Guild members exchanged surprised glances. A mission in England! Every emotion was displayed, from eagerness to valid concern. Lady Hastings waited for her audience to assimilate the information. She looked on the newest members of the Violet Guild for their reaction. Kathryn Aleron, known to her friends as "Lady K," whispered to her husband, Etienne.
He was listening intently to his wife, but Lady Hasting was unnerved to discover that his piercing green eyes were fixed on her at the same time. She turned away, wondering if it had been a good idea to invite the Alerons.
Upon her first meeting with Kathryn, Lady Hastings was enchanted. The young woman, an American, proved to be friendly, warm, enthusiastic, caring, and delightfully unorthodox as far as English society goes. She could make an ordinary gathering quite merry and fun. She was also clever and smart, qualities the Hastings looked for in potential Guild members. It was no surprise, then, that Lord Hastings had asked her to join after only three meetings. On receiving that invitation, Lady K asked if her husband, Etienne, could become a member as well.
Having not met the man and hearing the French name had given Lord Hastings a moment of pause. Seeing that, Lady K quickly explained that her husband was not French, but in truth, English--born in Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire. She would never be pinned down to why an Englishman choose to be known by a French name. She glossed over the matter by gushing about her husband1s incredible ability for speaking languages. His resume including fluent French, German, Spanish, and Italian.
Lady K insisted that her husband would be a great asset to the Violet Guild, that he knew people from all over the Europe, that he had untold financial resources, and that he had great influence in England; however, again she wasn't specific. She explained in her lovely upbeat manner that Etienne was greatly concerned about the French situation and would be honoured to help in any way he could.
Lady Hastings knew her husband was not convinced by the girl's starry-eyed account of the mysterious Etienne–newly weds tend to do that of their spouses; nevertheless, Timothy Hastings' curiosity had been soundly tweaked. After a length discussion with the Pimpernel himself, he suggested that the Alerons be invited to the next Guild gathering.
A risk that Lady Hastings now worried about. Before this meeting had even begun, members had approached her and quietly voiced their concerns about the Alerons. Apparently, Etienne Aleron was the object of much gossip and speculation.  
Lady Hastings stared into the fireplace for a moment, recounting the tales she'd just heard about the husband of England1s newest society darling. French spy! A thief! An agent for Chauvlin! Illegitimate son of an English lord. A cad and bounder. A political agitator. The leader of a secretive organization working from the Midlands…a spy for the crown…The list going on and on in every conceivable occupation…
Etienne1s demure manner didn't squelch the stories about himself, but added to them, making him more the mysterious and intense. He carried himself quietly, confidently, even a tad arrogantly, speaking only when it was polite to do so, never more than that. Lady K, on the other hand, was her usual evervesant self!
   Lady Hasting noted that Etienne and his wife made an odd pair. How did a sweet American butterfly ever manage to get that surly fox to the altar? Yet, despite the clouds of doubt and distrust surrounding this young man and his deeds, one thing showed crystal clear: he loved his wife. She was the one who could make him smile and even laugh. She, no doubt, had a great deal of influence with him…
   Whatever she had whispered had brought about a significant change in those green eyes. They now twinkled with merry interest and amusement. And Lady Hasting realized that she was grateful for that little change for 'tis discomforting to be the object of such intense scrutiny. Could it be that Etienne did not trust the Guild or the Hastings? Certainly, he knew what others said about him...
   "What is this mission?" quizzed a young Guild member, eager for the new adventure. "Are we looking for accursed spies, sympathizers to the French...what?"
   "The deed--a necessity to our cause--requires patience, research, a bit of travel in and around England, and most importantly: dedication. We need volunteers who are willing to put forth all their effort, volunteers who are willing to forgo other projects and missions until this delicate task is completed," offered Lady Hastings carefully. "It may only be accomplished through some tedious hours..."
She felt the enthusiasm in the room wane; most of the Guild members recognized her "selling" approach to mundane Guild business–be it on French or English shores. These were dedicated people, but they did crave the adventure that the cruel French situation provided....
   "The Scarlet Pimpernel has asked that we compile a master list of reputable inns or "safe" houses which could be used as accommodation for our French refugees. 'Tis important that the owners of these establishments be trustworthy and dependable. League and Guild security demand it; the safety and peace of mind of our fleeing friends require it! There is only one way to test a place..."
   "Visitation, observation, and blasted note-taking–days of it. Weeks of it! Even months of it!" growled the impatient, young Guild member, sitting back in his seat, his brow furled with irritation. Obviously, he had no aspiration to volunteer!
   "Establishing firm relationships and representing this organization, if need be, to those places who would assist us! The Guild and the League need some well-placed safe "harbors" at home as well as abroad! So, who will volunteer?"
   Lady Hastings looked around the room. Heads turned. Eyes cast downward. Disappointed, she winced. Would she have to appoint someone? No one wanted to be locked into the seemingly monotonous duty when there was a chance for real adventure, heroism, and excitement in the future.
   "My wife and I accept the duty."
   Lady Hastings turned, as everyone did, to look at Etienne Aleron.
   "It would be an honour to serve the Guild and the League by building a solid, safety net."
   Lady K grinned broadly, gleefully approving of her husband's words. She gave him an affectionate cuddle. He nodded and smiled his cunning, mysterious smile.
   Safety net! The word struck like a thunder bolt, filling the air with electricity and revelation. A web of protection: that's what this duty was all about! It was a tiresome, yet vital role which could affect many lives, for better or for worse! Guild members began mumbling among themselves, buzzing back and forth like bees. Suddenly, there were ten volunteers, all vying for the same task and claiming full responsibility.
Lady Hastings watched the tide turn. The distrust of the Alerons was blatant in several arguments concerning whether new members should be allowed active duty on their first meeting. She feared that the Alerons, especially Etienne, would be offended. As her husband, Lord Hastings had commented, "They could be powerful allies or deadly enemies..."
   "My lady, this mission, God preserve us,  is too important to be dropped so lightly in the hands of inexperienced members who have yet to prove their loyalty! Give it to me," begged one of the most trusted members of the Guild. "Give it to me. It will be done, properly. Efficiently. Secretly!" He cut his eyes at Etienne; his dislike for the man was keen.
   Etienne Aleron's smile faded as he meet the glare with one of his own, his "reputed" terrible temper kindled–intense, frightening, penetrating–an action which made Lady Hastings decision for her.
   She faced Etienne and spoke in her most diplomatic voice. "We appreciate your generous offer, sir. But, 'tis true, you and Lady K are new to us and our ways. It would not ask you to do something so massive without a proper orientation to the Guild or our codes."
   She waited. Everyone waited. Eyes glued on the young man and his hurt American wife. Lady K whispered to her husband, clutching his hand. He gazed at her, and the temper dissolved nearly as quick as it had been tweaked.
   Etienne smiled again and then directed his attention to a nervous Lady Hastings.
"We submit to the will of our more experienced peers and await proper orientation."    
A collective sigh of relief was given. Satisfied Guild members nodded to each other.
"Well, with our business concluded, we can take our meal now! James?"
Lady Hastings motioned to her servant to escort her visitors to the customary feast which had been prepared. Laughing and talking, the Guild members followed–all, but two.
Lady Hastings noticed that Etienne had called another of her servants to fetch coats. The Alerons were leaving!
She hurried quickly to them.
"Sir, you and Lady K are invited to our table as well!"
    "Is it a Guild affair, my lady?" asked Etienne with a bit of a smirk. "As we have not yet had an orientation, we should not participate..."
   Lady Hasting bristled at the pointed remark. But, Lady K, giving her husband a good natured, scolding look, chimed in, "Forgive, my Etienne! He is such an insatiable tease! He's actually quite lovable when one knows him better and finds that under all that British starch there is a sense of humor! We look forward to serving the Guild in whatever capacity it sees fit. And we thank you for the lovely invitation, but we really must go. We have a long ride ahead of us as we have made no accommodations."
   Ever the polite hostess, Lady Hastings replied, "We would be honored if you would join us for the meal! Part of orientation is getting to know one another, being comfortable with one another..."
   "Trusting one another?" countered Etienne, his emerald eyes glowing now with boyish mischievous.
   "Well, yes! Trust is at the root of every relationship."
   "Trust is not given. It is earned." Etienne watched Lady Hastings, who was just short of being flustered, for a long moment. "And earned only through opportunity . Someone must brave the first step..."
He handed her a beige envelope with a wax seal.
The design on the seal mirrored the design of his signet ring: a chubby, somewhat gnarly oak tree.
   Unsure of what to do, she looked at Lady K. The young woman smiled gently.
"Open it."
   Lady Hastings broke the seal and extracted the contents. There was a note and detailed list of names, addresses, and establishments entitled: Friends of Sherwood. She read the note:
      Our friends are your friends.  ––Robert Plemmons, Locksley
   The name gave her pause. Where had she heard it before? She thought, her brain whirling. Then, it came to her: a poem in a child's storybook, oh so long ago. She dared to recall the lines...
         'This is my Birding Bow' quoth Robin
         'Which I carry by the way
         But I haue two stronger Bows at home
         At home at Merry Loxley...'

   The poem told the timeless story of how one young man became an outlaw, a most famous outlaw...
   Locksley!  Robin Hood!
Lady Hastings gaped at Etienne. Could he be...? Surely not! Would he be...?
Was it possible? A living relative of England's legendary son? The people's champion who had robbed from the rich to save the poor, who had protected the innocent? The bold medieval hero not unlike today's Scarlet Pimpernel...
   Dear Lord, she thought. He could be! And he could be upholding the "family traditions, the leader of a still active "outlaw" band!" Friends of Sherwood!
He certainly made a good candidate for a Robin Hood Tales and rumors about Etienne Aleron...Robert Plemmons Locksley....floated back to her. He was from Nottinghamshire. His wife had said that he had untold wealth which he was very generous with and held great influence in England. One guild member had even accused him of being a thief!
She dropped the papers. He knelt , picked them up, and on bended knee, offered them back to her. Should the Guild dare to make such an alliance with this enigmatic fellow and his friends? She wanted her husband's opinion. Why did he have to be on League business tonight? This important night when so much needed to be discussed...
   "Odd's fish, Aleron! Are you seeking forgiveness or proposing?" Percy Blakeney laughed his inane laugh as he offered his fine coat to the servant who appeared to collect it.
"It would have to be forgiveness," Marguerite Blakeney answered merrily, "as our Lady K wouldn't allow him to propose to another so soon after the wedding!"
"Yes, it took him a year to ask me down the aisle! I would be ill indeed if he asked someone he had just met for the same privilege!" She and Lady K shared a giggle.
   The Blakeneys! Lord Hastings, for some inexplicable reason, had invited them to the late meal, timing their arrival to occur after the Guild meeting. And Lady Hastings chided herself for not remembering the extra guests! She sent the servant off with a whisper to make additional preparations.
   Etienne pulled himself to his feet and then pushed the papers back into Lady Hastings' hands. "It's true. And I already have much to atone for..."
He winked at her.
   She was briefly taken aback by Etienne's sudden personality. Perhaps, it had something to do with Sir Percy who managed to liven the most dullest and serious of rooms with his good-natured nonsense. Perhaps, Etienne wasn't as assanine as he first had seemed...
   Sir Percy leaned forward and exclaimed softly, "Sink me, man! You haven't been helping yourself to our hostess' valuables, have you? Serve you right if you were caught nicking the silverware..."
   "This is a diplomatic visit, sir!" Etienne chuckled.
   They know each other! Lady Hastings watched the men exchange knowing grins which erupted into hearty laughter.
 "La! Your brand of diplomacy makes some people squirm!" Percy yawned. "I am famished! I have looked forward to this meal all day. Are we on time?"
   "Yes!" Lady Hastings agreed as she plunged the papers back into the envelope. "Come: let's join the others." She gestured for the Blakeneys and the Alerons to follow her. However, Etienne was helping his wife with her cloak. They still intended to leave! "Surely, you and Lady K will stay now that the Blakeneys have arrived!"
   "Ah, we would love to, but we do have a long ride. We must be going. We thank you, my lady, for your kind invitation...and the opportunity. Perhaps, another time..."
   "Yes, of course."
   "And we hope you will call on us sometime as well!" insisted Lady K.
   Etienne nodded and offered Lady K his arm. They shared quick good-byes with the Sir Percy. But, Marguerite, taking the chance to speak with Lady K about an upcoming gathering at the Blakeneys, walked with them out the door.
   Lady Hastings clasped the envelope. She realized that Sir Percy was gazing at her. His blue eyes, which usually appeared lazy in spite of their beauty, twinkled with an inner fire she hadn't noticed in him before.
   "Did you speak much with Aleron? He is an intriguing fellow. Interested in everything! Loves to learn! La! I would wager that his library contains every subject in the known world! Demmed fine archer, too! Incredible skill with the bow, falling just short of sheer magic! I've seen him score a bull's eye and then split the arrow with a second shot, and once, with a third shot!"
   "Ah...Sir Percy. Surely, you exaggerate!"
   "Gad no, madam! I've known him since we were boys! He never ceases to astound me! Aleron is a man of many talents. Some are even respectable! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! HA!"
Percy leaned closer to her and whispered, "Would be a loyal, supportive friend to those who were in need of a loyal, supportive friend..."
He waited for a few seconds, allowing the words to sink in. Then, he smiled his inane smile.
"Do you know: if I don't eat soon, I should probably faint straight away?"
   "Then, sir, we'd better rush you to the table!" Marguerite teased, hearing her husband's words upon re-entering the room. She took his arm, and the Blakeneys strolled toward the feast, but in no particular hurry.
   Lady Hastings stared at the envelop and its broken seal. So, shall we employ Robin Hood and his Sherwood Friends? She chuckled, then a thought stuck her.
   "Mary!" she screamed for the young servant.
   "Yes, ma'am?"
   "Please check the silverware."
   "See if any happens to be missing..."

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