“Meriden, You do know he’s dead, right?” Addison nearly growled. Not quite dawn, the low light made deeper shadows across them both, lightened Merry’s skin, turned his violet eyes dark as midnight. In the shadow, Addison seemed larger, his armored shoulders wider. Still unshaven, an imagination could have seen him as more wolf than man. Morning’s beard still on his face, along with the hunger of the hunt, Addison smelled of wild, of wolf, all that Merry fought to hold back from his village. Leaning up against Merry’s wagon, which was filled with boxed crafts the de Borne household had been making over the winter, the two men filled the roles of the hare and the hound.
Neither stories nor hares go exactly where they are expected to go. Merry licked his lips, eyes narrowing, body tense, though with the sheriff’s arms to either side of him, there was no easy choice. Smooth shaven, he was as he had always been, the perfect image of his twin sister Marian. “I don’t think that’s for you to say, Sheriff.” Merry pushed the very slender blade forward through the leather petals of Addison’s armor. “Now, I have come to sell goods at the market today, as you well know, with my good cousin’s permission. The king’s good sheriff would do nothing to hamper or detain his king’s cousin, now would he?” Merry pressed the dagger forward just enough for its presence to be unmistakable.
That dawn softened the shadows, brought more light to the still empty square, may have weakened the power of night, the seduction of secrecy, but Addison stood back, rolling his shoulders, releasing the latent tension. “Of course not, Merry. I was merely pointing out the obvious. Robin of Locksley has not been heard from for seven years. He’s dead. His father is dead. Marian, his betrothed, is his heir. We both know well that the Pope banned women from the crusade, so clearly it was you that received the knighthood from your good cousin King Richard. The consequences,” Addison said with a smile, his voice deep and smooth, a wolf’s call in the form of a man’s words, “should that turn out not to be true could be,” he paused, reached out to catch Merry’s hand, to relieve him of his dagger, then draw a work stained hand to his lips for a nearly polite kiss, “Those consequences could be very severe. We both know that Sir Merry de Borne would do anything to protect his sweet sister the Lady Marian, won’t he?”
Merry eyed his dagger, but let it go. A hand went to his hair, done in a thick braid that lay on his shoulder and hung to his waist, holding it as if it were some protective charm. The old ways were just as taboo and just as dangerous as other bits of his life that he’d prefer to keep private, so if the spirits of the forest had given him any totems, he certainly was not saying. “Just because you wish for something to be true, does not mean that it is. You’re not from here and you won’t stay. The king will return. Robin will return. All will be as it should be.”
“So you’re saying that your sister will return. Her betrothed will return. He’ll marry her in a lovely ceremony that the whole shire will celebrate and you’ll continue managing the de Borne estate like a second son. You’ll never be sheriff, Merry, even when I am gone. You haven’t the taste for it. You will always be picking up after your sister and dreaming about the man she’ll marry. I’m not a child and neither are you. You long to be in my bed.”
Merry’s hand struck before his better judgment could catch falling eggs. The slap echoed across the market, loud and sharp. It was followed by Addison’s laughter, cheery and amused.
“Good day, my Lord Sheriff!” Merry snapped slipping away to grab hold of Apple’s harness. The pony was taller than Merry, but not by much. A wooly, scruffy beast with great big hooves and golden hair mixed with cream, she nuzzled Merry’s hand and swished her tail as they walked off.
“Think about it,” Addison shot after him as he slipped the little dagger into his belt. “You know I’m right.”
Merry lifted his chin and strode on. His braid slipped from his shoulder to sway behind him as he walked. “I can’t know you’re right, when you can’t know you’re right!”
“You’ve got a cute ass, Merry de Borne!”