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Chapter 15:

To the trees...

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  As soon as he reached the shelter of the trees the Saracen paused... he tilted his head, listening for the sounds that would tell him that Robin and Scarlet had reached them as well. When he was convinced they had Nasir began to circle around the villagers. Cautiously skirting the road he doubled back to find to find a vantage point that would allow him to watch the Sheriff's man, careful to leave no sign of his passing behind. He had heard the stories of Gisburne... de Belleme considered him a joke... a fool in the service of a still bigger fool. He himself had witnessed his inaptitude at the shooting competition, though at the time it had not been his concern. Times had changed though, he would need to know the man's weaknesses if he were to use them against him in the future.  Pausing again he cocked his head, listening for any sign of pursuit, or battles being fought, with the exception of the normal forest sounds he heard nothing, and once again he began to move...

Will felt sorry for the girl who's desperate embrace he had to break off, but he knew Gisburne wouldn't be too polite with him or the girl if he was caught on the open road... he cursed aloud when he found he was unable to pick up his bow he'd left near the cart, only the quiver which now hung down from his belt. From the corner of his eye he saw a gap closing in the foliage surrounding them where Robin had rushed through and no sign of Nasir... as if the Saracen had vanished into thin air without leaving a visible trace. Will threw himself into the nearest bushes, hoping the brambles would leave some of his skin undamaged as the thorns snagged at his clothes. Oh well, their adventure hadn't exactly gone the way they planned it... "So, that's what you call scouting the surroundings, Robin," Will snorted under his breath. He soon paused, expecting being followed by Gisburne and his men... where on earth did the Sheriff get so many men after they had killed so many of them during the battle following the archery contest and the showdown at Castle de Belleme?

As the forest around him remained silent and his heavy breathing was the only sound, Will decided not to return to their camp directly... if there was no immediate danger from Gisburne, maybe there was a chance to get his bow back. Will wasn't too fond of manufacturing a new one... he wasn't the greatest archer, his weapons were his sword, his knife and his temper... often he had fought men far more skilled than he was and he had won by simply letting his anger fuel his blows. But he had found himself comfortable with this particular bow... so he slowly returned, trying to avoid any sound but unable to prevent some twigs from snapping under his weight... fortunately Gisburne, his men and their horses were loud enough to cover those betraying sounds. Will saw his bow where he had left it near one of the carts. Well, it shouldn't be too hard to get it back... he crouched and watched through the bushes as the blond knight questioned the also blond leader of the villagers. All he needed was a nice little distraction....

 
     

Much on his way back into camp

  On his way to the camp Much was thinking about himself and his life in Sherwood... it wasn't easy for him especially since he was the youngest of the outlaws. He missed living at his father's home. He was getting angry and sad as he thought at his father who had been killed by Gisburne. One day he would surely take revenge for the loss of his family. At least he still had Robin. And even if it was very hard, he would follow Robin wherever he would lead him to. Robin always knew what to do.. and Much would fight for him as best as he could.

Arriving at the camp he could see John, Tuck and Marion sitting around the fire. He couldn't hear what they were talking about, he still was too far away. As he looked at Marion who was sitting next to Tuck he moved slower and finally stopped. What was it about her? She had lost her family and her home, too. Was she feeling lonely? Of course, she had Robin and Tuck. But that didn't explain why she had joined the outlaws.. she was a woman... would she stay? Her feelings should be the same as his own... And Will? As he thought about what had happened to Will before joining the outlaws, Much realized that now Sherwood was his home. He had to stay with Robin and John, Tuck, Marion, Will and also Nasir, they all were his family, now. He wasn't alone! Encouraged by those thoughts Much started walking again and moved directly to the others. He had to bring important news to them...

 
     

Marion

  Marion sat by the lean-to repairing a slight tear at the edge of her cloak. She looked up every so often and watched Little John and Friar Tuck banter back and forth in a friendly manner. She smiled at them and finished her work. Marion put the needle and thread away marvelling at how she came to be in Sherwood. She had been here for some time now, learning about the trees, herbs and how to survive in the wild. It can be hard live here, but she did not want to imagine being anywhere else. In Sherwood, she could do so much more to help and aid those oppressed by the King or that Sheriff of Nottingham. And to think who he might have married her to, maybe even Sir Guy... at this she shuddered. "That", she swore silently to herself, "will never happen. I'd be a nun and finish my vows this time or throw myself to the wolves." In her mind, she saw herself running in a very comical manner with her arms flailling behind her as she ran to a pack of hungry wolves screaming, "SAVE ME!!" She chuckled and shook her head. Though, in a way, she realized that she had thrown herself to the wolves and the King of the wolves. Those wolves have proven to be the best companions and friends that she could ever have.

As for that 'wolf's head' Robin, she could love no one more. Had she chosen the solitary, lonely life of a nun, she would have never met her good friends John, Will, Much, Tuck, Nasir or the love of her life Robin. She walked over to John and Tuck happy with her choice to live in Sherwood. She began to talk with them and prepare dinner for the rest of the party's homecoming.

 
     

Brother Simon

  Brother Simon awoke with a start. It was not yet morning, but the sky had started to lighten and a mist hung in the air below the tree line. No birds had yet started singing, and an eerie atmosphere pervaded the forest. He had been dreaming vividly, mostly of Abbot Hugo and the mysterious mission on which the priest had sent him, his visions pervaded by dark imaginings. Waking up he was dismayed to find himself lying on a pile of damp leaves, rather than the hard monastery bed he was used to. He soon recollected himself and resolved to carry on through the forest. Making his way to the glade where he had tethered his horse, Simon was confronted with a sight which sent his spirits into a rapid decline. The rope with which he had tied the horse was still safely attached to the huge split oak, which still towered skywards. However the horse was gone.

Simon shivered. He had trusted to God's grace to keep him safe on this perilous quest, but now this had happened. It surely was a sign that he had somehow displeased the Lord, proving that his piety was not as great as he had thought. As Simon knelt to pray for forgiveness, he was aware that the mist was increasing, invading his nostrils with its pungent odour. Opening his eyes, he was horrified to discover that the mist now enveloped the entire glade and he could see nothing, not even the boles of the enormous trees which were but metres away. The air was full of the musky smells of nature and the sounds of wild creatures. Resisting the urge to give way to blind panic, Simon prayed for guidance. He thought that he heard a faint voice calling to him, telling him not to be afraid, and the sound of a horse whinnying in the distance. His senses dulled, Simon started to stumble towards the source of the noise, making his way through gullies and bogs frantically in a dreamlike state. He thought he glimpsed his horse on a ridge in the distance, standing next to something that looked like a stag? Both were visible only momentarily to Simon, before disappearing back into the mist. Simon stumbled on, coming ever closer to unconsciousness as his mind sought to explain what he had seen and could not. The last thing of which he was aware before mercifully blacking out, was that he was surrounded by the misty sillouettes of strangers, one of which might have been a woman, and all were somehow concerned with his arrival. His mind could take no more, and he fainted.

 
     

Robin on his way back to camp

  Robin glanced over his shoulder to make sure Will and Nasir followed his call... as he saw they did he rushed through the bushes. He didn't pick the same path back he'd come here before, but ran at a steady pace deeper into the forest, never afraid he might lose his way... this forest was his ally, not his enemy. Instinctively he knew he and his friends would find their back to camp safely. If they ran into some Norman soldiers... well, he wouldn't bet too high on the hired soldiers to survive any confrontation with the always angry Scarlet or the Saracen's twin blades unharmed.

The young man laughed in mid-running as he thought of how surprised Gisburne would look if he'd find the bound villains... in his opinion the Sheriff's steward was not clever enough to suspect anyone might have helped the villagers. Besides, that blond man he had spoken to, Edward of Wickham, seemed to be someone who could be trusted. He wouldn't betray those who had just saved his live and the lives of those who were with him.

Infact, defeating the cutthroats should be worth something to Edward. Robin decided a visit to Wickham was one of the next things to do. He knew the outlaws needed help themselves.... ears to hear and eyes to see for them what was going on in the shire, maybe this settlement would be their first foothold.

He stopped running as he heard a twig snap, and a deer broke away from him in panic. Seeing the hind, notching an arrow to his bow and releasing it was one swift move - the hind fell to the ground. "Tuck, here's your dinner," Robin murmured and draped the deer across his shoulders. The weight of his bag slowed him down, and he eventually realized he'd come to a part of Sherwood he'd never been to before... tall trunks twined around with ivy blocked out the sun and he felt like walking down an emerald aisle through all shades of green. Will and Nasir should have been in camp by now, he thought, and let his intuition lead the way.

He crossed a small clearing and made his way deeper into the green twilight. At first he didn't realize how silent the forest around him had become - no bird was to be heard and no leaf was stirred in the foliage, instead Robin felt being watched. He stopped and turned, the deer still on his shoulders.

"Herne?" he asked cautiously.

 
     

The Saracen is watching

  The Saracen paused as he heard the sound of horses on the road to his left... their gait was slow... which was surprising... so they weren't in pursuit... what then? He slipped through the trees, careful to keep his noise level to a minimum as he moved, angling his path so he would reach a vantage point slightly ahead of where they were now.

As he reached a sheltered point he stopped... squatting he notched an arrow in his bow and waited... his eyes fixed on the road before him. It was only a matter of moments before they appeared... he counted...14 riders, no Gisburne... then he noticed that some rode double... they had the bandits with them, but no villagers... he raised his eyes to the sky and gauged his location from that. No doubt they were being taken to Nottingham, there was nothing he could do alone, those that survived would talk of those that had attacked them.

Nasir waited until the riders were well past before moving, slipping the arrow back into the quiver before he headed towards the camp... Robin would need to know, once they talked Gisburne was sure to return to search for them. He increased his pace the farther from the road he got, with luck both Robin and Will would be there when he arrived.

 
     

To the trees - Will's decision

  Crouching behind the bushes Will Scarlet's eyes darted from the group of men on the road to where his bow lay forgotten on the ground beside the cart and back to the soldiers. His hand was itching to grab the hilt of his sword as he saw Gisburne placing a fist in the face of the villager. Whatever bad habits he had, one of Will's best character features was his hatred towards any kind of violence originating from men in armour against helpless people... his fingers closed around the hilt eventually and for a moment he was considering charging Gisburne, thinking of how he would enjoy killing the Sheriff's steward, then regained control over his emotions. No, not here and now... he wouldn't be much of a help if he died today in a senseless battle... a senseless battle like the one that had brought him into the dungeons of Notthingham Castle. Slowly his fingers loosened their grip. There would come a day...

Will shifted his weight from one leg to the other. What should he do now? There was no way he could get his bow back as long as Gisburne and his men were on the road, on the other hand he needed to return to the camp before Robin would miss him. He straightened up, then repeated his last thought.. before Robin would miss him? The sturdy man shook his head... since when did Will Scatchlock care what anyone else were thinking? Who was this young boy anyway, calling himself "Herne's son"? Will snorted before the movement on the road demanded his attention. Gisburne was ordering his men... Will spat out in the direction of the Norman knight, then turned and slowly began to make his way back through the forest and the myriad of gnats to the camp.

 
     

Much and Marion (Back in camp)

  During his last steps to the fire Much moved faster. More than before he had the feeling it would be important to deliver his news quickly and he had already wasted time. Approaching the small group still sitting around the fire, Much put his staff on the ground and sat down next to Little John. He could see the faces of his friends turning to him and he also noticed the broad grin of John who was probably remembering the last fighting-lesson and wondering about Much's early return to the camp.

"I saw a monk riding through the forest not far away from the vantage point." Much started to report about his strange discovery. "He seemed in a big hurry when he passed under the tree I was hiding in." Much's words tumbled over themselves as he started asking the questions in his mind, not waiting for the others to reply. "Marion, could he be one of Abbot Hugo's men?" The boy turned towards Tuck. "Tuck, what does that mean?" Then finally he addressed John. "Why does a monk ride alone through the forest?"

Marion looked over Much. "It's very possible. I'd need to get a good look at him first before I can tell you for sure if he is one of Abbot Hugo's men. The only thing that I hope is that they are not looking for us..." Her words trailed off and she looked off into the trees unwilling to show her anxiousness to her friends. Under her breath she whispered. "I won't go back without a fight."

Marion headed to the edge of the camp to catch sight of Simon, hoping to find Robin first. She watched the trees concerned for them all.

 
 

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