent and quick, I’ll give him that. He dressed in green rags with a hood covering most of his face. He held a bow with two arrows directed at me. His stance was angry and vengeful. His arms were strong and muscular. His eyes covered in that ghastly hood.

“Stand up, your highness,” he said, his voice frigid, angry. “Make one false move and I will make sure you do not see the sunrise again.” 

A voice that never changed. I knew it all too well. A voice that protected my cold, dark heart from freezing over. Though that is when I stopped thinking like a Queen. His voice, it sounded like the ghost of someone I once knew… I tilted my head up to see the face that lay behind the hood. I could not move. His eyes were so familiar… I could even see underneath the hood they belonged to him. His eyes. The eyes of the man who died so many years ago. I knew my parents lied when they wanted me to do something. Most of the time, the subject was dear to my heart. Their manipulation controlled my heart. Had the Sheriff conspired with them? So many questions went through my head that I could barely say a word. 

Two arrows flew at my feet only inches away from piercing my oversized heels. “I said stand up!” He repeated. 

After hearing his stern, deep voice again confirmed it. I remembered how he and I had snuck away and rode our horses out in the forest. He would get into fights with other men who attempted to beguile me. How we would go to the local Pub to get away from our parents. That was when I loved to drink what the bartender set in front of me. I remembered how we planned the wedding that would never come to pass. I could say nothing but stand, slowly and weakly. I had never enjoyed wearing heels or gowns. I only wanted to wear those plain clothes young, low-born nobles wore.

“James?” I asked softly. The guilt of all my actions were not setting in just yet. All I wanted to know is how he was standing right there in front of me. Alive. “My parents told me you perished in the war…” 

This could not be possible… All this time I blamed Snow, the once beloved lost Princess, for his death. The princess who took on the new name of “Marian,” and married… the man I once loved… Part of me still hated her because of that fact alone. Did she know? I do not recall a time where Snow had ever met James. She was still so young. Yet old enough to become a wife.

Robin looked at me as if he didn’t remember me at all. It was a long time ago, but I had hoped he had at least remembered the woman he wanted to marry.

“Do I know you?”He looked at me as if we were strangers, which pierced my heart more than any arrow. It hurt. Emotions that I kept locked away had finally resurfaced. Hurt, anger, love… and worst of all guilt. I killed the second woman he fell in love with. I deserved any arrow shot through me. I could feel my necklace getting heavier and pouring heat onto my breast through my thick bodice. “That must be another lie the late Sheriff spread,” he added with a bitter laugh. “Now, you are coming with me. If I hear you cry for help or scream I assure you that I will not miss.”

Perhaps I deserve that. Let him kill me for my crimes against him. Die at the hands of the man I once loved. I forced a smirk as my pendant grew hotter… almost too hot to touch. One I have used many times in my manipulations. Surely “Robin” knew of Snow’s true identity. For now, I would pretend to be in charge… when in reality I just want that arrow between my eyes.  

“Did Snow teach you that? What kind of name is Robin, anyway? You like birds or something? And are you sure that’s even necessary? This city will fall apart without me. Well, more than it already is… Nice job with the Sheriff could not have done it better myself.”

I jumped a little when two arrows flung at my feet again. Now he aimed another arrow directly at my heart. Go ahead, my love… finish me off. There is nothing left for me, anyway. I thought to myself. 

Now, my patience is running thin. You either come with me alive or I will shoot this arrow right into your heart. Your choice, it does not matter to me if you live or die,” he said.

I did not bat an eye as the pain in my chest became unbearable. “Go ahead. It is not like John would mourn me. He loved his first wife and his dear Snow more than he could ever love me. I have only loved one man, and I thought he was dead… I sought revenge only for it to be a lie. She was innocent of the crimes I put on her. You found a new love in her and I murdered her in anger. Go ahead. The real me died when she thought you did.” 

I did not expect what I saw next. It was as if my words struck him. He lowered the bow and put it away. He walked closer to me to retrieve his arrows, still at my feet. I could smell the ashes left by fires that engulfed the city and the castle wafting from his hood and the sweet, musky scent I remember from our youth. That aroma I loved so much when he held me in his arms back then. I could feel the tiredness he had even before he spoke his next words. 

“I do not understand what you are talking about.” His voice was softer. As if the rage began to subside with the knowledge of familiarity. “I shall ask again, how do you know me. No one has called me by that name in years.”

“You do not remember your first love do you?” My voice was softer. The most apologetic that I could give. I did not deserve his forgiveness. He should have shot me with my provoking remarks. “Princess Snow was the one who suggested that you join the military to prove your worth to my parents. When I thought you had died… I had blamed her. They forced me to marry John after his first wife died. She was my best friend. My anger turned me to manipulate John’s already tormented mind into thinking his favorite princess was plotting against him. She ran off, and I found out later, she had changed her appearance and name to Marian. I never left the castle, but used my hatred to manipulate others to get my revenge… If I had known… I would have done none of this.”

He gave a scowl. I thought this confession would be the one to bring him to kill me but that never happened. All I could see in his beautiful emerald eyes was disbelief and fatigue.

 “I remember a woman I loved a long time ago. She wore plain clothes often and never the elaborate gowns that royals wear. I called her Isa. It was a long time ago. Another life. I told her to wait for me when I came back.”

My heart ached even more. Something I had not felt in years. I waited. Until they told me he had perished in the Crusades. He was still angry that I killed Snow, but he could not kill me. Perhaps knowing the one I once loved hated me would be better than the hurt I saw in his eyes. His actions and knowledge of the past made it worse. He no longer wanted to kill me but showed pity instead. Before I could say another word to him, however, there was a commotion in the halls. I could hear the guards scrambling in a frantic mess. 

“We must find him and protect the Queen!” Exclaimed the voice of the head guard.

James turned to me as if I were that Isa that I used to be. “We need to leave. Now. It seems your men have found the King dead in his chambers.”

Leave? I thought to myself. He still wants to take me away from here? My thoughts mattered no more… I cared not if he was just taking me with him as a hostage. James was giving me freedom. As if my hatred held together it, the necklace I wore fell off of my neck shattering on the ground. It was as they broke if the chains of my prison with the clang of a simple pendant.

The only problem now was the dress… and heels. The heels were an easy fix as I kicked them off, but the gown was so heavy. The corset underneath dug into my ribs like a boa to its prey. There is no way I could run without slowing him down. “I cannot run in this dress… I would only slow you down. Go without me, I will tell them another way to give you time… Put an arrow in me. You want your true revenge on Snow… Marian… I can survive long enough to tell them the wrong way.”

James did not seem to like my idea. “No, I have done enough killing today. Regicide of one Monarch is better than two on my conscience.” Instead, he went to my balcony. He saw a line of flags left over from a previous festival that led down into the town’s square. It was a miracle they had not burned down yet. He held out his hand and my heart fluttered with excitement. Getting out of here was the one thing I had always wanted. “Do you trust me Isa?” 

Calling me by the long-forgotten nickname confirmed my next decisions. I quickly placed the crown I was wearing on the table and used a very sharp letter opener to cut open my gown and corset leaving only my underdress. It was a scandalous decision, but a practical one. I could do it quick enough thanks to the adrenaline and the lack of weight keeping me down. The Kingdom had no further need for me. I bore John heirs just as the previous Queen had. I took his warm, calloused hand joining him on the balcony. “Yes, I always have… with my life.”

Without another word, he took me by the waist and held me close. Using his bow, he hooked it onto the sturdy rope and drove us out by sliding down to the ground below holding me close to him. It was something out of a romantic adventure novel that I would read in my spare time. When we finally made it to the ground, He took my hand with a handsome smirk and started running with me. “Come on, let us make haste to those trees,” he pulled me with him towards the outskirts of the Sherwood Forest closest the castle. 

I was regretting not wearing any kind of protection on my feet, but the thrill of the chase took any fears out of my mind. I could no longer smell the ash and smoke rising from the town or even hear the screams of the surrounding citizens. All that mattered right now was freedom. I would finally get my escape that I longed for so long. My grip on his hand never lessened, but grew tighter as we ran. I refused to lose him now that he was back in my life. Nothing could take me away from him now. To hell with royalty and gowns. To hell with keeping up the appearance of happiness and servitude.The feeling of the warm ground on my feet was refreshing. Something I haven’t felt in years. We had ran through the woods and meadows so many times with nothing but our bare feet and plain clothes. It reminded me of our childhood.  Times when things were simpler. 

“There should be stables nearby. We can take two of the horses to get out quicker,” I said as we kept running. 

“Good plan, you are not going to try and beat me in a race again are you?” He looked back with a playful smirk. I smiled never letting go. That was the smirk I fell in love with. There was nothing left for me in Nottinghamshire. Except…

“Stop right there, outlaw.” The voice was familiar… too familiar. James placed me behind him protectively as the sharp blade of a falchion sword came from behind an old oak tree. My father’s emotionless and stern eyes came towards us making sure the blade was close enough to make a tiny cut on James’ throat. I could smell the blood trickling down. It was not much, but it was there… it smelled sweet.

“Isabella, go back to the castle at once and I will let him go. He is dead to you. You are Queen. Your mother and I did everything for you to be in this position and this is how you repay us? If you run, I will blame you for everything. Say that you had slain the King to run off with this outlaw.” 

His form never altered. The anger deep down inside me was finally about to blow. What did he mean… everything? “Father… you say everything… What do you mean by that claim?” If they were responsible for Isabella’s death… and the lies they told me…

James held his stance. He seemed unafraid of my father, even if I was.  “That doesn’t make much sense to me, it is too damaging to your ego that a simple outlaw had done all of this?” He asked bravely.

Isa’s father glared right through him as if he were a bug underneath of his boot. He spoke to James as if I never existed behind him. “We told the narrative of your death so that Isabella could be the Queen that we intended her to be. I have no sons and she is the only child her mother gave me before she died giving birth to her. I taught her the magic of manipulation to help her achieve that goal. I even gave her a wedding gift to make sure that her anger never quelled and consumed her. Obviously that must have broke the moment she knew you were alive. I wanted my bloodline take Nottingham entirely, but they demoted me once they knew my only heir was a female. You impeded my plan. The mother she knows is a noble of low birth and followed every order I gave her. Snow tried to help make things better for Isabella. I told my wife to suggest to her that making you a war hero would be the only thing to make us accept you as my daughter’s husband. We were the ones to send the attack on you in hopes you would die. The sheriff told us it was successful, so that is how we went on with our plans. To take down the monarchy and take over from the inside.”

Everything he was saying was making me more and more angry. If what he said was true… that meant that they had manipulated me my entire my life. “The mother that had raised me was nothing but a replacement… You never told me this. Why? You… did all of this?” My anger was raging. To the point I wanted to kill my own father. He was the one who I needed to dispose of. 

“They did, using you and the sheriff as pawns.” James said with a cold calm to his voice as he understood. He was still furious but this time it was not towards me. I was just a pawn myself, used by my father. Manipulated into blaming an innocent child that he loved. I still did not deserve his forgiveness… but at least now I knew he did not hate me. “Though you did not count on me living and becoming Robin Hood” He said as he looked at him. “Though, I have a few things that you did not count on” He said, his hand reaching into his back pocket. Quietly. 

Before James could whip out his concealed weapon, something very unexpected happened. An arrow flew through the flesh of my father splattering blood on both of us. From the surprised look on James’ face, the arrows did not belong to anyone he knew. In an instant, he fell to the ground before James could even comprehend what was happening. The taste of metallic entered my surprised mouth. Before I could spit it out I got… Visions.

Far-away lands, Vamneys, Lykens, Camelot, Arabia… All these crazy things came to my head at once. Memories of living 16 for a lifetime, Princess of Camelot, a Vizier and lover of a King… All… lives I had lived. With James… I looked up at him and it seemed as if the blood had not given him memories as it had in many lives before this. The essence that shows us who our true selves are.

“Isa? Are you all right?” he asked helping me up from the ground.

He looked me over seemingly to see if this mysterious assassin hit me. It was a little hard to remember my name was Isa now. The names of the past flew through my mind instead. I took a bit of blood from his cheek and placed it in his mouth. It startled him, the sudden taste of blood and the memories that flooded to him afterwards. He leaned against a bloody fur tree for support. When his own headache was over, he looked down at me and whispered “Teri…” The name of the first life we shared. I cried tears of blood as I looked up at his words. Those arrows that killed my father… It must have been from him. 

James wasted no time scooping me up in his arms kissing me hard against a tree.  Nottinghamshire meant nothing to us now. There were no words, but he forgave all. Just like in all the times in the past where I went dark. He was always my knight that guided me to the light. My soulmate. We would put our dark past behind us and start a new life together. Finally, live a life where we can be at peace… at least that was what I had hoped.

“The city is still burning… we should probably leave…” I told him after pulling away from the kiss.

“Oh come now, I thought you liked fire,” he smirked down at me.

“Not when there are soldiers looking for us!” 

“Still no fun are you?” He playfully nudged me before taking my hand and running to the stables. I took my favorite mare, and he took the King’s stallion. 

We rode through the forest never looking back at Nottingham. The love of my life had come back from the dead. He was taking me far away where we could live in the woods as outlaws but in peace. Living the life away from royalty would be hard, but living in a place full of memories of the horrible things I had done was worse. Our horses galloped in unison through an open field just before the Forest where we could be free. This was a new life. A new me… until a poisoned dagger pierced my heart. I fell to the ground in pain, feeling the liquid pumping through my veins. I knew it well. It was the same poison that I used on Snow. This must be revenge from Scarlett. He fancied “Robin,” perhaps he was angry that his heart yearned for another. For me. They cut the wound deep into my back and blood was coming out of me quickly causing my consciousness to fade deeper and deeper. I could feel my lungs fail as I looked into Robin’s eyes. Another wasted life. Here is to the hope that my next life will be better and that I find him once more…