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NOTHING'S EVER FORGOTTEN

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FOREWORD

The songs in this story are melodies that are based on the music used in 'Alan a Dale', as is the meter
of the lyrics. Many of the references are quotes from various eps to give the opening of the 3rd season some
basis in fact, but it is not necessary to have seen the show to follow the story.

 

 

DEDICATIONS

This story is dedicated to Michael Praed (who still inspires me), Claire (for all the beta work
and encouragement), Karen Osment (for remembering the original), Betty Ricca (for believing in me)
and all the fans of ‘Robin of Sherwood’ for keeping the dream alive.

 

 


PROLOGUE

 

After seeing the flaming arrow fly over their heads, Marion, Much, Little John, Will, Friar Tuck, and Nasir turned to see a hooded man. Before they could move or say anything, he turned and walked into the misty forest. Out of the mist, Herne appeared. “It is not his time.”

Scarlet’s face turned angry and he shouted, “WHEN IS HIS TIME?”

Herne quietly replied, “When it is time.” Then he, too, disappeared into the mist.

For a while, they all stuck together. They were quiet and didn’t have the heart or energy to rob or even help anyone. They kept on the move, as the Sheriff’s men now knew their faces. Many villagers helped them with food and shelter, remembering the times these outlaws had helped them in their time of need. Many didn’t, choosing to forget those times; they were sad and disillusioned. Who would help the people of Sherwood now? Finally, one day, Little John stood and pulled Much up by the arm. As he walked away, he said, “We’re going up north to find work. Robin said I would be able to this one day.”

Much looked confused, but Tuck raised his head and nodded slightly, closing his eyes. After their footfalls had faded away, he, too, stood. “’Tis time to take our leave as well, little flower.”

Marion followed Tuck silently, carrying Albion, and not looking back.

At the monastery, Marion busied herself with beekeeping, a pastime she had always loved and something that gave her time to grieve alone. Friar Tuck spent much time in prayer and talking softly to Abbott Patric.

Nasir walked away and thought he might go home. Then, he realized he was home. He had fallen in love with this country. He would live and die in England. So, he set a quest for himself to visit as many places as he could. Silently, he walked and studied the people of his new home, little knowing how important it would be to all of them in the future.

Will Scarlet got lost in his own head. He was confused, hurt, sad, and angry. He had always appeared stoic; but, inside, he was the most vulnerable of them all and he feared anyone finding out. Little John can cry, he thought, but not me. He took to robbing and keeping the goods for himself, but found no satisfaction in it as he had before he’d met Robin, so in the end he gave almost all of it away, keeping enough to live on. And, on top of everything else, he was suffering from severe headaches. They were getting worse and worse as months passed. He sensed that something was trying to get through to his conscious mind, but he couldn’t…or wouldn’t let it. Finally, as he sat under a tree in the forest he loved, his head hurt so much, that he sat up straight and smashed it back against the tree. He blacked out for a second and then felt that he had been hit by a blinding light. He wasn’t sure why, but he just stood and started walking. The pain was gone. He felt clear-headed for the first time, in a long time, yet, still, at a total loss as to where he was headed or why. He had no way of knowing, at the time, that three other people were walking blindly through the forest as well, and one who knew where he was going, and why and had finally discovered his new purpose in life. Or so he thought…

 

 

An AU story based on the characters in Robin of Sherwood

 


NOTHING’S EVER FORGOTTEN

 

Five people stepped out of the trees of Sherwood Forest into the clearing by the lake where it had begun for all of them. Some had walked up to a week to get there. Only one had known where they were going, the only one who walked looking straight ahead: Friar Tuck. They all lifted their heads and looked at each other. No one seemed surprised. They lowered their eyes and automatically moved around, setting up camp. No one spoke. They were five people thinking of the last time they had all gathered like this, exactly one year ago today, when Marion had lost a husband, Much a brother, and the rest of the outlaws a friend.

Now they squatted, sat cross-legged, or leaned against a tree around the fire staring at Albion. Marion had lifted the scabbard off her back, it had not felt heavy when she had been carrying it; and it had actually been a small comfort. She pulled the sword out, sticking it into the ground, as Robin had always done, next to the fire. The flames danced and shone off it. Nasir stopped thinking about Robin Hood for the first time in days. It looks new, he thought, like it has never been used.

Finally, Tuck cleared his throat. He hadn’t said a word since he had told Marion it was time and they had left the monastery. Tuck had spent the last year in prayer and devotions. He had sat and talked for hours with Abbott Patric. They had spoken of all the things Tuck had seen and done and what must still be done. “We must put a finish to this, or we will never get on with our lives.”

The other outlaws nodded vaguely and kept staring at Albion.

Marion sighed and said, “This is the place of the beginning. The place where we all became one. We have all traveled together and had adventures. We had laughter and arguments. We had fun and fear…”

“We even ate with King Richard himself!” Much added, wide-eyed, interrupting Marion, and then stopped as the lump in his throat blocked any more words.

“Aye, he sure beat Robin that day! Showed him what a young upstart he was!” Scarlet’s eyes were twinkling and he was chuckling and shaking his head at the memory of the defeated Robin groveling at King Richard’s feet, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth to his chin. It was one of the things Will loved to throw in Robin’s face, when he started to get ‘too big for his boots’. Then, Will realized it was the first time he had even smiled in a year. Two patches of red flamed in his cheeks as he frowned and hung his head to hide the sudden tears. I will not cry, he thought to himself, one more time.

“Well, Tuck is right,” Marion continued. “We need to put an end to this. I think that is why we are all here. To come full circle. We began here and we must end here to begin again. Robin said that if anything happened to him, Herne would pick another. So, this is the place to it. Our place…” Marion’s voice drifted off.

At first, everyone looked at each other. Who would Herne pick? was the collective thought in their minds. Or is there someone else we do not know about?

Finally, they stood up and went to the edge of the lake, each firing a flaming arrow, one at a time, toward the center of it, as they had done a year before, each, once again, thinking of their special memory of Robin. After Marion had shot the final arrow, she threw the bow on the ground. Her sorrow and fear turned to anger and then uncontrollable rage. She had brought Albion and set it on the ground in front of her. During the past year, she had never left Robin’s sword far from her sight. Now she reached down and picked it up. Before anyone could say or do anything, she had stepped to the very edge of the lake, away from the others, both hands on Albion’s hilt. Twisting backward, with the sword waist-high, she swung forward and flung it horizontally. It took on the force of her throw and began to spin in a circle, turning ever faster and faster, until it reached the center of the lake. Suddenly, it stopped in mid-air. Albion righted itself, so the hilt was hovering over the lake and the tip was pointing skyward. It hung in the air for a moment and then it started to spin back toward them. Hilt over tip, tip over hilt, it continued its journey. Spinning ever faster, like it had a purpose. Like it knew where it was going and what it was doing. Like it was alive with a mind of its own…or…someone else’s…It didn’t slow down as it reached the band of outlaws on the side of the lake and spun over their heads. No one was in danger, but Much involuntarily ducked.

Their eyes on the sword, the outlaws all turned to follow its path. Only then did they see a man standing in the tall grass at the edge of the forest. His head was hanging down and a brown hood fell forward to cover his face and closed eyes. He stood up straight, feet firmly planted on the ground, slightly apart. His left arm hung at his side and his right arm was straight in the air with the hand open. The fingers were together with the thumb thrust out, the hand forming an L-shape, as if it were waiting to catch something.

Albion continued its spinning journey as the man spoke with a hard-edged, determined voice: “Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing’s ever forgotten!” The sound was a normal tenor, yet they could each hear it as clearly as if it were being spoken directly into each of their ears. Finally, just before reaching him, Albion slowed down and then stopped spinning. Hilt downward, it continued forward, slapping into the hooded man’s upheld hand. It hit hard enough to be heard, but gently enough not to knock the waiting man over. The man’s fingers automatically curled around the hilt, as if the two of them, sword and hand, were one.


>------------->

 

No one moved for what seemed like hours, though was only seconds, until Much cried out, “ROBIN!” Before anyone could stop him, he was running toward the man, still standing holding Albion upright over his head.

Much stopped just short of the still hooded man, and the others, who had taken off after him, stopped as well. They stood in front of the man and stared.

The hooded man, keeping his arm straight, slowly began to lower the sword, and the outlaws moved slightly to one side or the other of the descending blade. As Albion became perfectly horizontal to the ground, the man bent his elbow and pulled his upper arm flat against his side, with the hilt touching the middle of his chest. They all stood still, until Marion stepped forward and placed her hand on the blade of the sword just touching the hilt. With the vivid memory of the oft-repeated phrase echoing in their heads, the others stepped forward and place their hands, touching one to the other, on the blade alongside Marion’s. Marion stood on the man’s right, Tuck on the left, Will on the right, Little John on the left, Nasir on the right and, finally, Much on the left.

When the last hand was in place, the voice from under the hood said softly, “Together we…” He was cut off as Albion started to vibrate ever so slightly and, suddenly, the hooded man let out an ear-piercing cry, as if searing pain wracked his entire body. Then he dropped to his knees and doubled forward, Albion smacking into the ground.

The others had sharply lifted their hands from the sword as a slight shock went up their arms, followed by the startling sound. They dropped to the ground as well: some on their knees, some squatting, breathing heavily. All was quiet for a time. The outlaw’s eyes were on the hooded man, and no one moved an inch. Finally, Marion looked up with a questioning face and, putting forth her hand, slowly brushed back the hood. She let out a startled gasp and the outlaws’ eyes widened in time to see the familiar long brown hair tumbling out, and Robin of Loxley sitting up, like the rest of them.

His eyes were tightly squeezed together, with the dark lashes pressed against his deathly white cheeks; his face was contorted in pain, covered in sweat. Suddenly, his eyes and mouth flew open with a slight start and he sucked in a large gulp of air, as if he had been holding his breath for a long time. He started to hyperventilate and stared straight ahead with a blank look in his usually expressive eyes. Then he started blinking furiously as his breathing began to slow down. He looked around him at the familiar faces. They looked back at him in total disbelief. As his eyes started to blink more slowly, Robin spoke haltingly, in an out-of-breath voice. “H…H…Herne,” he began with a gasp and a heavy swallow, “said…” He stopped, took in a deeper breath and finished everything as he breathed out, the words running together. “itwasnotmytime.”

No one dared to speak, but they leaned a little closer to catch each whispered word and study Robin’s face.

As suddenly as it had begun, the blinking stopped. Color rushed back into his face and his eyes cleared and widened. He brought up the corner of his mouth as if he were chewing it inside. Then, he relaxed and pulled in his bottom lip. These were facial expressions they had all seen a hundred times, at least. Marion let out a small cry and, laughing, threw her arms about his neck.

“My love. You are here. You are here.” She whispered in his ear, her voice filled with laughter and tears.

“He promised he would come back.” Much looked around at the others. “Didn’t you, Robin? You promised you would come back.”

“If it is you…” muttered Scarlet scowling and looking at the ground.

Robin looked at Scarlet and smiled that little smile he seemed to reserve for Will, when he needed to draw on an inner source to cope with man’s moods and impatience. His own ‘Doubting Thomas’ as Tuck would say, teasing Scarlet.

“I think it is me.” He gently pulled Marion’s arms from around his neck and, turning to her, gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “My May Morning, I seem to have returned to you again.”

“What happened, Robin?” asked Tuck. And, suddenly, the rest of the outlaws chimed in with questions overlapping each other, as if someone had just loosed their tongues, leaning eagerly toward Robin, forcing him to take his eyes off Marion’s face.

“I am a bit confused about that. I remember deliberately shooting my last arrow into the sky over the Sheriff’s head and feeling smug, letting him know I could have killed him if I wanted. Then breaking the bow over my knee as a sign of surrender, giving Marion and Much time to get away. And, finally, bowing my head: resigned to my fate. The next thing I remember is standing in front of Herne the Hunter. He said, ‘No, Robin, it is not your time. Come with me.’ And we walked away into the mist. I could hear shouts of ‘He is dead! The Wolfshead is dead!’ and such, but they were from afar and behind us. Then, I remember being at Herne’s cave, and he was telling me what happened...”

Robin stopped mid-sentence and turned to Marion. “I am sorry. I am so sorry. I do not know what else to say. I asked Herne to send me back, but he said, again: ‘It is not you time.’ Then I was here. Now. I am so sorry…” His voice trailed away and Marion studied his face, looking concerned.

Little John stood up, stepped forward, and, pulling Robin to his feet, started walking him toward the still-glowing campfire, “Hush, lad, hush. You did more than you know. You saved all our lives. You did. Now come over here and rest.”

Following John’s example, they all stood up and stretched their stiff limbs. Marion picked up Albion and they moved toward the campfire.

“Are you hungry?” asked Tuck.

“TUCK!” Everyone else yelled in unison, glaring at him. Tuck got that innocent look on his round face for a second – the one he liked to pull when he wanted to hide one of his remarks or questions, on his round face for a second. Then everyone, including Robin, burst into laughter. Long laughter, full of joy and relief.

Finally, Robin pulled his brows together and pulled at his lower lip. Everyone else stopped laughing for a minute, wondering what was happening. Then, breaking into a smile, Robin said, “Actually…I am!” And everyone laughed again and sat down near the fire.

Robin was still weak from his journey between life and death, but, as the days passed, the story of his return, and the reason behind it, came out. He spent at least a day with a different person in his group. But at night, sitting near the fire after eating, he would talk about himself:

 

>------------->

 

Robin spent time alone with Much first, as he seemed the most confused by Robin’s story.

“Can you die, Robin?” Much asked at one point, when they were sparring with staffs, building up Robin’s strength.

“Yeeessss…Yes! I remember now! Herne said this was my last chance. If anything happened this time, I would die like any other man. I have to make the most of my life from now on.” Much backed off and Robin laughed and said his time was not at this very moment. Much was relieved and, dropping his staff, hugged Robin. “I promise, Much…”

 

>------------->

 

Robin asked Tuck, while they were sitting on the bank fishing, if he felt that things had been done badly before.

“Not badly, Robin,” said Tuck, “but you did have a mind of your own. Sometimes, you were too trusting. Like the incident with King Richard. Aaaand…sometimes, I felt you were not learning your lessons, but turning your back on them. Like you were trying to impress us and the people of Sherwood. ‘Too big for your boots?’ You said you would get bigger boots! Not the words of a man, but of a lad still believing all the world is his to do with as he pleases.”

He fell silent for a time, staring into the water. This very discussion is what all my past year was about! he thought to himself. All the prayers and talks with Abbot Patric. My purpose is so clear now! Abbot Patric asked me one day if I really believed I was there for Marion? Or was I, in fact, there for Robin? And all those around him? I had no answers at the time, but I prayed that it would all be revealed to me. And, now, I see that, for me, it was in God’s time! He had been more shocked than the other outlaws at Albion’s connection to him. But, now, he seemed to understand how both religions could work together. He felt more relaxed that he ever had since leading Marion into the forest.

Now he turned to Robin, smiled, and continued aloud, “I think Herne meant that he should have spoken with you more often. Asked you what you learned and how you could use it in the future. Like a father and son. But he saw you seldom and it does explain why he felt your untimely death could very much be his fault. Fathers get busy and forget their sons are not quite grown and still need a strong and present guiding hand.” Tuck looked back at his pole.

Robin looked at Tuck with raised eyebrows then dropped them and studied the side of Tuck’s face. He pulled at the laces of his cowl, adjusting it, “You have been working on this as long as Herne has, haven’t you?”

“Had to.” Tuck stared straight ahead. “You brought Marion into this world. Not just Sherwood and the cause, but your religion as well. That is why I am really here. I know it now. All those talks with the Abbot.”

“Hugo?”

Tuck turned to Robin with a stern look on his face, “Patric! You know as well as I, Hugo was defrocked!”

“And not you?”

Tuck sighed and turned back to his fishing. “I would suppose not, the way I was welcomed at the monastery. Perhaps the Church thinks I would do better out in the world…like a…Well, like a missionary!”

“Are you here to save my soul?”

“You and all else, I reckon. The Church has its own mind about the ways of the world. They tend to pick and choose. Perhaps they have chosen you. Not to say that time is now. I truly do not think the time is now.”

Time again. Hmmm…Time…It keeps coming back to time.” Robin sighed and turned to his own fishing.

Tuck said nothing else. After all, it wasn’t time…

 

>------------->

 

Robin spoke with Scarlet about his own loss. “I believe I now understand the feelings you wear on your sleeve. Perhaps, it is time for you to let your love grow in another direction. I think your wife would like that. Would approve of you helping, instead of just living your anger by robbing and killing. I heard many voices while I was with Herne, and, maybe, hers was among them. I believe she is around you all the time. Deep inside. Listen, Will. I think you can hear her too.”

They talked about their meeting for the first time and things that happened in the past.

“I have always thought you were just mad, Robin. But I am now seeing so much more. I want to think things through.”

When Will packed a few things and some food and left, Robin smiled at the others and said, “It will only be for a little while. He has always needed to work things out on his own.”

Two days later, Will returned and gave Robin a grudging smile. All was right between them now. And, later, in private, he told Robin of the headaches and how he believed that it was Herne and his wife trying to talk to him, but that he didn’t want to know.

“Then am I your friend?” Robin asked. Will drew his brows together and frowned, rubbing his chin with his hand. Suddenly, his face cleared as he remembered the time they had rescued Little John from the quarry. He broke into a big smile and he looked at Robin pulling one of his wide-eyed innocent looks. They both burst into laughter that echoed among the trees. And secretly knew that Herne had heard them.

 

>------------->

 

Little John again asked Robin if he believed that they would ever have freedom in their own land just as he had asked in the beginning. If, someday, he could settle on a farm, like the one where he and Much had spent the last year, marry and have children. Robin laughed and told John that he had always been good with children, especially Much. He really should have his own. “I think I see a future for you, John. At least, I hope I do. I am still learning to sort things from inside and outside my head! Remember when I first saw Herne and told you that was what we had to fight for, before I tried to do things on my own and stopped listening to Herne? I still believe in that, even more than ever!” And Little John felt that he would follow Robin to the end this time, whatever that end might be…

“But you could still use some more training in the staff!” John said. Robin rolled his eyes and pulled on his lower lip. “None of that! You can roll your eyes and make faces at Marion and get your way, but not with the rest of us!”

“I get my way with Marion? Kindly point that out next time. I would like to recognize it for myself!” Robin shook his head in disbelief and walked away. John watched him and chuckled deeply, remembering the times Marion had gone as far as to thump Robin with her little fists.

 

>------------->

 

Nasir was harder for Robin to talk to than any of others, besides Marion. He was a man known for not talking, for watching, for learning. “I have not paid enough attention to you, Nasir. Taken you for granted, yet with trust, since that time with the Baron de Belleme…” There was a long pause. “Palestine. The Holy Land.”

“The descendants of Ham, son of Noah,” added Nasir.

“Ah, another ‘beginning’…” Robin said aloud, but mostly to himself.

Nasir continued. “To everything there is a season…a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Robin looked at him, with his head slightly tilted. Then, pulling on the strings of his cowl, he pulled his brows together. Nasir waited patiently. Finally, Robin’s face cleared and he looked eagerly into Nasir’s eyes. “So, you, Tuck and Herne have been planting, and now I am expected to reap. Mmmm…Does this also mean that your time of silence is over and your time to speak has come as well?”

“I will guide when it is prudent for me to do so, but my silence will also be a guide. I saw you as you: 20 and still a lad. But now I see you as a man and I believe you will understand many more things in life.”

“But you will never be afraid to speak up when I am wrong? If so, I will listen. I have seen my time of death and rebirth, so to speak; now it is time for me to war and to bring peace.”

“In your own way of warring, Robin, in your own way. And we will all help. I have lived in two lands of oppression, but this is my home now and I am for you. However, do you think only you and Herne can bring peace to this country? Start thinking smaller, Robin. We can only do so much ourselves. You must accept that others will pick up arms to follow your lead on their own. People we will most likely never meet.”

Robin hung his head to hide the smile. “I’m listening…”

Nasir turned and walked off. Yes, he thought, you are and felt more hopeful for this country than he had in a long time.

 

>------------->

 

There were long walks and longer nights with Marion. Their love seemed stronger and, yet, gentler, too. Perhaps because they had learned their time together was more precious than they had realized before. Rushing through their feelings had been wrong. They learned to take their time and appreciate every moment they could steal together. During walks in the forest, Marion would get angry with Robin for leaving her and hurry on ahead. Robin would get a slight smile on his face and shake his head. Then he would hurry after her and apologize for leaving her for a year and not getting in touch, even though both knew it was not his fault. He would fold her in his arms and she would sob into his chest, clinging to his neck.

Marion had sworn to herself that she would never let the outlaws see her cry again. But, alone, with Robin, she couldn’t help herself and he understood. There were other times that her petulance would show through. She would tell Robin how she was as good as the men were with staff and bow.

Robin tried teasing Marion once about not being good with a sword, as it was too heavy for her, that she should just stay behind him in some of their upcoming battles. Marion circled behind Robin and, jumping on his back, as she had done before, pummeled him, saying, “Like this?”

They were both laughing when he easily swung her around, pinning her arms to her sides in a hug and saying into her ear, “I shall have trouble fighting if you do that. Are you for the enemy or me?” Then he kissed her.

Marion broke free, put her hands on her hips, raised her brows and looked indignant. “Well! I shall simply have to think about that.” Then she turned and strode off in her best impression of a man. Robin rolled his eyes and sighed loudly, standing his ground. When Marion realized he was not coming after her, she stopped, turned, and glared at him. Seeing her turning, Robin immediately changed his expression to one of surprise and disbelief. Marion sighed her own little sigh and tried to hide a smile. He was fooling her. But who cared? She ran back to him, jumping into his arms, and he swung her around in circles while they kissed.

Another time, sitting by the lake, Robin said, “I told you there were so many things I wanted to say to you, but time had caught us up. We have been given a second chance and must always share everything. Even our innermost thoughts.”

Marion nodded. “I know that now. I was 17, a girl, and meant to be wedded to the Church and live in a convent. I have learned so much in this past year, Robin. Things no nun could ever have taught me at Kirklees Abbey.

Robin gave Marion a nasty smile. “Hmm…”

Marion batted Robin on the chest. “Not that, silly! The real things. Yes, we must share. We must share everything.” Then her face lit up, as she looked deep into Robin’s eyes. “But as a woman, I still reserve the right to go off and pout when I feel like it! Or to change my mind when it suits me.” She raised her chin high and looked at him in a haughty manner.

Robin looked at Marion for a moment, then grabbed a stone and threw it into the water. “A fish?” he asked, looking at Marion inquiringly.

Marion looked at Robin as she would a naughty boy. He can still play games when he wants his way. This is the Robin I fell in love with after all… she thought.

They laughed and then shared a warm kiss, falling into the tall mossy grass. After tender love-making, Marion fell asleep. Robin studied her milky complexion, twisting her curls around his fingers. “You will always be my May morning,” he whispered softly.

 

>------------->

 

Finally, they all gathered around Robin to hear the story of his time with Herne:

“I was with Herne and, after drinking something Herne said was made from a first flower of May; I slipped in and out of a waking haze while he spoke to me of many things. At first, it was all the things he had told me before: light and darkness, the suffering of the people of Sherwood and how I was chosen to help them… But, then, he kept saying that it was not my time, and I really did not understand that at all. Not my time for…what…? Herne only answered that I must make my own bow this time. He had given me one the first time and told me to string it to give it purpose. But I remember things happening to the first and different ones, but it was the purpose, not the bow itself, that gave it meaning then.

“I broke the bow over my knee after I shot the last arrow. I did not want the Sheriff to have it, any more than I wanted him to have Albion. Perhaps, it was also a sign of broken faith with Herne. I felt he had let me down. So, in a haze, I set about making a longbow just like the first one. This time, Herne dipped it in the spring inside his cave and then had me string it. ‘To give it purpose,’ he said again.

“He said he was sending me back. When I asked where, he just said ‘home’. He told me I am as human as the next man and that everything that happened was his fault for not fulfilling his part completely. He had his doubts about me and my belief in the ‘Cause,’ but realized that he had been wrong. So, he was giving me a second chance to live the life I was brought to him for in the first place. This time, I would be Herne’s Son for real. I would still receive impressions and have foretelling dreams. But, now, I would hear the voices of those who needed me the most. I was quite bewildered, I can tell you that!

“And the last thing I remember is seeing all of you around me…”

Slowly, everyone began to understand that Robin was never really gone. Just as he had been in a state of waking sleep, so had they all. Each living in their own heads. They had all been ‘gone’ for a reason. Remembering the feeling they had received from Albion, they knew that Herne had been talking to all of them at the same time, letting them know what he wanted. “Our fate must be shared,” Robin had said the first time they agreed to band together. Each had traveled with the sound of their lost friends and the people who lived and died in the forest. “But they are still with us in Sherwood because they are free.” Now, each understood.

 

>------------->

 

Finally, Robin called them all around him. Pulling Albion up out of the ground, where it had stood as a beacon by the fire, except on the occasions of more lessons from Will. Robin wiped the sword on his shirt, between his arm and his side, as he usually did, and spoke.

“I think we are all strong enough to try again and see what Herne has to say about everything I have learned since returning home.”

He held Albion straight out and everyone’s hands came together eagerly: Marion, Tuck, Will, Little John, Nasir, and Much. They all closed their eyes and waited. A tingling started in their hands and ran up their arms, straight up into their bodies. They all would swear later in their lives, into their hearts. A peace came over each of them and they had just begun to smile as Robin said, “Together we…” But he was cut off by his own voice crying out, “NO! STOP IT! NO! NO! LET ME ALONE!” He dropped Albion and put his hands over his ears. “WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO WANT OF ME?”

Breathing heavily, Robin dropped to his knees and bent forward, lacing his fingers around the back of his head, covering his hears with his forearms, rocking up and down. Just as suddenly, he stopped. He blinked as he had the first time. Looking up at the others, he said, “We are missing someone and he is calling my name. He is in terrible agony. We will have to find him and bring him to us. I just wish I could figure out why the voice sounds so familiar, even through all the pain. I don’t even know where he is!”

Tuck said, softly, “In time…”

 

 

 

Life returned to “normal” for the band of outlaws and they picked up their life from before. A short while later, while keeping a sharp lookout for deer, Scarlet and Little John were walking through the woods discussing the same topic as always, lately: “The Voice”. When they heard singing coming towards them, Will rolled his eyes, “Not again!” But this voice was different. A rich tenor voice echoing through the trees. As they drew nearer, they saw a man of Robin’s height and Scarlet’s age, with dark brown hair that was almost black. It fell just past the man’s collar at the back, while it followed his jawbone at the front. It was parted just off center, allowing the forelock to fall across the man’s brow and sweep to the side, just hovering above his thick dark eyebrows. His face was chiseled and handsome and his eyes were a bright blue. He had high cheekbones and his coloring was weathered like theirs. His clothes were fairly shabby and his boots were worn. He had a lute on one side of his back and a bundle on the other. Each hung from separate strings around his neck. He had spotted a fallen limb and had sat down to rest, putting the bundle beside him and starting to tune his lute, just as Will and John silently reached the trees surrounding the little clearing. Then, he took a deep breath and started his song over, in full voice, plucking out the tune, getting ready for his next performance:

 

“He led a band of merry men

And wed a lady fair.

De Rainault did hunt him down

And now a shroud does wear, does wear

And now a shroud does wear.

 

 

He robbed the rich to help the poor

And Sherwood was his home.

But now that he is gone away,

All England does a-moan, a-moan,

All England does a-moan.

 

 

Alas all Britain sheds a tear

A price was on his head.

And now because of King John’s curse

Brave Robin Hood is dead, is dead,

Our…Ro-bin…Hood...is…dead…”

 

The last words trailed off softly, as if he didn’t want to hear them himself. He managed a sad smile to convey that the lyrics to his ballad were with him, but its meaning was not pleasant to him.

As Will and John entered the clearing from one side, Tuck, Nasir and Much entered from another direction.

“Oy! What are you?” Scarlet demanded.

The stranger stood up and, with a wide sweeping bow, announced, “The finest troubadour in all of England, m’lord!” When he righted himself, his face was covered with a big grin and eyes that danced in the sunlight.

“Troubadour?” asked Much.

“Minstrel, really, but the French word, ‘troubadour,’ sounds far more magnificent! Do you not agree?” he boomed. Then he cocked his head to one side, still grinning.

“Bet this one is more skint that the last one…” Scarlet muttered to John.

“Your name, good fellow?” asked Tuck.

“Why, the great Alan a Dale, of course!” he boasted, looking around at the outlaws, standing a little taller and puffing out his chest.

“Never! We met him! Did not look a thing like you and had a horrid voice to boot!” said Little John.

“Ahhh…Let me see…” Alan tilted his head back and rolled his eyes to the sky. He stood for quite a while in that position, until Will finally said, “Right barmy this one is, as well!”

Alan brought his head down and glared at him. “I am running through stanzas, my good fellow. It is the only way to remember them all when you have as many as I do!” And he looked skyward again. “Hmmm…All right, then! I clearly remember!”

He leaned over to Much and, placing the back of his left hand to the right side of his mouth, spoke in a loud stage whisper. “I always do!” Then he winked at him.

Standing tall again, Alan put on a very straight face, raised the lute that he had been holding in his right hand, and said, “Here then!” And he started singing in a faster, lighter pace, turning to each outlaw as he performed with the proper facial expressions, as if he were in a large court with a fine paying audience.

 

A stable boy did fall in love

With maiden like a rose.

Her name was Mildred, his was Tom

And so the story goes, it goes,

And so the story goes.

 

 

He played the part of troubadour

How easily he lied,

To reach her heart past castle walls

For she did dwell inside, inside,

For she did dwell inside.

 

 

Her father found out their deceit

And to the Church did plead.

The Abbot Hugo had a plan

That sated his own greed, his greed,

That sated his own greed.

 

 

’Twas then that Robin Hood stepped in

His Marion to please,

And helped the young folk get away

Employing stinging bees, mad bees,

Two hornets nests of bees.

 

 

Now you might ask how I do know

The details of this tale.

Well, you must see that I am he,

The original Alan a Dale, a Dale,

The talented Alan a Dale!”

 

“For Marion?” Robin cried. He and Marion stepped out of the trees, and Marion promptly hit him in the arm.

“It was, indeed, for me! And Tuck, as well!” Marion countered and stepped forward. “That does explain the voice of the other Alan, though. And you forgot to put in ‘Love conquers all things’. Very important to the story, that is.” She extended her hand, and Alan took it and kissed it with a flourish and a bow.

He looked up, smiled at her, and gave a wink. “I shall have to discover this bit. It sounds like a story in itself.”

“Especially when moaned properly, in Latin…” muttered Tuck.

Robin sucked in the side of his cheek and drew his brows together in consternation, then loudly cleared his throat.

Alan stood, turned to him, and let go of Marion’s hand. Then with a large grin, exclaimed, “The rumours are true! You are not dead. Well! Nice to know that de Rainault and Sir Guy of Gisburne did not die in vain!”

“The Sheriff and Gisburne are dead?” the outlaws all exclaimed at once.

“Of course! King John said that it was Robin or Robert! And, since so many said that the Hooded Man lived, the King became positively livid. Instead of taking de Rainault’s lands and possessions and throwing him out to fend on his own, as he had first threatened, he simply had the Sheriff hanged for disobeying a royal edict, which made him a traitor. Alan paused dramatically. “A hanging offense,” he said, leaning toward Much with a suddenly serious face, making the lad’s eyes even rounder. Then he straightened up, the grin back, and continued, “And Gisburne was done in later under some shroud of mystery. Sir Richard Fitzgilbert is sheriff now and meaner than Robert de Rainault ever was if you ask me!” Alan feigned a hurt look. “He does not even like my singing!”

The outlaws just stood, open-mouthed, and looked at one another in disbelief, completely ignoring Alan’s dramatics. His shoulders slumped and he stared back at them with his head tilted slightly to the right, wondering why there was no applause and deciding not to take a bow.

When they came to their senses, Tuck said, “Let’s eat,” which was his solution for all confusing circumstances. Alan’s face brightened as this was his normal payment and, sometimes, even some coins. But the others just sighed, shook their heads at Tuck, and trudged off together. Reaching the fire, each went silently about their usual duties, leaving Alan to trail along behind, almost forgotten in their disbelief. The normal movements were a comfort to them.

 

>------------->

 

As Tuck busied himself with the food, Marion stood and walked a bit away from the others. They looked at Robin, who got a questioning look on his face. Scarlet gave a quick sideways flip of his head at Marion. Robin realized that the men thought he should go to her. Standing up, he sighed and walked over to Marion, who was staring into the forest. “I was thinking,” Marion said softly. “There was room at the end of Albion when we all touched it.”

“I noticed.”

“Well, what I mean is, there seemed more than enough room for one more hand. ‘The Voice’ you heard, perhaps?”

Robin walked around Marion to face her, took her hands in his and lifted them to his lips, giving them a gentle kiss. “You have very small hands, my Lady of May. You would leave a little extra room.” They both looked into each other’s eyes. Robin had that little half smile that drove Marion crazy at times and his eyes almost had the old twinkle in them. But Marion shook her head, as if to clear it.

Pulling her hands out of his, Marion turned and walked a few steps toward the forest and then turned back, as if to pull clear of the spell Robin always cast on her. She loved him so much.

“No,” Marion said firmly. “Albion would not do that. I, in no way mean to say that Albion can change lengths, but it does seem to know what it is doing. Especially now. And I swear there was room for two hands. Could there be someone you did not hear because of the pain of the other?”

Robin was looking down again, pressing his lips together; his eyes closed so that the long lashes touched his cheeks.

Before he could speak, however, Scarlet spoke up. “I must tell you something and you know I hate to admit this…but I think we should listen to Marion.”

Marion and Robin turned to look at Scarlet as they realized how easily they had been heard in the quiet forest twilight. Marion had a surprised look on her face, but before she could say anything that would make Will regret his opening words, he carried on, determined to finish his thoughts.

“Look. Something happened to all of us when we touched Albion and each other. I felt something, deep inside me. It is like we all have been given something. Like second sight or some such thing. Not like Robin, but still…” Will’s eyes searched the others’ faces for agreement, still ignoring Alan, who was sitting against a tree, a bit apart from the main group, observing them carefully.

Tuck stood up from his work at the fire with a grunt, holding his back and looking at each of the outlaws, as well. “I am a man of God. To some, it may seem that I abandoned my vows but I never forgot. I felt it too, Will, and something else. I can be a ‘fighting friar,’ if you will, and still serve the Lord. I feel Him with me as much as Robin feels Herne. So far, I have killed no one. One time, I almost shot someone and Much accidentally bumped into me and the arrow hit the ground. I can give a good thump when you all need help, but my God is still with me. And I need to be with all of you and see to your spiritual needs, as well as helping in our quest, if a quest it be. We all know that Herne is a god, but that is just a honourary title: ‘god of the forest’. God with a small ‘g’. I now know for certain that I was sent not just to protect Marion, as I first thought, but to protect all of you. Ever since we touched Albion, I have found it easier to pray again. I feel like my old self! And I agree with Will: something happened to all of us.” Tuck looked winded after his long speech. Or was it a sermon? he mused later. Whatever it was, it felt good.

“Me, too?”

“Yes. You too, Much.”

Once again, Scarlet spoke up, looking a bit annoyed at being brought into a religious debate. “Well, what I meant was that we need to trust each other and ourselves. When we have ‘feelings,’ we need to listen to them and act on them. Not like before, like when I would vent my anger on everyone and everything, not those feelings. But new ones. I think we are still all the same, but we need to sort things out more. We will still make mistakes. We are not perfect. Not by a long shot. Not even Robin, but…”

Little John walked over to Scarlet and, putting his arm around Will’s shoulders, pulled him close, giving a half-bear hug, shaking him a little as he did so. “It is all right, Will. We understand.” He was smiling down at him. “We all know you will never be perfect, but you are becoming a changed man!”

They all laughed. Scarlet stayed where he was and didn’t try to pull away, as he would have in the past, and go stalking off for a good pout and to hit something. “I have put my wife to rest,” he said softly, looking at Robin. “I will keep them near, as they give me my edge. But I will learn to turn my anger to the oppressors…like Gisburne…” The last two words were said through clenched teeth and then he trailed off…

“But Gisburne is dead!” said Much, looking at Will in that confused way of his.

“What made me say that?”

“The food is ready!” Tuck called and everyone gathered around the fire to eat. Robin lifted his bowl, “Herne protect us.”

“Herne protect us,” everyone echoed, even Friar Tuck. Then silence fell as the outlaws became lost in their own thoughts, chewing more slowly than they were used to eating, as wolfheads on the run. They were eyeing Alan as well.

Alan was eyeing the outlaws as well. Tuck sent Much over with food and Alan smiled a thank you. He had been the eyes and ears of many a kingdom and people. It was part of his job to observe. He could almost make himself invisible in courts, silently listening to plots and secrets. He would use them in ways he deemed fit, always just staying out of trouble himself. This is like a family, he thought. The way they all seem to know what is expected of them. And the way they talk to one another. This Robin Hood is all I have ever heard about him. He is a leader of men for one so young. I agree with the friar, but Herne must be real to them. People in the forest have spoken of seeing him and, now, I truly believe. Do I have a place here? What is it about that sword that so fascinates me? Who is ‘The Voice’ and why was the Lady Marion looking at me? Although I do have a fine voice! Well, all in good time… And Alan’s thoughts drifted back to himself and the food.

Oh, how the people gathered around the fire would have laughed at that last bit. Everything in their lives now revolved around time…

 

>------------->

 

At the end of the meal, Robin said, “I know what everyone is thinking.”

Much brightened up with a smile. “The venison was great, Tuck!”

“Fine! Prove that I am not perfect!” Robin continued, pulling in his lower lip and drawing his brows together, then looking at the circle of people. He saw a slight smile on Tuck’s face out of the corner of his eye and his face relaxed. “We were thinking of Alan.”

Alan a Dale slowly looked at the people around the edge of the fire, at their eyes now directly on him. They had been avoiding him, but none seemed concerned at his presence. “So was I!” He had a wane smile on his face and a questioning look in his eyes, but, somehow, he did not feel afraid.

“I believe it is worth a try…” Marion said, barely above a whisper, and looked up to everyone, but Much and Alan. Everyone else nodded their heads slowly.

They all stood up, motioning Alan to do the same, and stepped close together, away from the fire and nearer the trees. Robin had pulled Albion out of the ground and wiped off the dirt. It had only been there while they were eating. With a stranger in their midst, Robin had kept the sword in its scabbard, remembering that Herne had told him never to let it be taken from him again.

Having told Alan what he was expected to do, Robin held Albion straight out, hilt against his chest, and everyone placed their hands on the blade: Marion, Tuck, Will, John, Nasir, Much and, taking a very deep breath and holding it, Alan. The tingling started in their hands and ran straight up their arms into their hearts. Alan let his breath out slowly, feeling a peace he had never known before. The peace covered all of them, save for Robin. Just as he said, “Together we…” he was cut off again. But this time he was expecting the painful wail in his head. He gritted his teeth for a second and, then, not being able to stop himself, yelled aloud. “WHERE ARE YOU? WHERE? I AM TRYING TO FIND YOU! WHERE! HELP ME! WHERE?” Just as suddenly, the wailing voice stopped.

Everyone was breathing heavily, just as Robin stiffened and stared straight ahead. A mist rose in the trees and they all turned to look. Herne appeared. In the Nottingham Castle dungeon, he said. Then he was gone taking the mist with him. Robin pressed his lips together and lowering Albion, bowed slightly. The rest of the outlaws stood with their eyes wide and their mouths open. Herne had appeared to everyone gathered at the Time of the Blessing, but this was different. Marion had even gone to Herne’s cave once to speak with him and Herne had spoken to the outlaws after Robin had left them. But this was the first time they had seen him appear as Robin had told them he appeared to him with messages. And each heard him in their minds, not aloud.

When everyone calmed down, they turned to Robin, who said, “I still say I know the voice I heard before Herne appeared. Tomorrow we are off to Nottingham.”

“Does this happen often?” Alan asked, looking from one outlaw to the other with total confusion on his face. His mind drifted to just a few minutes ago. Herne is real! He is! Alan thought and turned to look at Tuck. He accepts this. Against everything we have been taught. What do I believe now?

So Alan heard him too,” they all thought, but no one else said anything. Not even Much.

Tuck looked at Alan and gave a quiet chuckle. Welcome to my world, Alan a Dale, he mused.

They crouched at the edge of the forest looking at Nottingham Castle.

“Is this a good time to mention that I have never been in a dungeon before?” asked Alan with a sour look on his face.

“NO!” everyone else whispered in unison.

Alan sighed deeply. “I see your plan of everyone working together is beginning already,” he mumbled. No one looked at him nor acknowledged his sarcasm.

“We know the castle inside and out, but there seems to be less guards,” Scarlet observed aloud.

“Sheriff Fitzgilbert is so sure of himself. And, besides, he was one of the few who believed de Rainault when he said he had killed Robin, although he failed to mention it to King John.” Alan said, hoping to help.

“Still tricky, though…”

“Just ignore me…I am not frightened in the least. As a matter of fact, I have already begun to compose stanzas about this rescue…”

Quiet!” everyone said again.

“This ‘together we’ seems to work pretty well. Is there something else or does it just end with ‘we’?”

Robin rolled his eyes upward, as if asking Herne for help. Then, biting the side of his mouth, he took a loud, deep breath through his nose. He closed his eyes to calm himself and when he opened them again, he turned to Alan and said each word separately:

“I…know…you…live…in…your…own…mind…thinking…only…of…your…self,” Robin said, pausing to let this sink in, before continuing in a regular voice, “but you will have to learn to get along. Basically, you have been left no choice. Herne and Albion picked you: we did not!” Then Robin turned back to the rest of the group and muttered, “And we will remember that…”

The rest of the outlaws gave a short nod in agreement.

“Oh…” And Alan frowned and thought better of trying to sing what he had already written.

“Will Herne help us?” Much asked.

Everyone turned to look at him as if he had said something profound. The knots in their stomachs seemed to go away and their limbs relaxed.

Robin stood up and walked back a bit into the shelter of the trees. The others followed.

In a normal tone, Robin said, “When we first met, Herne said that the Powers of Light and Darkness possess me…They always have. I think now that he had always meant all of us, but I felt too self-empowered to realize it. Remember the first time I came back and the words I spoke? He said we are not bewitched but awakened. It is time we stopped running. Now, I notice the word ‘we’.”

Alan opened his mouth to comment, but something in his head stopped him. Then he realized, for the first time, that he was a part of ‘we’. He closed his mouth and narrowed his eyes at the young man. Exactly what is it that I have got myself into this time? And what is it about him that makes me feel like I would follow him into anything? Alan thought to himself. Then, he felt like a part of the group. For the first time, he stepped forward and stood right with them, listening to every word of what Robin said. No one seemed to either notice or care.

“It is time to start reclaiming England.

“And the last thing Herne told me was to ‘act without thinking’.” Robin stopped and looked at all of them. Then he adopted a tone of leadership to direct them into the task in front of them.

“I know what you are going to say, Marion, and I know what I am going to answer, but this is not a job for all of us. Little John is too big, and Much would get confused in the dark passages. Do not worry Much,” Robin added, giving Much a little smile. “There will be plenty for you to do soon enough. You are learning faster than me. Tuck…” The friar cut Robin off with a wave of his hand: he understood. Robin nodded and continued. “And Alan is too inexperienced. This is for Will, Nasir and me. However, the rest of you are just as important in this ‘quest,’ as Tuck calls it.

“While the three of us are gone, you must watch for extra activity on the wall. Plus, you must make a litter of some sort. I believe ‘The Voice’ will not be able to walk on his own. And, Much, you will have to keep that sharp eye of yours out for us, as we may need some of you to run out and help us.”

Alan had been watching Robin closely. He realized that the young man had very definite characteristics. If you watched him, you could know how he was going to say something before he said it. The facial ticks and expressions, sitting relaxed or leaning forward to give Marion his full attention. Stabbing Albion into the ground as a focal point for everyone, but carefully looking at it and wiping it off before putting it in the scabbard. The stance. Ah, yes. The stance. Leaning against a tree, arms crossed, feet slightly apart, planted firmly on the ground; and one foot up on something that seemed to be his favourite. Alan had not missed a word or an inflection, yet he still sorted out the body language. Of course, it was part of his chosen profession to mark these things, so he could imitate them at the next place he visited. But this time was different. He didn’t want to imitate Robin: he wanted to anticipate his thoughts and act on them immediately. Now, Robin had paused for a second to give Much the attention he needed and Alan thought, They are a ‘we’. All these people know what to do almost before they are told. And, yet, they give him the respect of listening first. And…now…I am a ‘we’, too. Since my mother died, I’ve never felt I would be a part of a family again. But I am now. I must talk with Tuck about Robin and Herne and how this all works together. Oh! ‘Together’! ‘Together we’! There is nothing and, yet, everything after ‘we’!” Alan got it now and smiled inside.

Robin turned to Scarlet and Nasir. “We will leave as the setting sun starts to blind the guards stationed on the west wall. People who have been trading will just be starting to leave. And the merchants in the stalls and the shopkeepers will be haggling with the stragglers. If we can get in and out while the trading is ending and the packing is getting done, we should be able to mingle with everyone as they leave the market.”

“Herne is truly with us,” Nasir said softly. “I am sure that this will not happen every time. But I am just as sure that it will happen this time. It is his will.”

“And a little blessing from Tuck would not hurt, either!” Scarlet said, surprising even himself at the suggestion.

They all bowed their heads as Tuck mumbled for a moment in Latin. The outlaws had always assumed it was some prayer for safety and it didn’t bother their paganism. What Tuck said was, “God, I know you are Lord of all things. These others are but mere superstitious gods. But if it works for now, then let it be. I will deal with them all in time. For now, keep us safe and guide our actions today.” Then the good friar raised his hand in the sign of the cross and uttered the words the others had been waiting for, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” Everyone said “Amen.” Alan raised his eyebrows at Tuck. Tuck gave him a stern look and thought, He understands Latin. I will have to deal with him later. Alan lowered his brows and turned to watch Robin. Cheeky little devil. Tuck knew he and Robin would have to deal this ‘troubadour’ later.

 

>------------->

 

Getting inside the castle walls was the easy part. They thought getting into the castle, itself, would be quite another matter. Scarlet pointed to a cart filled with logs by a wall. They moved in that direction and climbed up on it. Robin stood on tiptoe and looked in the window. It was one of the wider ones and one of the wooden shutters sat ajar. It was dark inside the room and Robin pushed the shutter the rest of the way open. He pulled himself up and slid through the window, head first, almost landing on the top of his skull. Will came next with similar results, but more grunting, so that Robin had to quiet him. Will shot him a glare and rubbed the top of his head. Nasir managed to enter with more style and cat-like grace. So, Will made a different face at him.

They moved across the room and Robin opened the door slightly. The hallway was empty but loud voices and the clanking of dinnerware could be heard in the distance.

Robin looked back over his shoulder and whispered, “They are eating. The Sheriff must have guests!”

Not believing their luck, Will almost laughed aloud. Then he remembered what Nasir had said earlier and looked at him. Nasir gave him a small knowing smile. Will just shook his head and quietly followed as Robin slipped into the hall. From there it was easy to reach the door and stairs to the dungeons below. The door at the end of the hall was unlocked, but a guard sat in a chair at the bottom of the stairs. He was asleep! Nasir placed his back against the wall and sidled downward. As he reached the guard, the man awoke with a snort and opened his eyes just long enough to see Nasir’s fist connect with his nose. The man fell flat, taking the chair with him. The noise brought two other guards into the room, but Robin and Will, following closely behind Nasir, leapt past him and ran across the room. A slight struggle and those guards were out cold as well.

Taking the first guard’s keys, Nasir joined the others across the room. Silently, they entered the dark damp environs of the cells. The hold Robin and Scarlet knew all too well was at the far end of the hallway. But they seemed to know that their man was not there. Robin held his hand up. He knew they hadn’t much time. He mouthed “Act without thinking” and plunged into the darkness to their right. Nasir grabbed a torch from a sconce and he and Will followed. They were moving straight down the center of the hallway past two rooms on either side, each containing a grid indicating a cell at the back, when Robin stopped abruptly in front of the fifth cell. Will and Nasir narrowly avoided bumping into him. A moan came from the far end of the room, up through the grid. Nasir handed Will the torch and crossed the floor. There was a faint light coming from the window high above him at ground level. In the dimness, he had to try two keys before successfully opening the lock.

Robin and Will had remained in the hall on the lookout and entered the room as Nasir motioned them inside. Leaning over, with Nasir now holding the torch, they could just make out a figure lying on the floor, directly below. The stench was terrible as Robin and Will lowered the nearby ladder and climbed down. The man was naked and shivering in the cold. He was so covered with dirt, mud, dried blood and his own filth, that he was barely recognizable as a human being. He opened his eyes and looked straight into Robin’s.

“Rooobin…” was all he could croak, in a barely audible whisper, but Robin knew it was ‘The Voice’ from inside his head with Albion. It had also haunted his dreams, but he had managed to keep this from everyone but Marion. Will picked up a filthy insect-infested blanket and wrapped it around the skeleton of the man before he lifted him up. He passed him to Robin, who was halfway up the ladder. Robin braced himself and lifted the man up to Nasir, who had laid the torch down. Nasir placed the figure on the floor and stepped back, making a face. After Robin and Will had reached the top, Nasir grabbed the torch and crossed to the hallway. Taking a deep breath in an attempt to block the smell, Robin and Will squatted back down to do a better job of rolling the man completely into the blanket and then stood back up. After Will had taken another deep breath and nodded, Robin bent over, picked the man up, and slid him over Will’s shoulder, the man’s head hanging behind Will’s back.

Nasir waved them over and they moved back down the hallway and stepped over the guards. They made their way up the stairs with Robin leading and Nasir bringing up the rear, now trying to hold his breath as well. The talking and laughter seemed closer than they remembered as they moved to the room where they had first entered the castle. Later, they would say that they didn’t know which was louder: the noisy people or their own pounding hearts. It soon became clear that several voices were moving closer and the outlaws hurried across the room.

Robin climbed out the window, feet first this time, and lowered himself down to the cart. Will passed the man to him. Then he and Nasir joined them on the logs, just as some men from the feast walked into the room. Will dropped to the ground and, reaching up to Robin and Nasir, put the man back over his shoulder. The man looked, for all the world, like an old rolled up filthy carpet, so no heads turned as they joined the last of the exiting tradesmen.

The first guard had come to and had moved up the stairs as quickly as he could, blood still running out of his nose where Nasir had punched him, to sound the alarm. Sir Richard Fitzgilbert and his companions crossed to the open shutter and looked out. If this were the exit, the Sheriff thought, the prisoner is nowhere to be seen and none of the crowd seems unduly upset. Aloud, he shouted, “Call the guards! Find whoever is missing!” Shouting echoed through the castle and to the ramparts. The Sheriff then turned to his guests and smiled calmly. “Nothing to be done by us. It does happen on occasion. We will catch whoever it is.” And the others nodded confidently. Inside, a fear had risen in Fitzgilbert and he thought, I hope it is not my special prisoner. Then, he corrected himself. How could it be? He couldn’t even walk.

The shouting reached the ears of the outlaws and they looked at each other and started moving as quickly as they could, without raising any more suspicion than the smell was already gathering. Scarlet put on a smile on his face and kept muttering, “Great last minute bargain.” The people nodded and started moving quickly themselves.

Nasir gave Will a curious smile and thought, This is working even better. I will have to remember to tell Will “Quick thinking” when we get out of here.

Robin gave Will a sideways glance and thought, Will’s thinking on his feet is improving. Thank you, Herne.

Fortunately for Will, the man weighed about as much as half a sack of grain, so, once they were out of the gates, they could run toward the forest. The sun was now dipping behind the treetops and it was getting harder to see, so the shouting from behind them didn’t worry the three men. After all, they would have the advantage very soon. As Little John liked to tell his favourite lady, Meg of Wickham, the outlaws were invisible in the trees!

“Here! This way!” shouted Much. And the three soon had unloaded their prize onto the makeshift litter and were making their way through the forest.

Back at the castle, Sheriff Fitzgilbert stood alone at the window, having sent his guests back to the great hall, watching his men running around outside. He slammed his fist against the ledge. A guard had just reported exactly who was missing. Now he knew for sure that Robin Hood was still alive and facing King John was not a happy prospect.

“Every quest has a prize,” Scarlet said between his teeth to Tuck as he tried to keep upwind of the litter. The friar raised his hand silently to pinch his nose between his fingers and nodded. Silently, though, Scarlet was feeling very good about himself as they trudged back to their camp. And Tuck shook his head with a slight smile. You can change a thief into stealing for the good, after all. It is all a matter of your perspective. Thank you, God, he thought.

Sheriff Fitzgilbert had organized his men on horseback and was leading them himself. To Robin and the others, there were sounds of hoofbeats for a while, but they had faded away long ago. One man, who seemed to be in charge, had a voice filled with rage. Whoever the man on the litter is, he appears to be someone very important to that man, Robin thought.

 

>------------->

 

Everyone’s first thought upon reaching their campsite by the lake was to throw the stinking mess straight in…blanket and all! However, Marion’s and Tuck’s cooler heads prevailed and they laid him by the water’s edge. Alan started a fire, while the men collapsed in exhaustion on the ground.

“It sounded like the Sheriff,” Alan said to no one in particular, poking at the kindling with a long stick to get larger branches to ignite.

“Time will tell…” Robin mumbled, lying on his back with his eyes closed.

Alan looked at the firelight glinting off Albion stuck in the ground nearby. He smiled to himself. They had trusted him to walk and work around them as they lay on the ground or sat propped up against a tree. Even Albion was in its usual place. Alan felt like a part of Robin’s band. He was mesmerized by the shining sword and his thoughts ran the gamut of his childhood and travels and adventures in a matter of seconds. Then, he blinked and gave his head a shake. This sword does contain a strange power, he thought and, giving a huge sigh, returned to his work.

No one was hungry, even though they had not eaten since early that day, and soon the only sounds were the crackling fire, lapping water and snores. Only Alan kept watch over Marion.

Morning came and the rest of the outlaws awoke to discover Marion had been up all night trying to wash the man off without removing any more of his skin than was already gone. Alan was now sitting next to the man as he lay on his stomach. Marion, who had waited impatiently for daylight before venturing into the forest, came back with the herbs she needed. During the night, she had done all she could with the warm water Alan had heated on the fire. Finally, she could make a paste in a cooking pot and carefully dab it on the man’s back, arms, and legs.

Robin blinked and jumped up. Pulling the strings to adjust his cowl, he moved toward her. “Marion! I am so sorry! Is there anything I can do?”

“No. Alan helped me. You said we would all have our parts to play in this quest, and I finally felt I was doing something useful around here.”

“Don’t you believe it, Alan. She could most likely best all of us in a sword fight.” Tuck yawned as he spoke. Scarlet snorted and walked into the forest to get more wood.

With Little John’s help, Marion and Alan turned the man over and laid him under a tree on a clean blanket Tuck had laid out. Marion then worked on the sores on the man’s chest and the front of his arms and legs. Tuck grabbed a small piece of cloth, dipped it warm water, wrung it out, and quickly placed it over the man’s private parts. Marion rolled her eyes up to Tuck’s blushing cheeks and gave a slight smile that said, As if I have not seen this before. Then she shook her head with a broader smile as the friar’s whole face reddened. The smile faded quickly when she looked back down.

Finally, Marion worked with more warm water and a bit of cloth on the man’s face. He was unconscious and hadn’t made a sound since they had left the castle. Good thing, too, Marion had thought. This all would have been very painful, indeed.

Tuck walked to the fire and glanced at Robin, his cheeks still flaming. Robin smiled and sucked in his lower lip, a slight pink rose in his own cheeks. Well, I am her husband, he thought as he pulled at the strings on his cowl and turned and walked silently away.

Food was cooking over the fire, when Marion shouted, “ROBIN!”

Everyone ran over to stand around the person who might possibly be the missing link of their circle. They stood in stunned silence until Will Scarlet finally said it aloud. “Gisburne!”

They all looked at Robin, who was chewing the side of his mouth. Pulling in his lower lip, he silently looked up into the trees. Everyone’s eyes followed his. Marion had joined them and they all stood in silence as the wind rustled the leaves.

Herne, Robin thought. What does this mean?

 

>------------->

 

“The Hooded Man returns to life

To fight for right and good.

And, thus, begins the tale anew:

The Ballad of Robin Hood, Robin Hood,

The…Bal-lad…of…Ro-bin…Hood…”

 

 

 

AFTERWORD


Between seasons of ‘Robin of Sherwood’ on Showtime in the U.S., when it was announced that Michael Praed had left the show to do a play, I was broken-hearted. I heard things from England and New York: the play had closed in one night; Praed had offered to come back to the series but was turned down, etc… I still thought that perhaps it would happen (he was so popular) and I wrote an opening two hour movie to bring him back. Of course, no one is supposed to know it is Praed until the hood is pulled back...then the usual opening could run. Several things happened: my title turned out to be the same as theirs (Herne's Son), I added a character I thought should have been in the show to begin with, and I could further my thoughts of the mysticism. And, ironically, part of my concept for the new season, was also mirrored in their new season. I had just taken it in a different direction.

So, this is what I saw in my mind, between Jan '85 and Jan '86, before the new season with Jason Connery began. It was edited in 2004 and I changed the title for its first appearance in print online. In 2010, I again have edited the story. This is a major edit as it originally was written in script form with cues and commercial breaks and was never beta’d. My beta suggested turning it into an actual story and a slightly new title. I have had great fun working with her and all the Merries and hope she saw it the same way.