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Robin Hood: Marian Has a Date For Dinner 29

“Ja, I am Hilde the math teacher. I am from, uh, Derby. Ja Derby is vere I am from, und I have come to be a substitution teacher for the children.” Cedric mistook Marian’s blushing for shyness. She wished she were better at dissembling.
“Well, I suppose I should let you take over so I  can get back to St. Mary’s. Perhaps you will join me in the rectory for dinner this evening to welcome you to Nottingham? Now, I won’t take no for an answer. We English Vicars are used to being obeyed. In everything… heh, heh. Just a joke, really. See you after evensong, then? Good. Well, I’ll leave the little vermin in your capable hands, then. Be stern with them. Don’t spare the rod and all that. You can bet I haven’t.”
Marian was mortified. She was just getting ready to be relieved that she had gotten through that short introduction without being detected, and now she would have to sit through dinner with the despicable cleric. Her proud warrior heritage seemed to have abandoned her, laughing as it went. She had so been looking forward to seeing the children and catching up with them, and now that they were here, safe in front of her, she could barely acknowledge their presence. She took a deep breath. She looked up at the children. They seemed to regard her with the same open mouthed neck craning curiosity one might look upon an owl attacking a small rodent. Years of caring for her small charges kicked in. “Well, shut your traps, have you never seen a priest invite a lady to dine before?”
“Marian?” said a young, blonde girl in pigtails herself seated in the third row.
“It is her! I told you she’d come back!” agreed another.
“Marian! Marian!” rose the chorus of children so that children from the neighboring classrooms and the yard outside overheard and began flooding into the small classroom.
“Well, do you children not see that I am in disguise? Do you want the sheriff to come here and arrest me? Then you had better learn to keep quiet and not tell anyone!” This was why she had risked everything to come back. This is why she knew that she had done the right thing. these children needed her. What’s more she needed them. She had been lost without them.
“Tell me,” she said, once she had quieted them down. “What has gone on since I’ve been gone?”
The children spent the rest of the day telling Marian how the sheriff had levied a special tax on St Anne’s and arrived with armed guards to receive payment in person. Since then, the meals had been reduced to just a small bowl of gruel in the  morning, and a thin broth accompanied by stale bread in the evening. Theirs clothes were more threadbare than usual and some of the teachers had left to go work in the fields in order to better sustain their families and avoid the obvious persecutory wrath of the sheriff. Many of the children had become sick due to the nutrition and care that had been withheld from them. There was little to be done as the supplies in the infirmary had run nearly out. There had been a garden in which Marian personally grew medicinal herbs for the sick children, but Father Cecil had had the entire garden pulled and burned on the grounds that herbology was a form of witchcraft, and had threatened to ad that to the list of crimes Marian was wanted for. Marian could have shown him St. Hildegard’s own writing on the subject, but the Benedictine Nun & saint would probably not have been able to persuade Father Cecil to spare the herbs, were she there in person. Most of the medicinal plants grew in the greenwood, and Marian had planted them in the garden for the sake of convenience, so even though the herb garden was gone, the plants were still relatively close at hand.
Even so, Marian’s blood boiled with anger at the way these two men treated the children as if they were themselves weeds to be pulled and thrown into the fire. It wasn’t just neglect, ignorance, greed and vice fuelling the persecution of the children, it was a prejudicial bias against them. The sheriff and Father Cecil believed that orphans should be drowned like feral kittens. The two men resented the community’s effort to provide a decent upbringing for the unwanted, parentless offspring, whom they viewed as liable to grow up to be beggars or outlaws. Marian and Tuck were doing their level best to make sure that didn’t happen. By educating the children and providing a nurturing environment, they hoped the children could overcome the strike fate had dealt them and become productive members of the shire. Marian felt that the actions of the sheriff and Father Cecil would guarantee that their predictions as to the fate of the orphans would bare out. By treating them as unwanted and less than deserving, the children would internalize these attitudes and become the villains they were expected to become.
After class, as Marian told Tuck about the testimony of the children, she got so wound up that she nearly flew into a rage. There was no way, she swore, that she could have dinner with Father Cecil without killing him! Tuck tried too calm her down, to warn her that she would give them both away if she behaved at all like Marian. He gave her a glass of strong wine to sooth her nerves. She downed it so fast that even Tuck was taken aback.
He had, of course, learned about the tax, but the tale of the herbs was news to him. The only way that he could get Marian to go through with the dinner was to tell her to act as their spy. Perhaps she could find out something useful about the sheriff’s plans. Something that the sheriff would rather Robin and his friends not find out. Perhaps something concerning the sheriff’s plans for Robin and his friends. Marian held out her glass for a refill. Robin loved this kind of thing. This whole disguise idea had been his. He could be so annoying. Why didn’t he wear his hair in braids and flirt with Father Cecil? Then he would see! Actually, he would probably love it. He was such a rogue! She remembered the first time she had laid eyes on him. He had been in the dress shop when she’d arrived and looked like a beggar. Then he had produced the coins and offered to pay for her dress. She had known right then that he was trouble! Now look at her! She was going to have dinner with the man who had imprisoned her (for having one of those damn coins!), dressed like an invading Viking woman and she was expected to spy? Well, she would show them! She would do it! She would pry secrets out of Cecil that he didn’t even know he had. He would promise to find out the things he didn’t know. She would have him eating out of her hand! But first she had to lie down; she felt quite dizzy.

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