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Chapter Two:

Tuck in camp

book
     
  Tuck watched as the camp emptied and he found himself alone, the loss of Dicken and Tom would make the next few days difficult, but not as difficult as the addition of the Saracen. That the man could not speak their language only made things harder and Will's reaction to him added even more conflict. The Friar glanced upward, "I know you would not give us more than we could handle, but do you have to make things this hard?" he said aloud.

As his gaze returned to the interior of the lean to, he saw Nasir's belongings and his curiosity started to get the better of him. Maybe the contents of his saddlebags would give some clue about him. He walked over to them and picked the bag up... untying the lacing... then stopped himself before he opened it. What was he doing? What right did he have to invade the privacy? He retied the lacing and sat it down again... whatever they found out about the man would come from him directly.

Tuck

He gathered some of the vegetables and took two of the rabbits down from the beams then walked to the firepit. Sitting next to it he added branches and twigs then spent the next few minutes starting the fire. When it was burning freely he began to cut the vegetables up and filled a pot that sat next to it... when the others got back he would have everything ready.

 
     
candle

The challenge

book
     
  Tuck looked up from his work as the two men reentered the camp with the water... saying nothing until they had sat and drank their fill. "John, would you mind getting me one of those bags?" He tossed another handful of turnip into the pot then reached for a bunch of wild onions and began to cut them.

"Aye," John agreed, then stood again and went for another bag of water. Nasir watched the man cook looking at the ingredients of the meal for anything that might be forbidden to him. John returned with the bag and handed it over to Tuck. "Any sign of the others ?", he asked, as he sat down by the fire. "Thank you." Tuck accepted the bag and poured the water into the pot. "I haven't heard from anyone... Will and Much could be a while if game is scarce... as for Robin and Marion... well, I think they have other things on their minds." John acknowledged Tuck's comment with a broad grin, then leaned forward to check what was already simmering inside the kettle.

Nasir looked between the two men as they spoke... then rose and walked over to the shelter where a wash bucket sat... it would be dusk shortly... his prayers would wait no longer... he rinsed his hands and arms then did his face. Finished he glanced over to them then motioned that he was going to go into the trees.

Tuck nodded as Nasir stood, then swatted at John as he got a little too close to the pot, before handing him one of the rabbits. "Make yourself useful and cut this up." He said jokingly. John took the rabbit and his belt knife while watching their new friend disappear into the forest. He felt slightly uncomfortable... Nasir didn't know Sherwood. Then he turned towards Tuck. "Wonder what he's up to," he said as he began to skin the rabbit.

Nasir did not have to walk far to find a small clear area... he turned so that he faced Mecca then raised his hands, holding the palms outward on either side of his face, and began to recite the prayers.

Tuck shook his head. "Maybe he just needs some time to himself... this has to be difficult for him too."

Nasir kept his voice low as he moved through the verses... he had not been allowed to practice his faith while serving de Belleme... perhaps here it would be different. He bent forward at the waist as he continued.

John finished skinning the rabbit and scraped the pelt clean off with his knife. "Hm, I know," he said, "it was hard for me, too, when Robin released me from de Belleme's spell... didn't know where I was or what happened in the meantime... ." - "How long were you under his control?" Tuck asked as he handed him the second rabbit.

Nasir prostrated himself... laying his forehead to the ground as he moved to the final verses ... "Subhana rubbiyal a'ala"...

At first John protested and refused to take the rabbit from the monk's hand. "Haven't finished this one, yet... ," but finally he gave in.

... "Rabbi eghfir lee wa rhamnee. Subhana rubbiyal a a'ala. Subhana rubbiyal a a'ala" ...

Tuck tilted his head as he caught the sound of Nasir's language drifting through the trees and a smile crossed his lips... then looked at John to see if he heard it as well. He was tempted to go and see what he was doing... but he held himself back... there would be time... perhaps he would ask the Saracen about it later.

John shrugged while he gutted the first rabbit, his hands covered with the animal's blood. "I don't know, Tuck. Must have been a while. Last thing I remember before Robin released me was I kept watch over my sheep." He raised his head. "Do you hear that ?" Tuck nodded... "Aye lad, it is not like our language, that's for sure." He stirred the contents of the pot, tossing the final ingredients in then sat back to watch it.

The Saracen rested his palms on his knees, "Assalam u a'laikum wa rahmatu Allah". When he had finished Nasir rose... brushing the leaves and dust from his pants, then with a final look around him he turned and headed back to the camp.

John handed the rabbit back to Tuck and piled what was left of it. He'd have to bury that later, deep enough so no wild animal would be attracted by the smell of it.

"We'll save the skins, John..they might come in handy later."

John smiled at the Friar. "Tuck, that's why I separated the skin before."

Tuck shook his head..then stirred the pot again... he tended to forget that these men all knew more hardship then he would ever know... nothing would be wasted with them. In the following silence John started to cut the next rabbit the same way as he did the first one. When he heard voices from the other side of their camp he stood and picked up his quarterstaff.

Tuck looked up as John rose... then stood himself... "What is it, John?" - "Voices," John said and pointed with his staff in the direction he heard them... after a few moments he lowered his staff. "It's Will and Much." Tuck listened for a moment then nodded and sat again, before starting to mix the dough for the flatbread they would have with their meal...

Will and Much broke into the clearing, one of the King's deer draped over the boy's shoulders. Much smiled and there was a lot of pride in it. He had shot the deer with the first arrow and was still excited about it.

Nasir took his time walking back..he had never seen woods such as these closeup... he had passed through them while with de Belleme... but they had never stopped... he paused every so often to watch the birds... or to kneel for a closer look at the tracks on the barely visible path.

Tuck looked up again as they entered the camp... his hands covered with flour... "Well done..." - "Venison, "Will called out, "work for you, Tuck!". "I've started a stew already... but nothing says we can't have both ... we'll dry the rest." Much dropped the stag at Tuck's side, then sat down and drank from the water bag. "It took me only one arrow, Little John, only one!" he emphasized, then drank again. "Where are the others?" Tuck went back to his bread... flattening out the dough and laying it on the flat stones that circled the pit. Will stopped short, then asked in a dangerously low voice. "Where is - our new friend ?" Tuck smiled at the boy... "Robin and Marion are still out gathering wood... Nasir went into the woods." - "Into the woods?" Will got excited. "And you simply let him? What if this is one of de Belleme's evil tricks?" Tuck looked up at Will.."He has just as much right to be here as any of us. Why do you trust him any less than you do John?"

Hearing the raised voices Nasir paused just as he was ready to enter the camp... perhaps he had been wrong about doing this after all. The Saracen squatted..for the moment he would listen...

"'Cause John has proved his loyalty already. He-," Will indicated with his head somewhere in the forest, "ain't. What do we know of him?". "He let Robin live, he could have killed him in the castle... " Tuck turned the breads. "None of us know more about each other than what we have said... he can't do that... that doesn't mean he can't be trusted." Will shook his head. Why wasn't the fat monk willing to see his point? "There you are - we know nothing about him! And we won't 'cause he can't talk." - "So we trust him until he gives us reason not to." - "But we can't even trust his skills, Tuck - all we've seen was under the spell of de Belleme. Must I remind you how his arrows never failed their aim in the contest at Nottingham? And now? What if he can't even fight without the power of de Belleme?" Will looked around.

Nasir continued to watch... it was obvious that this would not be easy... his lack of speech would make an already difficult situation even more so.

"Enough, Will," John said. "That's enough.""Will, you've heard the tales of how the Saracens fight... if they were not as good as they say do you think we would be in their country fighting them... or be bringing them here?" Tuck finished his thought then looked to John."You're right, there is no point in arguing about it... it is Robin's decision... not ours."

Much had watched the argument with growing bewilderment. He did not like the raised voices and angry looks among his friends.

Nasir finally stood... if they were going to debate his merits, perhaps he should show them his skill... he stepped from out of the trees then moved to the shelter and picked up his sword harness as well as another sword that lay nearby... then walked back out and over to Will. He handed the single sword to the man, waiting for him to take it.

"C'mon, Will," John said, "don't you think you've pushed it too far ?" He then noticed Nasir had returned and what he was up to.

Tuck stood as the Saracen approached with the weapons.

Nasir looked at the sword then to Will again.

Much crawled backwards, away from the fire, back from the angry voices.

Will stood as Nasir approached, then raised his brow. So the Saracen had a least some traces of honor in him... well, if this was a challenge... Will wouldn't be the one to decline. He took the sword.

Nasir nodded and moved back from the fire to a clear area and drew the swords from the harness... hefting them so they sat in his hands squarely he drew a breath and twirled each in turn before raising one and then holding the other slightly before him. Will followed the Saracen slowly, taking in Nasir's every move. It wouldn't be easy, but he had fought so many men before, he wasn't afraid of the fight. He accepted Nasir's opening and got himself ready.

Nasir smiled as the man readied himself... he would start slowly... give the man a chance then he would show him just what he could do... he attacked with a lunge to the right.

John shook his head... something told him this was going in a completely wrong direction. He looked over to Tuck, raising his hands to indicate his helplessness. "Let them go, John," Tuck said, "I don't think we have to worry about anything."

Will parried Nasir's lunge easily and started an attack himself. Nasir blocked with his other sword then drew back... indicating the next five attacks he would make with the tip of his other blade then without missing a beat he acted on them.

"Let's hope, you're right - and Robin won't kill any of us for allowing .. this to happen." John leaned on his staff, watching the fight.

Will wasn't willing to play by his opponent's rules. After the first blows he detected the pattern behind it and stepped back, drawing a deep breath. It wasn't easy to fight with a single sword against two blades... made it difficult to watch both. He had to trust on his instincts... watch Nasir's face trying to find any hint of what was to come next there.

Seeing that Will was more skilled than he expected Nasir quickened his pace even more than began to act on instinct alone... he watched for signs of the other man's tiring... favored moves... weaknesses... but always staying shy of inflicting any damage.

Tuck's eyes darted from man to man as they traded blows... how far were they willing to take this?

The fight grew more and more ambitious. Will found himself unwillingly impressed by the way Nasir acted - swift, steady, apparently without weaknesses or any signs of exhaustion. He lunged another attack. Nasir easily blocked the attack then hooked his second blade under the man's sword, flipping it from his hand before stepping back... with a smile he gestured for Will to pick it up again.

Much watched the two men. He admired both of them for their skills - he wasn't a good swordsman. Well, he wasn't that good at anything, he admitted, but he just had begun to learn. But there was something about their fight just below the surface he did not like - it was too fierce, too grave to be a mock battle.

Tuck shook his head... maybe they should stop them now...

Will breathed hard, his face reddening not only with exhaustion. Disarmed by the Saracen... he felt deeply ashamed. Also, that Nasir would allow him to pick up his sword. Will straightened.

Nasir waited for the man's next action... he held his swords ready for anything as he used the time to catch his breath.

Tuck kept an eye on the two men as he moved all the bread from the rocks and then stirred the stew again... it was obvious that neither man was willing to admit defeat easily.

The moment of reflection was gone... Will picked up the sword again, nodding in acknowledgment to Nasir.

Nasir nodded as Will once again readied himself... he would not be so easy on the man this time... without advance sign he attacked with a series of particularly fierce blows. Will replied to Nasir's blows with undiminished force, the sound of their crossing blades echoing loud into the forest.

Nasir was tiring of this game... but he would not be the one to quit first... he traded blows for another five minutes. He again locked his blades around Will's single sword and twisted it from his hands.

His blade being locked by Nasir Will saw his chance - he let go of his sword's hilt and drew his knife, holding it close to Nasir's neck. At Will's action Nasir brought his arm up... ignoring the cut as the blade grazed his neck... two could play at this game... he dropped his swords and grabbed for the other man's arms.

Their swords swirled through the air and fell down not too far from where Much sat... he stood and jumped behind the next tree. This was going too far. The young boy looked over to Tuck and John - he wished they'd put an end to this frenzy.

Without warning Nasir pulled Will to him and dropped to his back... bringing his feet to the man's stomach as he sent him over his head. Without waiting to see where he fell he quickly moved to scramble to his feet again. Will felt suddenly losing ground under his feet and being lifted. Unable to react all he could do was to drop his knife to prevent more bloodshed, then he landed heavily on his back, the breath of his lunges squeezed out. Nasir stood ready for anything... trying to ignore the feel of the blood that ran freely down his neck.

Tuck looked at John... "Should we put a stop to this?" He asked quietly.

"What the... ," Will cursed under his breath, then rolled painfully slow on his stomach, raising a hand to his right shoulder.

John nodded at Tuck. "I'll go to Will, you - Nasir."

Nasir's face was hard as he tried not to let anger intrude into what he had been trying to do...

Tuck nodded and moved quickly to the Saracen... standing in front of him to block his view of Scarlet. "That's enough, Nasir... let's see about that cut on your neck." Nasir looked past the Friar to see what Will was going to do... not yet willing to be the first to back down.

Will fought the pain in his shoulder, he must have hit a stone or a root or something when he fell. His head lowered, he got up on his knees, when Little John suddenly appeared at his side, blocking his view. John offered his hand to help Will to his feet. He was concerned, Will wasn't a man who showed pain easily. He chided himself for not having stopped their fight before the first blood was spilled. What would Robin say... ?

As John helped Will up Tuck lay his hand on Nasir's arm... drawing his attention to him. "Nasir... let's get you cleaned up."

Breathing heavily, Will looked up at his friend, his teeth gritted. Something in Little John's look told him he had gone too far... he nodded, then took John's hand.

Much peeped out from behind the tree he was hiding. "Is..is it o-over ?", he asked.

Nasir finally nodded to Tuck... though he was not happy about it, and lay his hand to the wound, then lifted it away looking at the blood. Drawing a breath Nasir walked over to the water bucket and washed the blood off.. then took the rag that Tuck handed him.

"Was is worth it, Will ?" John asked angrily. Will lowered his head... for a moment he felt caught off guard, then his usual anger had the better of him. "It was." He slowly walked back to the fire. "At least we know he can fight with his swords," he added defiantly.

"Let me see it." Tuck directed him... then waited as the Saracen tilted his head slightly to give him a better view.

Much moved closer... the danger of being hit by flying swords seemed to be over... then sat shyly down by the fire again, watching Tuck helping Nasir and John looking after Will.

Tuck frowned... then dabbed at the wound... at least it wasn't deep."It could have been worse. Keep pressure on it until the bleeding stops." He said as Nasir took the cloth from him.

Will swung his right arm - wincing as he did, but not ready to admit it... he had been worse, then grabbed for the water bag and drank greedily. He didn't know what caused him to turn around - but he did and without words he offered Nasir the bag.

Tuck walked back to the fire and stirred the stew again. "This looks ready." He said to no one in particular as he took a seat on one of the logs. Much picked up their bowls and handed them to Tuck.

John watched the scene between Will and Nasir. Oh, these proud men... curious he darted from one man to the other.

Nasir wasn't sure what to expect as Will turned, but he didn't expect the offer of the water.. "Shukran," he said softly as he took the bag and drank. When he finished he handed it back to him. Still holding pressure on the rag Nasir took a seat at the far end of one of the logs.

Much looked at Nasir... apparently no one else had heard Saracen's first word, even though it had not been one of their one tongue.

Will still didn't know what to make of him, but looked at Nasir with different eyes. He had some honor and damn, he knew how to handle those two blades... then his thoughts returned to his own needs. He took the water bag from Nasir and poured what was left over his head and shoulders.

John slowly moved first to where the swords lay in the grass, then where Nasir had dropped his harness, picked up swords and harness and brought everything back to the lean-to, before joining the others at the fire.

 
     
 

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