The king was coming home.
This time, there was no doubt that it was happening. He told Robin and the others that he would follow them back after getting a few things sorted in the Holy Land. After all, his brother was not about to punish Vaizey and Gisborne for their assassination attempt; besides, that was something Richard wanted to personally oversee. And, he could hardly allow subjects loyal enough to journey thousands of miles for him, who risked their lives to save his-- and, whom he had nearly executed,-- to remain outlawed and living in the forest.
With the end to their hardships in sight, the return trip to England was a jovial one. Over the voyage, the gang made plans for what they would do when they were no longer running from the crooked law. They even had a new friend, Tuck, a soldier-monk who had performed clandestine work for King Richard, and who was now charged with checking up on the sheriff and his lieutenant until Richard arrived (and seeing to it that some of these couples wed; "Honestly, Robin; you're outlaws, not heathens," the king chided his friend). Carter also joined them, recovering from his wound on the voyage back, and intending to await the king's return with them.
But, when they got into in port, the news awaiting them was mostly bad. The one good word to reach them was that the king had struck a truce with Saladin; the fighting was over, at least for now. On his way home, however, Richard had been intercepted and taken prisoner, and was now being held in an unknown location, a steep ransom being demanded for his release. Meanwhile, it was rumored that Prince John, together with King Philip of France, was offering his brother's abductor money to hold him indefinitely.
Vaizey was still sheriff, Gisborne was still at Locksley, and there was no help in sight for the outlaws.
Some of the gang mourned the loss of their dreams more than others, but they all knew what had to be done, and went back to Sherwood. Recovering the loot that they had hidden before leaving, they distributed it to grateful villagers, who had been hard-pressed whilst the gang was away. It was yet winter, although spring was in sight, and most of the peasantry needed some degree of aid. One high point of their early days back was a double wedding, initially planned as two separate affairs in Locksley, which Tuck performed on the first Saturday after returning to the forest. Fortunately, the day was crisp and clear, and gave them all something to smile about again. The ceremony and subsequent celebration was a small event, with only the gang and a handful of friends from the villages in attendance, but it was a good way to finish setting aside disappointments from their adventure. Within a couple of weeks, it was almost as if they had never left.
They did realize soon enough that their camp, well-suited to a group of single people, was not going to work as comfortably with two married couples. And, when Djaq started becoming ill nearly every morning, it was also clear that they would soon need better protection from the elements. Scouting around, they eventually settled on a network of caves slightly nearer to the Great North Road, with a handful of easily-hidden entrances and exits. In the middle was a large area open to the sky, which would make a lovely great room. Will planned out some designs, and construction began on the new camp, keeping in mind that it could prove to be their permanent home.
More taxes were levied on the people, ostensibly to raise the ransom for King Richard. Most felt that none of the funds collected were truly marked for that purpose, and more likely would be used by Prince John to sweeten the bribe that would prevent his brother from ever returning.
The gang gathered intelligence from servants in the castle, managing to pull off heists with as much ease as before. They attempted to gain information from Locksley, but there was none to be had; Gisborne had returned to England a subdued man. Servants from both places reported that he appeared distant, and one even remarked that his heart no longer seemed to be in enforcing the Sheriff's dictates or schemes. He spent his nights staring at the fire in the great room at Locksley Manor, drinking until he passed out. He had even begun going through his days drunk, accomplishing little, if anything. The sheriff was said to be losing patience with him.
Marian felt that he had been shaken by nearly killing her. His sword had pierced her skin before Robin's arrow jerked his arm back, and had Robin been a moment later, or his aim less true, the blade would have continued straight through her body. She had realized the true depth of her love for Robin as she made her declaration to Guy, and knowing that he would have ended her life and her future because of those feelings, effectively ended any affection she may have felt for him. Still, she found herself pitying him, even worried for him, remembering the potential she had glimpsed and the kindnesses he had shown her.
Robin suspected that Gisborne knew he was a marked man, should the king ever be released, and that the knowledge was the source of his breakdown.
The truth lay somewhere in the middle. Rather than become concerned by the fouled assassination, Vaizey was seeing their continued freedom as a success, proof that power was still within their grasp. Guy, however, was well aware how tenuous his position was, how it all hinged on the king's freedom, or lack thereof. And, Marian was forever lost to him; the betrayal in her eyes as he lunged at her haunted his dreams. His own ardor had begun to cool when he discovered her identity as the Night Watchman, but it had not chilled completely; and he would have been satisfied with a continued friendship... at least, for awhile. But, any anger he felt toward her, both from her dishonesty and her declaration of love toward his adversary, had dissipated as he saw the blood staining the front of her gown. He thanked God daily that her wound was superficial, but shock and guilt erased his fury, and he had eventually come to find relief in the knowledge that she was out of his grasp, even if that meant that she was married to Hood.
Despite everything, he did not hate Robin anymore, not even when the scar from the bandit's arrow caused his arm to ache. The man was fighting to end Vaizey's reign over Nottinghamshire, and Guy found himself considering the possibility of assisting his enemy's mission, by personally taking out the sheriff. But, these thoughts were so foreign to him, such a complete shift from what he had worked toward for the last ten years, that he could not entirely face them. So, when they nagged at him the most-- in the evenings, into the nights,-- he drowned them in wine. The headache when he awoke was worth the temporary escape, and was easily cured by more wine. It was only a matter of time before he would not wake up at all some morning, and he actually found the knowledge comforting. Better that than the hangman's noose if King Richard were ever freed. Somehow, Guy was certain he would be.
Two months after their return, everyone was settled into routines-- some old, some new; some welcome, some not. As summer drew near, things started to change.