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Chapter 14:

New friends and old enemies


  Edward flinched as he moved his arm. The sword cut wasn't really deep, but it added to his confusion ... first the assault, then the battle... he looked up at the man who knelt beside him. "Who ... are you?"

Robin knelt beside the man and nodded to his wound... "Let me take a look at that, my name is Robin...Robin of Sherwood. I'm sorry we couldn't get to you sooner." He glanced to where Will and Nasir were beginning to round the survivors up and noted the several bodies.

Edward reluctantly held out his arm. "Robin .. of Sherwood? But ... we are in Sherwood.. there's no village with that name."

Robin looked over the wound..relieved to see it wasn't much more than a deep scratch. "No..there's no village..we live in the forest."

"What about ... the others and ... the girl?" Edward tried to look past the man.

Robin looked to the carts again and saw Nasir hoisting a body into it and Will going to the girl who stood at the side of the road. "I'm sorry, I think one of them was killed, the girl looks scared, but she is uninjured. You'll need to take the robbers in..we can't help you with that...who are you, and why were you in Sherwood?"

"I am Edward. Edward of Wickham." He rose slowly. "We were on the way to the mill." Finally standing he took a look around, noticing the girl at the edge of the path with one of the unknown men. He turned back to Robin. "We are in your debt, thank you, Robin of Sherwood."

"Perhaps you can return the favor..we will need supplies," He smiled slightly, "and unfortunately we can't exactly ride into Nottingham to get them. We'll of course pay you for anything you provide for us." Robin glanced to the others again..Nasir seemed to be watching the road, as well as Will as he talked to the girl, from near the wagons.

Edward studied the man before him trying to figure out what to think of him. Cautiously he asked "You are ... in trouble?", not directly answering to the man's request for supplies.

"Well, let's just say the Sheriff and I don't exactly see eye to eye on things."

"So you're an outlaw?" Edward looked again to the unknown man talking with Fianna then his eyes settled on the dark man on the cart. "What about those two? They are also outlaws?"

Robin looked to Will and then to Nasir before looking back at Edward. "I suppose that would be a matter of opinion."

"I see." A small smile crossed Edward's face. "Sometimes it's dangerous to have a ... different opinion. However, you're not like those cutthroats. I'd be glad to help you... what is it you need?"

Robin smiled again, "Yes, it can be." The sound of hoofbeats reached his ears...

... "Robin!" Nasir yelled, as he had drawn his swords and moved to position himself in front of the wagons as Gisburne and his men came into view.

"We'll discuss it seems we have company and it is probably not wise for us to stay and greet them. Will! Nasir! Take to the trees." Seeing the number of men with Gisburne and unwilling to endanger Edward and the others Robin started for the treeline..."We'll meet at go!" He emphasized as he watched the Saracen hold his ground.

Nasir looked at Robin..then the approaching soldiers again before sheathing his blades and breaking for the trees...he didn't like running, but he knew that a battle now could cost the surviving villagers their lives.

Fianna's eyes widen as she heard the approaching hoofbeats..without thinking she threw her arms around Will, and buried her head in his chest..

As the man on the cart yelled Robin's name, Edward looked in the direction the man pointed his swords. Soldiers, dressed in the Sheriff's colors ... more trouble. Robin was gone before Edward could answer him.

Before Will really knew what was going on he found himself with a panicked girl clinging to him. After a moment of surprise he broke free from her embrace. "Sorry, lass," then he spun and disappeared into the underbrush.



Campfire talks


  Tuck sat back against the log and rubbed his stomach... he might actually grow to like this life...then the memory of the night's sleep on the ground hit him..well, maybe if he could find a bed. He looked over as John sent Much into the forest..."Where's he off to?"

"On watch. There's a lot he has to learn..." John shook his head slightly, then laughed. "He was too ambitious as we did that staff practice and now he's pride is hurt, I reckon."

"Do you think he'll be able to handle this life?" Tuck asked, his tone growing serious. "Maybe he'd be better off in one of the villages, he's just a boy."

John sat down on the log and stretched his legs. "Maybe ... but he's an outlaw, sentenced for poaching ... he couldn't live in any of the villages of this shire." He yawned. "Besides .. he'd never leave Robin."

Tuck nodded. "It won't be easy for any of us, " he looked over at Marion as she stood near the lean to..."especially her."

"A girl in the forest...," John agreed. "You were with her in Nottingham - what happened there that brought you both into Sherwood?"

Tuck's face grew serious, "The Baron wanted her for his wife, and I think the Sheriff would have allowed it..when they took her in the forest..." His voice trailed off as he remembered the attack and his failure to protect her.

John blinked his eyes, the mention of the Baron touched a part of his past he'd rather forget. "Yes ... the Baron usually got what he wanted ... " He shivered, as the vague memories came back to his mind... the pentacle painted on his chest... the strange clothes he had to wear ... everything to make him uncomfortable.

(John remembers ...)

Tuck watched as the big man seemed to drift off..he wanted to ask more but he didn't want to force him to relive things he'd rather not..."You had been with him long?" He asked cautiously.

For a moment John debated not to answer Tuck's question. "I don't think so...," he finally said. "I don't remember too much."

Tuck nodded again, not wanting to press him. "What about Nasir..he seemed to have more free will than you, but I sense things were not all that they seemed with him."

Tuck knew he was pushing the man, but his curiosity had always gotten him in trouble.

John raised a hand and stroked his beard. "It must have been different with Nasir. As far as I remember I was ... I dunno how to explain ... I was not myself ... especially when de Belleme was around... as if... as if his presence intensified the spell ... with Nasir it was different ... he had his will, he could leave the castle, but it was as if... " He let his hand drop to his knees, then continued. ".. as if .. " Angry about no being able to explain he kicked at one of the stones that surrounded the fire.

"John." Tuck lay his hand on the big man's arm. "It's all right, I had no right forcing you to relive it to satisfy my curiosity, but Nasir is such a mystery and I can't ask him."  Tuck grew silent for a moment as he stared towards the treeline then looked back at the man.

John took a deep breath in, then smiled at the Friar. "No need to worry, Brother, you could never force me ... " His mocking voice grew serious again. "I've often wondered what the difference was .. I think I know. I was only an instrument for de Belleme ... I had to do all the prophecies ... I was forced to drink potions and that pentacle on my chest held my own self down ... but I was so replaceable that he sent me to fight Robin and de Belleme didn't care that I could have easily been killed off. Nasir was more of a personal interest to ... the Baron." Pause. "There were dungeons under the Castle. At night you could hear screams. I once saw myself what happened to a man unwilling to surrender to his will. Nasir ... I think the Baron had ... joy in breaking his will. Look at him now, Tuck, Nasir's body is here, but to me sometimes it seems he's still searching for ... himself." He sighed. "Does that make any sense to you?"

"Aye..I saw that last night..he was dreaming...I wish he could talk about what is going on inside, I think it would make things easier..for all of us. You know John, if you need to talk, I'm here..not just as a man of God either."

John blinked again. "Thank you, Tuck."

"Now, shall we go see what Marion is up to?"

"Aye." John stood then held out his hand to help up Tuck.



Hugo's man in the forest/
Much's discovery


  Much was sure practicing with John had broken some bones in his body ... at least it felt this way. They had finished staff practice after he had hit the ground countless times, John laughing about his laments. "You'll have to try harder...," he teased the boy.

Now Much sat sulking on one of the trees they had chosen as vantage point. Next time he'd pay every bruise back to John ... then suddenly heard a noise from the path he was watching. Long before he could see somebody he heard their horse's snorting. He was surprised as only one man came into sight, dressed in a monk's robe, rushing down the path as if the devil himself was nudging him. Before Much knew what to do, the man was already out of sight...

Much was sitting in his tree wondering about the hurried horseman who had passed at such a speed, that only a trail of dust was left behind. He waited for other horsemen following the one, who was already out of sight. Almost afraid to move, he stared down the path in the direction the first rider had come from, but nothing happened.

When he was sure that no one followed, he dared to move and breath again. He tried to remember what the passer-by looked like. He was dressed like a monk but Much had never seen a monk riding at such a speed as this one had before. Also it seemed to be a little bit strange that he was riding alone through the forest. There hadn't been any companions. Could it be a messenger ? But why just a monk ?

Much didn't know what to do. Was it really necessary to notify the others about it? In fact he had planned to spend the day at his tree because he was still sulking about Little John! But he had the feeling it would be better to inform them, he knew the others would.

With a sigh he started carefully climbing down the tree. If only they wouldn't treat him like a child... back on the ground he took his staff, which leaned against the tree. That had been very risky! Next time he should hide it in the bushes or take it up the tree! He quickly rushed into the underbrush and moved towards the camp to tell Tuck and John. 


New quarry

  Guy of Gisburne rode down the road at a furious pace. He sensed that he was close to his quarry and knew that he couldn't afford to lose an instant. Then he spotted the group of peasants on the road.

The knight pulled back on the reins quickly, and his horse came to an abrupt halt. He raised one gloved hand, and his men stopped as well. Gisburne took a quick tally of the wounded and the dead. His interest grew.

"What happened here?" he demanded, glaring at the small party on the road.

Only the one peasant, a man with fair hair and a beard, would meet the Norman's eyes. Was he their leader? "Who are you?"

"I'm Edward of Wickham, my lord," answered the man quietly.

The soldier closest to Gisburne leaned across his horse and whispered, "He's the thane of Wickham."

"Is he now?" Gisburne's eyes returned to Edward. "You haven't answered my first question yet."

"My lord, we owe you a debt of gratitude," spoke Edward after a moment's hesitation. "They might have killed us if you hadn't come when you did."

"Who would have killed you?"

"Why, those cutthroats over there," replied Edward, nodding his head at the injured robbers sitting by the carts. The knight stared at them in surprise.

"It doesn't look like you needed our help, serf," commented Gisburne, staring at Fianna. "Tell me, how did you and this girl manage to defeat all these men?"

"They must have had help," stated the same soldier who had provided his lord with the information about Edward's status.

"Yes, that's what I was thinking, but who? Who could have helped them?"

"It was some men from the village," piped up Fianna.

"Oh, I see. But where are they now? Did they just disappear?"

"They.. they went back to Wickham to.. to bring more men."

"And left you alone to guard these dangerous outlaws?"

"My lord, we-we lost our heads. We weren't thinking straight," said Edward. "We've never had to deal with.. with this sort of thing before. Please help us, my lord. We-we don't know what to do." Edward attempted to look confused and upset.

No emotion registered on Gisburne's face. "Edward, come here."

The village thane didn't like the tone of Gisburne's voice, but he knew that he had no choice but to obey the knight's order. He had only been standing in front of the Norman for an instant when Gisburne delivered a stinging blow across Edward's cheek.

"I don't know if you've heard this but I don't like liars, especially Saxon ones. Where is he?"

"Who, my lord?" Edward almost fell to the ground as Gisburne hit him across the other cheek.

"Robin Hood!" shouted Gisburne.

Edward, who had never heard the name, stared back at the knight in astonishment.

"What's the matter with you? Have you suddenly been struck dumb? You seemed quite capable of speech a few moments ago."

"My lord, I wish I could help you, but I've never heard that name before."

"Oh, haven't you? Well, perhaps some of those men who were here earlier will have heard of him."

"Perhaps, my lord," answered Edward warily. Gisburne nodded curtly.

"Good. I think I'll go question them. One way or another, I'll discover the truth. Remember that, Edward." Gisburne turned to his men. "You men," he said, singling out fourteen soldiers, "will deliver our prisoners to the dungeon. The rest of you will accompany me to Wickham. Oh, don't be disappointed," he joked. "You'll be joining your companions again soon enough. I think we'll be arresting more men before the day is done."



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