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Chapter Nine:

Of paths and footprints

  Nasir nodded as he rose... letting the words run through his mind...he had heard most of them before, but it was not the same when he tried to speak them. Their tongue was so different than his own..."sun...rise..." He spoke the word quietly under his breath... committing it to memory.

John smiled as he heard Nasir practicing. He wondered how the Saracen could understand most of what was said without speaking their tongue himself.

As they walked he let his eyes travel the forest... they would need to know every tree... every bush if the forest were to be of use to them. He paused as he saw the way one tree's branches offered a platform of sorts... and he touched John's arm and motioned him to look hoping he would see it as well.

"Hm?" John's eyes followed Nasir's arm, but all he saw was a tree and some branches. "Looks like a tree to me, but what is it to you?" His eyes moved back from the tree to Nasir.

Nasir drew a breath... then ran his hand down his to explain it? He dropped his hand and moved over to the tree, then hoisted himself up into it... moving across the branches before settling himself in them. He could see quite a distance. Nasir let his eyes wander and pausing when he saw the camp, then moved past that... .stopping again at several small paths that seemed to work their way to it. He frowned at the sight of them... if he saw the paths... someone else might as well... he looked down at John then motioned him to join him.

Leaning on his staff John watched Nasir climbing through the tree... afraid he would expect him to do the same. When Nasir motioned to join him, John rolled his eyes and dropped his quarter staff. Slowly he followed Nasir up the tree and was out of breath when he finally reached him and sat astride a branch. "I hope what you want to show me was worth the effort..." John muttered under his breath.

Nasir pointed towards the camp when John had joined him, then waited for the man to sight it before he continued.

John nodded. "Aye, I see the camp."

The key to their eluding anyone would be in leaving no traces of themselves behind. That would include paths in the forest... he pointed the two current ones out to John. Would their significance register to him? There was no doubt in the Saracen's mind that they would need to relocate the camp...would he be able to convince Robin and the others of that, without being able to say why in words?

John stroked his beard absentmindedly as he tried to make sense of what Nasir had shown him. Finally he said "You have to be patient with me, I don't see things the way you do. All right, I see our camp and you pointed to the two paths over there ... why would that be a problem?"

Nasir frowned. Paths meant frequent use of an area. How could he explain that? He sighed and moved around John then dropped to the ground... squatting he brushed aside leaves and twigs to clear a space before him. While he waited for John to join him again he drew the main road then a place for the camp and finally a faint line to either side of the road that would indicate the paths running to the camp.

As he spoke John realized deep in his heart he still was the shepherd he used to be before de Belleme had cast a spell on him. It was not easy to follow the mind of a real warrior... maybe Nasir should explain his thoughts to Will, the only fighter besides Nasir, but the very moment John shook his, that would do no good. He followed Nasir to the ground and looked at the Saracen's drawing - at least that was a kind of communication.

With John settled next to him Nasir motioned someone coming down the road, using a twig as a figure. He paused, then raised his hand to his brow indicating one looking for something... where there was no path he made the figure continue. When the stick reached the faint path line though he had it stop, then with a nod of one seeing something he had the stick figure move to the path.

The Saracen looked up at John for confirmation that he was making himself understood.

John also took a twig and pointed at Nasir's drawing, voicing Nasir's thoughts. "Someone on the Nottingham road.. looking around... seeing nothing... staying on the road... ". He spoke in slow, measured tones as he continued. "Then... the same someone... looking around again... seeing... the path... and following it to - blame me, of course, the camp!" He patted Nasir's back and smirked. "I understand!" The smile faded as he added. "So - in your opinion - we should abandon this camp?".

Nasir nodded, his concern at their safety more important than his achievement at making himself understood.

John's eyes darted from the drawing to Nasir and back to the drawing. "We better tell Robin."

Nasir nodded again. He knew the suggestion would be challenged, he had only been with them one day... would they think he was setting them up somehow? He rose and brushed the leaves and dust from his pants.

John stood and grabbed his staff. "Let's go," he said, "I will speak for you to Robin and the others."

Nasir nodded yet again...he did not envy the big man...he was sure there would be resistance...he only hoped that he could make them understand the importance of it.

John noticed the strange look in Nasir's eyes and wasn't too sure what to make of it. "Hey, if you don't want me to, just let me know. You've started this..."

Nasir shook his knew they needed to be told.

As they walked Nasir studied the ground..noting what John's footprints looked like..he would need to learn to recognize each of theirs if his tracking skills were to be useful to them.

John raised an eyebrow. Why did Nasir look at his feet? He asked him, half in amusement "Is something wrong with my boots?".

Nasir shook his head then stopped and squatted...pointing to the impression his footprints had left in the earth. He pointed next to John then to his own head...he then repeated the process with the impression the man's own boots had left.

John raised the other eyebrow as well. "You are - comparing our footprints? To what purpose?"

Nasir gestured to himself then to his eyes, then back to the ground. He frowned slightly... how to say that he then looked for those that don't belong? He scanned the ground again, then squatted as he caught the sign of another footprint. Nasir brushed some leaves away... it wasn't his or John's, but he didn't know the others yet. He pointed to it, then looked up at the man before he studied it again. It wasn't fresh... a day, maybe two old... not a heavy man... so not the Friar... and not a woman.

John sighed. This was a morning of miracles... Nasir praying, climbing up trees, snuffling on the ground... where did the man learn that? "What have you found?" He finally approached Nasir, but wasn't able to see what the Saracen had discovered.

If was impossible to know whose it was yet. He would need to look for the other prints in camp before Nasir could be sure it was not one of theirs. He scanned for any other tracks then rose again.

At the man's question the Saracen shrugged. Maybe it was nothing... until he was sure he would wait to try to explain it.

"Finished?" John did not see why Nasir cared so much about footprints on the ground. Any poacher could have left them. "We should really get back now."

Nasir nodded... he would take time later to follow them... after he knew what the prints of those in the camp looked like. Maybe he was just being paranoid, and John was probably right... the prints were more than likely those of a poacher, but if so he had been by in just the last few days. Even with that thought in his mind he found himself searching the ground as they walked...just in case it was more than a poacher.

On their way back John was wondering about what he had to tell whom. Robin had to know about Nasir's skills of tracking and his suggestion to move the camp... and why they should above all... and then there was Will...

John was also wondering if the Saracen's over-attention had already began to rub off on him... he stopped when he heard the other's voices through the forest. Really, all of them behaved too unconcerned, he had to tell Robin.

Nasir looked ahead as the sound of voices reached him.


The first morning (cont.)

  Tuck rolled onto his back, then stretched as he came awake... the activity of the camp finally having reached him. With a yawn he sat up, pushing the blanket aside. He immediately looked around the camp... Much was awake by the fire... and there was Marion with Robin... he smiled to himself as he watched the two talk quietly together. He didn't see John...or the Saracen...and where was Will?

Marion released Robin's hand and started to walk to the edge of camp. "Where are you going?" Robin inquired after taking a sip from the waterskin. Blushing, Marion lowered her eyes and whispered "Don't worry, I will be right back".

Tuck turned his attention to Much..."I don't suppose you have some tea on yet do you?" - "Yes, I do, Tuck." Much reached for one of the cups that sat on the ground in front of him and filled it before handing it to the Friar.

Marion tried to head in a direction that no one else had taken, hoping that she would be able to find a spot that was far enough away from camp in order to give her the privacy that she was accustomed to. After a few minutes of climbing through bushes and around trees, she felt as if she had found a spot secluded enough that she wouldn't be intruded upon.

"Bless you..." Tuck immediately brought the cup to his lips..warming his hands as he sipped slowly. Much looked over to where Will sat..."You want some?", he asked as he held one of the cups up.

Will slowly rose. Taking his sword with him he moved over to the fire and joined Much and Tuck. "Thank you." He accepted to offered cup and sat.

"Morning Will." Tuck lowered his cup..."John and Nasir out on watch still?" - "Yeah, sort of..." Will shrugged and drank from his cup. "Sort of? I don't understand..." Tuck raised the cup to his lips again.

His hands around the cup Will enjoyed its warmth and tightened only a little as he saw John and Nasir entering the clearing. "The prodigal sons return", Will muttered and motioned Tuck to look over where the very different couple stood.

Tuck turned to where Will pointed then looked back to Much.."Why don't you pour a couple more cups of tea..they probably could use it if they were out most of the night."

"Right, Tuck..." Much did as he was directed then sat the two cups on the edge of the fire...

As Nasir and Tuck entered the clearing the Saracen paused... letting his eyes sweep the camp until he knew where everyone was, then looked to the tree that he had chosen as his debating for the moment whether to go there or to the warmth of the fire.

John turned his head to Nasir. "Allright, Nas. Here we are... shall we both go to Robin and tell him about your concerns? Or do you want me to do so alone?" Expectantly he raised an eyebrow and looked at the Saracen.

The Saracen looked at the man. Perhaps it would be better if he spoke alone with Robin... he pointed to John indicating he should do it.

"John...Nasir...come get some tea." Tuck called to the two men from across the camp..

Nasir looked at John..then to Tuck..and back again...the tea would be nice...he looked to the tree, but then so would some had better stay least for a while..he waited for John to decide what he was going to do before acting himself.

John lay a hand on Nasir's shoulder and over his own shoulder he shouted back at Tuck. "In a minute, Tuck!" Then returned his eyes to Nasir. "You sure?" Nasir nodded...whatever doubts Robin had would best be said without him present...

John smiled and nodded himself. "Allright, lad... get yourself some tea and rest." Then he walked over to the leanto, where Robin stood. Nasir nodded once more...only heading to the fire when John had joined Robin.

Moving towards the leanto John remembered that someone had to watch, so he turned halfway and called across the camp. "Much... go and take the lookout!" When he finally approached Robin, John smiled at their young and charismatic leader, not yet sure how to begin. "Robin... can I have a word with you?"

Nasir picked a spot at the opposite end of the log across from where Will sat...and settled himself against it..using it as a backrest rather then as a seat.

"Where should I watch from John?" Much asked as he stood..."and what am I watching for?"

"Here you go Nasir..." Tuck picked up a cup and handed it to the Saracen.."'s hot."

"Shukran..."Nasir said softly as he took the cup from him. "You're welcome." Tuck smiled then looked back to Will.

Will looked over the rim of his cup from the fire to Nasir, then turned his attention to Much, as the boy stood. "Much... go into the forest, take the path that leads from the Nottingham road to our camp and tell us if someone comes close to the camp." Was it the tea or the soft morning mood that made Will so patient with the boy?

"Thanks, Will..." Much headed out of camp unable to totally hide the grin on his face at having been chosen to take the watch. Will shook his head slightly about the enthusiasm of their youngest member then let his eyes return to Tuck and Nasir.

Nasir wrapped his hands around the cup...then raised the cup..blowing on the contents to cool it slightly. As an after thought Nasir dropped one hand and then leaned forward pulling first one, then the other sword from his harness and stuck them in the ground next to him before leaning back against the log again.

As the Saracen unsheathed the first blade Will straightened expecting the worst... but on the other hand, a man with a tea cup in one hand wouldn't start a fight, would he? So he relaxed, when Nasir pulled the second sword and stuck both of them in the ground. In the pale morning light the blades caught Will's attention... they seemed to be nice pieces of craftmanship. He leaned forward and raised a hand...


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