Chapter 1: Prologue
Hoofbeats pounded the ground. The sound echoed in the quiet forest, reminding the rider that time was of the utmost importance. The rider only prayed that the uneven tolling of the bell meant what he thought it did.
Sunlight hit Robin's face as the leaves of Sherwood gave way to the village of Locksley. He could feel his chest constricting as he drew near to the church where the woman he loved was giving herself to his enemy. There was still a flurry of activity outside. The women were cheerful, despite that most of the villagers disliked Guy of Gisborne.
Then Robin caught sight of Much, dashing from the opposite direction as if he was making a… No. The fear on Much's face made Robin's heart skip a beat. He pulled on the reins, asking the horse to slow as he reached the church…just as Marian and Guy came out, hand in hand.
Robin couldn't believe it as he saw them. Even though he had known that there was no way to avoid it, he still could not believe that she had gone through with it. His horror was apparent on his face as the reins slipped from his fingers. The faint smile on Marian's face turned to shock when she saw Robin. Guy's expression turned to a smirk as he saw Robin's own expression. Robin's chest felt like it was constricting to the point there he could not breathe. Without another thought, Robin urged the horse into a trot.
"Much!" he called, drawing his friend's attention from the newlyweds. He held out his arm to help Much onto the horse behind him – they had to get out of here. They had to stop the Sheriff. Marian was lost.
"I'm sorry, Master," Much tried to say. "I got waylaid…"
"It's fine, Much," Robin choked out. A deep frown creased his face, but his eyes, focused on the road ahead, were where his pain could be seen. "What is done is done."
"But it was still under false pretenses," Much pointed out. "It is not King Richard who is in Nottingham. Sir Edward and the others are in great danger!" There was a long pause before Robin answered. When he did speak, there was steel in his voice rather than pain.
"Then we have a friend to save," Robin announced, spurring the horse forward.
Less than a month later found Robin sitting on the grassy hill overlooking his boyhood home. Things were falling apart. Not in the gang, maybe, but in Robin's head, everything was falling apart. What reason did he have left to fight for England?
The hardest part was that Marian had married Gisborne, and had seemed to be relatively happy. She was supposed to be his! They had been betrothed before…but he had broken the betrothal when he had gone to fight in the Holy Land with King Richard. He had abandoned her. In a way, it seemed only right that she had married Gisborne anyway.
Robin leaned back, propping himself up with his hands. He still loved her, despite all of what had passed between them. A large part of him regretted what had been done. It had seemed like the best at the time…but Marian had been right. He had gone to war seeking glory. He had even come back hoping – oh, so naively – that things could still be the same.
Someone cleared their throat behind him. Robin glanced over his shoulder to see one of the people he had thought he would not see again standing behind him. Raymond of Durham stood waiting for him to acknowledge that he had heard. Robin rose to his feet, jaw set and hands on his belt.
There was a tense moment between the two men before Raymond smiled and held out his hand to Robin. The tension in Robin's body slowly dissolved as he took the other man's hand and the two embraced in the sort of hug long parted friends gave each other.
"I heard you had been outlawed, but I couldn't believe it until I saw you myself," Raymond said. Robin shrugged.
"It was necessary," he told the other Crusader. "What are you doing here? I thought you were in the Holy Land with King Richard." Raymond nodded.
"I was. His Majesty sent me to bring you this message," he told Robin, pulling out a folded piece of parchment with the King's seal affixed to it. Robin frowned faintly, the recent lines carved into his face seeming to deepen.
"Is he aware of the situation here?" Robin asked quietly, taking the paper. There was silence for a moment before Raymond responded.
"No, he is not. Considering what I have seen since I have arrived and attempted to find you, I do not think that he would be pleased." Robin nodded, popping the seal open and unfolding the parchment. His eyes scanned the words. He bit his lip as he considered what it said. This did not bode well for his current plans…but these were orders from his king. He recognized the handwriting as King Richard's, and not even Prince John had the particular seal that Richard had with him in the Holy Land.
"He wants me to return," Robin intoned quietly. Raymond nodded, his eyes on his comrade's face. "And to return to my position as head of the Guard," he added, looking up at the other man. Raymond was silent as he waited for Robin to speak again.
Robin tilted his head slightly as he reread the letter. Orders. He had orders from the King of England…but he had a duty here now. He had people to defend from the injustice of the Sheriff. But these were orders from the King!
With a sigh, he folded the parchment again and looked back at Raymond, who waited silently. Robin was torn. His thoughts were going in two directions, and he could not seem to get a rein on either of them. There was nothing truly drawing him to stay in England anymore, but the people still needed him.
"What do you say, Robin?" Raymond asked him, reaching out to put his hand on Robin's shoulder. Robin let his eyes, then shook his head.
"I have to think about this," he said. "I have a duty to the people here, too…" Raymond pursed his lips, but nodded.
"I don't understand why you want to stay here, but that is not for me to decide," he said. "I will need to be heading back to the port. My orders were to deliver that to you and return to the Holy Land. If you are going to go, you must decide today."
Robin let out a sigh and nodded. "I will," he said. "I'll meet you outside of Nottinghamshire at dusk with my answer." Raymond ducked his head in ascent and turned to go. Robin sat down again for a few moments, his gaze returning to Locksley. If there was one thing that could be said about Robin of Locksley, it was that he always did his duty, no matter what. This was no different. He knew what he had to do.
He rose, casting one last glance at the village in the direction of Marian, wherever she might be, and walked back to the forest.
Chapter 2: The Sands of Acre
Two years later
Heat beat down on bloodstained sands. A single man stood on what had been a battlefield earlier that day. His light brown hair was sun-streaked and his face tanned from the sun. Lines creased his face, though he was not yet middle-aged by most standards. A curved sword hung loosely in his hand, still stained by the blood of the men he had killed in the battle.
Sand buffeted him for a long time before he moved. He had to dislodge the sand that had built up around his ankles to do so. He sheathed his sword, already planning to clean the dried blood from the blade when he had a spare moment. He wore the uniform of the English King's Private Guard. The insignia on the cloth marked him as the Captain of the Guard.
Robin of Locksley was silent as he plodded back toward the camp and his King. A scowl settled on his face – he was rarely without that expression these days. That scowl was what had carved some of the lines in his face.
It had been nearly a year and a half since he had returned to the Holy Land and his duties as Captain of the Private Guard. He and his men had foiled multiple assassination attempts and had undoubtedly saved King Richard's life hundreds of times over. At what cost, though?
Those who observed Robin on a daily basis had not noticed the change in him at first. Now, they realized what had happened to him – Much in particular noticed it every day. It bothered the former manservant a great deal. There were many times that he did not even think he knew Robin anymore.
Allan agreed with Much in many ways. While he had not been with them the last time they had been in the Holy Land, he had thought he had known Robin fairly well. It seemed now that it had not been so. He barely knew the man who led the Guard anymore.
Robin trudged back to the camp, casting a wary glance at everything that moved. The attack that morning had come out of nowhere. He was not going to have another attack surprise them like that within twenty-four hours. They had lost almost a hundred men to the blades and arrows of the small Saracen strike force.
Much and Allan stood over by one of the tents when he entered the camp. Robin walked over to where they stood. His face was still as impassive as if he was walking in Sherwood Forest. The two former outlaws exchange glances, remaining silent for several moments.
"Did you find anything, Master?" Much asked finally. Robin wordlessly shook his head. He let out something akin to a sigh and moved away, not even bothering to look at either of them again. This was not even the beginning of how he usually acted anymore. Robin barely spoke at times and he was as stony toward everyone as the blocks of the castle at Nottingham. His moods were prone to rapid swings, but this was not an unusual mood for them to find him in.
Allan watched Robin go before he shifted his weight and shook his head. This was not the hero he had come to consider one of his closest friends. This was not the Robin Hood that had made him want to help people rather than just save his own hide…most of the time. Allan would be the first to admit that there were times that he would rather save himself than be fighting this forsaken war….but he had gotten himself into this situation all on his own. He had followed Robin here, and he was going to do what he had sworn he would.
There was silence for several more moments before Much went after Robin. Their time in the Holy Land this time had been filled with pain and suffering – more so than the last time. Four of them had come to the Holy Land and only three remained. They had lost the solid rock they had found in John Little. The wound was a fresh, jagged scar only a few hours old.
A year and a half had not made the difference in the battle earlier. Their survival so far meant nothing. John had fought with them from the start of this journey, and he had died all the same, struck down pointlessly. He was just another casualty. And yet, he wasn't.
John had kept them all in good humor as often as he was able with his own grumblings. Hours after his death, they could only be numb. It didn't seem real that he, of all people, could have fallen in battle like that. If anyone had died, Much had assumed that it would have been himself, or maybe Allan. Not John, and most certainly not Robin.
Of course, he wasn't taking into account that the man who had been his best friend seemed to have died when they had come back to the bloodstained sands of the Holy Land. Robin had not been the same after they had returned. At first, Much had chalked it up to the fact that they had returned to the war that had scarred both of them. But it had seemed to be deeper than that. Robin had lashed out at random toward men who had done nothing more than ask how he had been during his time at home. He had not hurt them, but he had chewed them out so thoroughly that the men had avoided him as much as they possibly could.
Now, Much knew what the problem was. He, Allan, and John had slept in the same tent with Robin from the start, but it had been only in the last eight months that Much had woke to Robin shouting in his sleep. Most of it was wordless sound, noises brought on by nightmares. There were other times, though, that Much had heard him say one thing over and over again as he dreamed. It was always the same word. Marian. It never failed that Much had to wake Robin before the captain woke the rest of the camp…
Robin stood on one of the dunes outside of the camp, his feet set widely apart and his chainmail-covered arms crossed over his chest. His gaze was far off as he stared across the sand, his mouth set in a tight line. Anger had filtered into his stance and expression. This wasn't supposed to be happening. John was not supposed to be the one who died…it was supposed to be him. Robin was sure that he should have been the one to die, not Little John.
He gritted his teeth as he watched the sand swirl in the faint breeze. He was not happy here. He was not happy anywhere! He even knew why. It was all because of one person's choice. It was all because of Marian. She had doomed him to this…and yet, she had not. She had not forced him to come back to the Holy Land. She had simply married the man he hated most, above even Sheriff Vaisey.
After several moments, Robin pushed those thoughts away – he had enough thoughts of Marian to last him for a lifetime. He hated her for what she had done. He hated Gisborne for taking her right of Robin's grasp. He hated Gisborne even more, he amended.
Much walked up the dune to stand next to Robin, sorrow plain on his face. He hated seeing Robin like this – Robin was his best friend. He had always hoped for the best for him, and this…this was not the Robin of Locksley, Captain of the King's Guard, that he had known. That, as John would have put it, he did not like
"Master…" Much started. He was rewarded by a very unhappy look from Robin, whose gaze was still full of anger and frustration. He stopped for a moment, disturbed by the look his best friend had given him.
"Yes, Much?" Robin prompted shortly, irritation plain in his voice. Whether it was meant for Much or something else entirely, the former manservant did not know.
"I do not think that John would want you to act this way right after his death," Much told him. He raised a hand to rub his forehead while he waited for Robin to respond.
"And how am I supposed to act, Much?" Robin asked. "Am I supposed to act like none of this happened? Am I supposed to act like it wasn't my fault? Am I supposed to act like John's death wasn't my fault?" he demanded. "I should be the one who bled out on the sands, not him!"
"Stop saying that!" Much snapped at him. "You keep saying things like that! It's wrong, Master!"
"Then tell me what's right, Much!" Robin shouted back. "Tell me what about what this whole thing isn't my fault! I led you back here! I brought Allan and John with us! It is my fault that John is dead!"
"Robin," a voice behind them spoke up. Both men turned to see Raymond of Durham. He was tall, but not quite as big as John had been. His short hair was a light blond and his eyes dark blue. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and he did not look amused. "Are you Captain of the Private Guard, or are you a love-struck boy denied entry to his lady's house? Act your age, man!" Raymond said. Robin set his jaw and glared at the older man.
"And to what do we owe this pleasure?" he asked sarcastically. Raymond gave him a reproachful look.
"His majesty wants to see you," Raymond informed him. "And he means now. Some news from the South, I believe." Robin shifted his weight a little, then pushed past Much and traipsed down the dune. He brushed past Raymond without a word. His fury had risen even higher with the arrival of the man he had considered his friend.
More often than not, these days, Raymond irritated him more than even Much could. Most days, though, he was equally annoyed with them. And Allan was just as bad. If he heard the man say 'I'm not being funny, but…' one more time, he was going to punch him. Again.
Robin trudged toward the king's tent in a foul mood. He let out a sigh as he stopped just before he would be visible from within. His hand went to his throat, where several chains hung from his neck. He pulled one of them from beneath his uniform and stared at the pendant for a moment. The simple silver and sapphire ring was a reminder of why he was here – one that he had worn the first time he had come to the war and one that he continued to wear. First, it had been a reminder of hope, that maybe day would come at the end of the long night. Now, it was a reminder of the pain that was why he fought. Marian had thrown that ring at his head when he had told her he was leaving. She had shouted and yelled…
And then, when he had come back, she had given him reason to believe that they could start over. She was a conniving, manipulative woman. Every time he thought of her, he hated her. He would have been better off if she had been married when he had gone back to Locksley after his near-fatal wound. It would have been better that way.
He still wore the ring around his neck because it reminded him that anyone could betray him. And because it reminded him why he was there, in the Holy Land, fighting this war. He could have stayed in the forest, lived as an outlaw…but he had not.
Just as she had said – everything was a choice. This was his choice. He had wanted to come back here, to escape the pain that walking through Sherwood caused him. It was useless. The pain had only followed him and haunted him. He even dreamed of being back in England.
After another moment, he slipped the chain back where it had been, beneath his uniform. He entered the king's tent and bowed when Richard turned toward him.
"You called for me, your majesty?" Robin asked, clasping his hands behind his back and waiting for the king to speak. There was a pause for a moment, as Richard picked up what looked like a dispatch.
"Yes. I have just received word that Jerusalem is ours," he told Robin. "We are to return home once things are sorted out. It is not expected to be more than a few weeks at the most," he continued. Robin stared at King Richard for a moment in shock.
"We are going home? To England?" he asked. Richard raised an eyebrow at his guard captain and nodded.
"That is what I said," he replied. "Send word to the commanders and have the men start getting ready. We will leave as soon as possible," Richard told him. "You may go."
Robin bowed and left the tent, his mind reeling. They were going home - whatever home they had left to go to. He knew he would be rewarded for his service to the King of England. He was the Captain of the Private Guard, after all. It wasn't a position that was handed out as a party favor. He had earned it. When Henry of Warwick had been killed in battle, Robin had been his second-in-command, having worked his way there from his position as a member of the Guard.
While his lands and the title of Earl of Huntingdon had been restored, nothing had officially been done. As far as everyone in England was concerned, Guy of Gisborne held that earldom. Of course, as far as everyone in England was concerned, Robin Hood was dead. He had just simply stopped making deliveries and he and his gang had disappeared without a trace.
In reality, Will and Djaq had gone to Scarborough and (the last Robin had heard) were living with his father and brother. Allan, John, and Much had all followed him to the Holy Land to fight after several long hours of consideration. Well, several hours for John and Allan. Much would follow him anywhere, Robin knew. Much was as devoted a friend as he could ever ask for.
The fact remained, though, that Robin Hood was dead. Robin of Locksley was not. Robin of Locksley was the Lord of Locksley Manor, Earl of Huntingdon, Hero of Acre, and Captain of the King of England's Private Guard. Robin of Locksley had things to do.
Chapter 3: To Kill the King
Robin of Locksley was not pleased. But, that was not anything new at this point. After spending weeks confined to a ship with a multitude of other people – King Richard, Much, Allan, and Raymond of Durham included – he really didn't have much alternative. It seemed to him that his choices had been down to sit it out or jump off of the ship. The latter had not been very appealing, so he had had to settle for the former. It wasn't for any reason in particular that he could think of…but he had been restless during most of the trip.
There was a part of him that did not want to go back to England. That part wanted to continue to fight in the Holy Land, even without an enemy to fight. He did not want to go back to Nottinghamshire and have to face the people he had left behind. And he most certainly did not want to have to locate Alice and Little John to tell them of John's death. That would be one of the hardest parts, but he knew he had to do it. It would be best if they knew. He had had time to mourn his friend already. Not as he would have liked, he would admit, but he had still had time.
John's death was not a constant pain anymore. Robin missed his friend, but he had stopped brooding on it. Mainly that was due to Allan and Much driving him so insane that he did not have time to think about it. He had already punched Allan half a dozen times for bothering him. That had not helped at all. It had probably been a catalyst for more irritation.
Robin stared at the water as he leaned on the railing. His expression was – yet again – a brooding frown. Every time he thought of England, he thought of Marian. And every time he thought of Marian, he wanted to curse her name to the ends of the earth. But somehow, he could not. He could only hate the thought of her. She was bound to be happy now. With Gisborne. Not him. He did not want to be forced to face her when they returned to Nottingham. But he would have to. And he would be ready for it by then. He no longer loved her, so it would not be as hard as it could have been.
Much joined him at the rail a few moments later as he watched the water flow past. The former manservant was silent for a long time before he finally spoke up.
"It is good to be going home, isn't it, Master?" Much asked. Robin did not answer for a long moment.
"Yes, Much. It is good to be going home," he said. He was half-lying, but that did not matter. Well, it did not matter to him. His stony expression did not change as he lifted his head to look at Much. "Whatever home there is left for us to go to. If the Sheriff has had his way, everyone thinks that he killed all of us and that he has won," Robin pointed out.
"But we are not dead, and we have survived the war and are coming back with the King. You have been honored once again, and you are the Captain of the Private Guard. No one can fault you for following orders, particularly after what happened, Master," Much insisted. The faintest of smiles curved Robin's lips. The expression was not exactly comforting for his friend.
"They will think that I have abandoned them, Much. After all, we did not have time to tell anyone – and my orders said not to, at that. I will not be a hero to them," Robin said. Much rolled his eyes.
"You just do not want to face Marian again, do you?" he asked. Robin glared at him.
"Do not say that name," Robin hissed at Much. Much looked at him for a moment.
"You are in a very bad mood, aren't you?" he asked. Robin continued to glare at him.
"Shut up, Much," Robin snapped. Much frowned at him for several moments.
"Are you really so intent on chasing everyone away?" Much asked him. Robin looked back at the water, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the rail again. He ignored the question in favor of staring at the water and brooding. Again. "You know, if you are not, you are doing a very good job of doing it unintentionally," Much informed him. There was a moment of silence before the very frustrated Much walked off, leaving Robin to his own thoughts again.
You should not have done that, a voice in the back of his mind told him.
Oh, shut it, he told the voice. He did not want to hear any part of him regretting anything. What had happened was over. Done with. Finished. That was it. Even so, a sigh escaped him as he looked up at the horizon. There was so much drawing near that he was going to have to face. That thought was coming to mind over and over again. He could not make it go away.
There was a sense of dread that he could not shake as he looked at the line that split the ocean and the sky. They were so close to being home. The captain had told him that they were barely out of sight of English soil only an hour ago. Now he could not decide if he was excited to be home or not, even with the constant dread that had plagued him since the voyage had started.
If there was one thing that Robin was certain of, it was that things had changed. And so had he. He would be ready for whatever it was that was waiting for him in England, he decided. He had to be.
He turned and looked for Much a moment later. The former manservant was nowhere to be found. Robin let out a sigh. This was not his day. Then again, he rarely had a truly good day anymore. That was going to change, though. He had spoken to King Richard months ago about the treasonous actions of Gisborne and the Sheriff. Better yet, he knew that during the voyage, the King had had several documents drawn up to resolve the matter.
It would all be resolved when they reached Nottingham in the days to come. Vaisey would be hanged as a traitor, and Gisborne would likely follow in his stead. What would become of the shire, Robin did not know. But anything was better than allowing it to stay under the control of the men who were in charge of it now.
Hours later found the Crusaders disembarking on English soil. For some, it was the first time in many years. Robin was loath to admit it, but if felt good to be back in England again. The only problem he had now was that Much was still angry with him. That was entirely his own fault, though, and he knew it all too well. He seemed to have developed a knack to chase his friends away in the last two years.
Robin leaned his head back to look at the fiery sunset for a moment. They would be spending a final night on the ship, then unload their supplies and travel northward in the morning. He was immensely grateful that King Richard had decided to do without the fanfare for the time being in favor of removing the traitors by surprise. It also didn't paint a target on the King's back for assassins. Robin knew that there would be many of those now that they were back in England. More than there had been in the Holy Land, he was sure.
Assassins were rarely a problem for the Guard. They took care of them with the same ease they had when fighting. Besides, if one of them died, they did it honorably – protecting their King's life. They all knew that. That was a chance they had agreed to take upon joining the King's Private Guard. They all knew that one day, it could cost them everything, even their lives. They had agreed anyway.
The summer heat was making him more than a little uncomfortable where he stood. Even as the sun was setting, the air was moist and heavy – so very different from the dry air that he had been accustomed to. Robin had forgotten what it felt like to feel the humidity on his skin since he had left England more than eighteen months ago. As he stared at the now dimming fire in the sky, he could feel a pressure building in his chest. It was an odd feeling to him now – one that he could not identify…
As the sun dawned the next morning, Robin was astride a chestnut mare and his eyes were flicking around the dawn-shadowed trees. He wore plain clothing and carried a curved Saracen blade at his belt. His recurved bow was within easy reach. His quiver rested over his shoulder, just where he liked it.
Robin's face was stony as he glared at the forest, as if it was going to move and attack the King he protected. His eyes scanned for the most minute movement. He felt like he was wound as tightly as a spring that was about to break.
"Hey, Robin, I'm not being funny, but ain't it a little too quiet out here?" Allan asked. Robin jumped, his hand flying to his sword.
"Don't do that!" Robin snapped. "You could have lost your head!" Allan looked at him.
"That ain't funny," he told the guard captain.
"Why are you always so serious?" Allan asked. "Can't even get a laugh out of you anymore," he commented.
"What is there to laugh about?" Robin replied. "Shouldn't you be trying to make someone else laugh?"
"You're a pain, Allan," Robin informed him.
"Thanks," Allan responded. "Now, I'm not being funny, but-" He never got to finish his sentence. Robin punched him before he could finish. "Ouch!"
"What did I tell you about saying that?"
"That ain't right!" Allan protested. "All I'm doin' is tryin' to make you smile for once! You don't have a sense of humor anymore!" he added before whirling and stalking away. Robin rolled his eyes. He absently scratched an itch on his neck as he put a little pressure on the mare's reins and asked her to turn to the right and walk back toward where Much, Raymond, King Richard, and five members of the Private Guard were waiting on horseback.
Robin paused there, his eyes scanning again. (One could never be too careful in England, particularly with Vaisey as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne running around.) Much was fidgeting on his horse, readjusting his seat and his feet in the stirrups every few seconds. His hands were relatively still, but only because he knew that the horse would take that as a direction if he moved his hands too much.
Several moments later, once the wagons had been completely loaded, King Richard gave the orders to move out. Robin clucked to his mare and she started forward at a smooth walk. Once the Guard was arranged around the King, Robin fell back to ride next to Much behind the group. His eyes were still scanning as they had been earlier. Much ignored him.
"Are you really so angry with me?" Robin asked quietly a few moments later. Much glanced at him.
"You do not make it easy to be your friend," Much said. Robin shrugged in acknowledgement.
"I am sorry for that. I don't mean to make it difficult," he replied. "You've been my closest friend since we were boys, Much…"
"That may be true, but you keep chasing everyone away. Why do you do that?" Much asked. Robin shrugged, falling silent for a moment.
"I do not want to be betrayed again," he said finally.
"You know that I of all people will not betray you, Master," Much reminded him.
"I know that, Much," Robin acknowledged. "You have been my truest friend through all of this." The two men fell silent after that, both of them watching their surroundings for danger.
"You still love her, don't you?" Much asked suddenly when the sun had risen above the treetops. Robin glanced at him, a deep frown on his face.
"No," he said shortly.
"No, Much. I do not love Marian anymore!" Robin snapped at him. "Now will you please stop asking me that?"
"Well, sorry!" Much replied, his tone telling Robin that he had offended his friend. Again. Silence followed once more. "Why don't you ever smile anymore?" Much asked, staring off into the distance. Robin looked at him, disbelief coloring his a expression.
"Is that all that you and Allan think about?" Robin asked him, scowling now.
"No," Much replied innocently. Robin rolled his eyes, then turned his gaze back to the greenery around him. Motion caught his eye. There was a dark shape picking its way through the trees. He could see the shape of a bow being drawn. His eyes followed the trajectory. Robin's hand instantly flew to his bow while the other pulled an arrow smoothly out of the quiver. He knocked the arrow, aimed, and loosed the arrow in a matter of seconds.
His arrow hit his target exactly as he had aimed. The would-be assassin yelped and their arrow flew high, more than a foot over King Richard's head. He drew another arrow from the quiver and sent it flying toward the assailant. It hit the young man in the leg, causing him to stumble and fall in the act of attempting to escape. Robin spurred his horse forward as the Guard sprang into action.
He asked the mare to slow as he neared his target. He swung down from the saddle before she had completely stopped and sprinted toward the young man. He caught the lad easily, slamming him into the wide tree to his right. Robin's hand rested at the youth's throat as he pressed the attacker back against the tree.
"Do you have any idea who you just tried to attack?" Robin asked coldly.
"N-no," the boy stuttered. Robin was not fooled. He could see the falsehood in the lad's eyes.
"You just tried to kill the King of England," he hissed.
"I'm sorry, sir!" Robin paused for a moment.
"You never try to shoot King Richard under my watch," he told the boy. "Never."
"Who are you?" the young man asked. Robin smiled coldly at him.
"I'm Robin of Locksley, Captain of the King's Private Guard," he replied. The only response he got for several moments was a wide-eyed stare.
"You're Robin Hood? They told us that Robin Hood was dead!" the boy said, his voice full of panic and surprise. Robin looked at him for a moment.
"Robin Hood is dead. Robin of Locksley remains," he declared. "And you are in trouble," he added. He released the young man from the hold he had had him in and pointed him toward the rest of the Guard. "No one shoots the King," Robin repeated. "No one."
No one got in the way of Robin of Locksley when it came to justice or protecting the King. It just did not happen, and he meant to keep it that way.
Chapter 4: An End to Tyranny
Days later, the land around them was the most familiar that many of them had seen yet. The Private Guard had already foiled three assassination attempts including the one that Robin had foiled himself. Robin was not pleased by this. They had taken a lot of care to make sure that the King's arrival was not something that was widely known. In fact, he had made sure that not even Prince John knew of his brother's return.
Yet, someone seemed to be trying to kill Richard repeatedly. Obviously, something had slipped and someone knew that the King was back on English soil and that someone did not want him taking control of the throne again. Richard was less than pleased himself, but there was not a whole lot that could be done other than to foil the attacks. They had no idea who had sent the assailants. How someone had found out was beyond all of them. But they knew that there were ways. There were always ways, even with Robin in charge. Or it could simply be a coincidence, which Robin doubted.
He was tired and constantly tense. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his mouth was set in a tight line. His green eyes scanned the trees again, as ever, searching for anything. It was mind-numbing. And he was getting to be so tired that he could barely think straight. Robin knew that lack of sleep was a very bad thing. The scar on his arm from the blade of a Saracen sword was proof enough of that.
When Robin had returned to the Holy Land, he had been plagued by dreams – nightmares. They had not been simply the leftovers of the previous time spent in the bloodstained land. They had been horrific, twisted, and they had scared him beyond any fear he could remember feeling as an adult. The only event comparable was when his father had died in the fire when he had been only a boy. He had known fear then. Just like he knew it now.
There was always so much blood in his nightmares. The bodies of his friends were always covered in it. It painted the walls of whatever room he was in. And there was always screaming. Always the same screaming. It was constantly her voice, snarling at him to go but begging him to stay. If there were words, they never changed. If there were not, it was nothing but mindless, torturing screaming.
At first, his biggest fear was that he had abandoned her to a life that was only filled with pain. It took him several weeks to realize that he was the one whose life was only filled with pain. She would be happy with him, Robin's most hated enemy. At times, he had woken with the fear that she needed to be rescued, but only seconds of taking in his surroundings had reminded him what she had done.
Robin could barely bring himself to think her name anymore. The fact that Much kept bringing her up did not help in the least. Robin would never admit it…but he almost missed her. He did not, though. He never would. The part of him that loved her was long dead, just as Robin Hood was dead. Robin of Locksley was not synonymous with Robin Hood. They never had been the same person, really. Robin Hood had been an outlaw who had been stripped of his lands and had to fight to help the people of Nottinghamshire. Robin Hood had been dead long before he had returned to the Holy Land.
Robin let out a faint groan as he stretched his back, taking his hands from the reins for a moment. Much glanced at him over his shoulder. There was a slight frown on the other man's face.
"You know, you would probably be able to sleep better if you actually tried to sleep," Much informed him. "Then you wouldn't be so tired." Robin groaned again, making a face. He was not in a mood to hear about that.
"I sleep fine, Much," he protested. Much gave him a look that said that he was less than amused and shook his head.
"You've been waking me and Allan up when you have been getting up in the middle of the night," Much said. Robin made another face.
"I'm fine," he said. Much just stared at him. "I am!" Silence. "Much!" The other man just continued to shake his head.
"I do not understand you anymore," he told Robin. "You are not the same…"
"I know that, Much," Robin replied. "I've been stabbed in the back, betrayed multiple times, and I am the Captain of the Private Guard now," he pointed out. Much did not respond, leaving Robin to his thoughts once again. There were times that he did not understand exactly why his friend was so adamant about the fact that he had changed. Even Allan did not make such a big commotion about it. Of course, Allan was ten times worse at this point. At least Allan had not betrayed him, though. That would be unforgivable. Robin knew that Much would never betray him, but everyone else was a different story. Much was incredibly loyal, while the only loyalty anyone else had to him was duty or a life debt.
He readjusted his seat in the saddle, vehemently wishing that they had reached their destination already. Having spent days in that very same, saddle, Robin was starting to get saddle-sore. Moreover, he was aching to practice with his sword and bow without actually having to use them in combat. Despite the fact that he had killed so many in the Holy Land and that everything about his old life was gone, part of him still hated taking a life when it was not necessary.
"Look at that," Much said in awe a few moments later. Robin leaned forward to see what Much was staring at and blew out a breath. The outline of Sherwood Forest was visible, the edge of the trees within a few minutes of hard riding. There was a faint ache in Robin's chest in seeing those familiar woods. For a time, that forest had been his home…and it brought back memories that he did not want to be thinking about. Those memories were of a time when things had maybe not been better, but when they had been different.
Now, Robin certainly was not that happy to see the outline of Sherwood at this point. The ache in his chest only made him more reluctant to return to the place that had caused him so much heartache. Yet, there were several things that he did want to do, one of them being to make sure that Vaisey was arrested and hanged for treason. The others were just going to have to wait.
The ride into Sherwood Forest was a quiet one. The only additional sounds were those of the wind and wild animals in the forest. It was better than Robin had expected. Or easier, at least. He had not expected this to be as easy as it was. Then again, even if he did not admit it, he was still numb inside.
As the rest of the ride progressed, Robin became slightly uneasy. He was restless in his saddle as thoughts assailed him and he constantly tried to push them away. Constantly being vigilant was becoming a problem. There were times that he could feel himself drifting off, both into sleep and into thoughts.
"Master?" Much piped up when he saw Robin start to nod off once more. Robin jerked his head up, blinking at the other man.
"What?" Robin asked. Much sighed.
"You look like you are about to fall over," he told Robin. Robin looked at him and shook his head, trying to get his mind working coherently again.
"I suppose that you're right about the sleep," he conceded finally. Much nodded. He had known that he had been. It had only been a matter of time until Robin admitted it. "I'll try harder tonight. Will that satisfy you?"
"No. You need to sleep," Much replied. "Though, I have little doubt that you will get at least some, considering how tired you seem to be," he added.
"I will sleep when the Sheriff is no longer in power, Much," Robin said. "And when Gisborne has paid for what he has done."
Much considered this for a moment. Part of him wondered if what Robin was referring to was the fact that Gisborne had taken everything that had been important to Robin in England – his home, his lands, and the woman he loved. He knew that the other man also meant all of the people Gisborne had killed and the cruelty he inflicted. Still, he had to wonder exactly how much Robin still cared for Marian after all that had happened. After all, he had said her name in his sleep more times than Much could count, even after she had married Gisborne.
With a sigh, Much fell silent. He did not say anything else to Robin as they continued their ride on the main road through the forest. He did note, however, that the other man seemed a little more alert than he had been not long before.
The group stopped when Nottingham came into sight. Each of the Private Guard shed anything that carried a distinguishing mark while King Richard – on Robin's earlier suggestion – removed every visible sign that he was King of England save for the rings on his hands and the circlet on his brow. A helmet was on his head, hiding the circlet, and the Guard had no intention of letting anyone close enough to recognize their King. Without the tell-tale signs, they were just another group of soldiers on their way to Nottingham to see the Sheriff about something or other.
The rest of the ride to Nottingham was quiet. No one so much as uttered a word as they drew near. The men of the Private Guard knew that they had a job to do. Most of them were contemplating the job – and battle – ahead of them. Robin, however, was more interested in planning out how they were going to overthrow Vaisey without causing too much commotion and death. Gisborne was going to be the biggest problem, though Vaisey himself would pose almost as large of a threat.
They entered Nottingham by the bridge. Robin's gaze swept over the people on their right side as they passed. There were many more of them than there had been upon his return nearly two years before. Another mark of the cruelty of the Sheriff. This had to end, even if Robin had to fix it himself. His heart ached for the people of Nottinghamshire. This was the place he had grown up – it was his home as much as any of theirs.
The guards at the gate did not try to stop them. They had probably assumed that the group was just what they seemed to be. Oh, how wrong they were. The town was practically deserted. The streets were nearly silent. There were no children playing happily, no merchants peddling their wares, nothing. Robin gritted his teeth as he saw the state of the town. He hated this injustice. Vaisey lived in the castle with servants to pamper him while the people of Nottingham were starving and did not even come out of their houses.
Robin's hands tightened on the leather reins as they neared the gate. Under his dark brown gloves, his knuckles were white. His jaw was starting to ache because of how he clenched it. His green eyes flashed with anger as he looked toward the castle. This tyranny would end. King Richard had returned and had promised that justice would be restored.
There was no resistance at the castle gate either. Robin smiled faintly to himself. There was no pleasure in his smile. His eyes were as hard as emeralds as he gazed at the stone steps that had marked the start of this journey. His path had come full circle once again.
Robin and the others dismounted. King Richard nodded to the Captain and they moved to climb the stairs. Robin gave hand signals to several of the men, who moved closer to the King.
The group was silent as they walked up the steps and toward the door. The guards by the thick wooden doors exchanged glances and moved forward to stop them. One of them put his hand on his sword.
"Business here?" he asked, raising an eyebrow so that it rose above the line of his helmet. Robin barely glanced at him.
"We have business with the Sheriff," he replied coldly. The guard flinched at the ice in Robin's voice.
"What sort of business?" the man questioned. Robin turned his head to glare at the man, his eyes glinting darkly.
"Private business. Now let us past or I will personally see to it that the Sheriff has you removed," Robin snapped. The guard flinched again, but he nodded to his counterpart all the same.
The two guards opened the doors for the Guard. They were completely unaware of the true purpose of the group. Robin could not have been any more pleased with how things were turning out. The cockroach Vaisey would finally be ground out of existence. His evil would no longer stifle the people of Nottinghamshire. For that, he was grateful.
He was aware of the soft clack of each man's boots as they walked through the halls. They passed guards here and there, but none of them hindered the Private Guard, for which Robin was just as grateful. For seconds, his mind wandered to the contingent of soldiers waiting for the King and his guard to join them once he was done in Nottingham. How they had managed to get so far north without being detected was beyond him, but he trusted Marcus to be subtle about it, particularly because he didn't need the other man getting killed.
There were two more guards outside of the Sheriff's door. Robin and the others stopped and Robin looked at them with great dislike.
"We are here to see your master, the Sheriff of Nottingham," he said. "Let us through." The guards, much like the ones before, exchanged glances.
"He said that he was not to be disturbed," one of them replied. Robin's glare was scathing.
"This is urgent business. You are relieved of your post. You may go," he told them. They glanced at each other again and did not move. Robin snapped his fingers and two of the Private Guard moved toward. They knocked the guards out with simple punches. A memory of John doing the same to him multiple times assailed Robin for a moment. There was a faint throb of guilt and grief in his chest before he pushed it away, clenching his jaw.
The guards hit the ground in a clatter of armor and chain mail. A humorless smile crept onto Robin's lips as he looked at the door. He could practically hear Much flinch behind him. More silent hand signals followed and the two members of the Guard that had knocked out the Sheriff's men a moment before pushed the door open.
Vaisey sat at his desk, not bothering to look up. He was reading something and had one hand tapping the table rhythmically. Pure hatred flared in Robin's chest at the sight of the man who had caused so much pain. His jaw tightened so much that it started to ache again. He felt a hand on his shoulder a half-second later and turned his head to see Allan standing there. He shook his head at Robin, his eyes saying more than his mouth could. Robin gave a sharp, quick nod, then cleared his throat, shifting his weight and crossing his arms over his chest.
The Sheriff of Nottingham looked up. At first his expression was outrage – he had ordered that he was not to be disturbed, after all. Then his mouth hung open for a moment before his entire face turned red.
"Hood!" he shouted, jumping to his feet. "Guards!" Robin smirked at him.
"I think you'll find that they won't be coming, Vaisey," he told the Sheriff coldly. Vaisey's lip curled as he glared at Robin.
"You're supposed to be dead!" Vaisey snapped.
"Am I?" Robin asked, his tone full of mock astonishment. "A clue: no."
The mocking quality of Robin's voice only angered Vaisey more. Robin snapped his fingers again and the Guard moved swiftly. Four of them stayed around King Richard as he entered the room, while the others closed the doors, barred them, and stood in front of them, ready to move if they had to.
"What do you want, Hood?" Vaisey demanded, anger seeping into his snarling voice with ease.
"Hood? I am not Robin Hood, my dear Sheriff," Robin replied. "Robin Hood is no more. I am Robin of Locksley once again." The sheriff glared at him.
"What is the meaning of this?" he repeated. "What do you want?"
"What I want is not your concern," Robin said. His eyes never left the sheriff as the Private Guard fanned out around them. Much and Allan were on either side of him as he ached to take out his bow and kill the man in front of him. "It is not about what I want," he added. Vaisey stared at him, his mind moving faster than his eyes as they flicked to every man in the room.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Vaisey demanded. Robin smirked at him, but said nothing. Instead, he deferred to King Richard, who watched the Sheriff of Nottingham calmly. Then he spoke.
"I, Richard, King of England…" he began. Vaisey's face turned purple this time. Richard continued to speak, listing his titles as he would in a royal proclamation or something of that sort. Richard continued, looking bored as he spoke. It was a tedious task for him, and for everyone listening. "…Declare you, Vaisey, Sheriff of Nottingham, to be a traitor, guilty of high treason. You are hereby sentenced to death."
Vaisey frowned slightly, tilting his head. "You know, I don't think that exactly fits my plans," he said. He made a move to dash for an escape but was stopped cold when a member of the Private Guard stepped into his path and he smacked into the other man. An instant later, there was a yelp of pain from the man – William of Kent – as the Sheriff drove a knife into his side. Vaisey let out a cackle and started moving again.
He was stopped, however, when an arrow flew half an inch in front of his face. He turned to give Robin a lazy glare. Robin, however, had already pulled out another arrow and had it pointed at Vaisey.
"Take another step, and I will not hesitate to shoot you," Robin told him coldly. Vaisey raised an eyebrow and took a step toward the Crusader.
"And what makes you think that you have the guts to do that this time. You refused to do so when you had the opportunity to kill me last time," the Sheriff pointed out. Robin's eye narrowed. He loosed the arrow, striking Vaisey in the arm.
"That was a warning," Robin replied. "I am not afraid to kill you, Vaisey. I do not care if your blood is on my hands. Your tyranny is at an end!"
"What makes you think that, Hood?" Vaisey asked. Robin glared at him. Much and Allan exchanged glances behind the captain.
"Because you will never leave this room again while you are alive," Robin replied. He reached for another arrow, but Vaisey threw himself at the former outlaw. Robin was knocked to the ground. There was a knife in the other man's hand. It scored the place where cloth left Robin's side unprotected. Robin ground his teeth as he and the sheriff struggled. Vaisey sunk the knife into his arm and his shoulder before Robin kicked the other man off of him.
"You are the lowest excuse for a man I have ever had the displeasure of meeting," Robin hissed, pushing himself to his feet and giving the Guard the signal to restrain the Sheriff of Nottingham. Vaisey lunged at him again from the ground, this time at his legs to knock him over again. Robin responded by kicking him in the face. There was a crack and a pained exclamation from Vaisey before two of the soldiers restrained him, knocking the blade from his hand.
Robin looked at the other man, shaking his head. He turned away. "Kill him," he ordered in a deadly soft tone. He bent to pick up his bow, wincing as his side protested. He nodded to King Richard and turned to look back at Vaisey.
"It's not over, Hood," Vaisey hissed. Then a knife slid across his throat and he slumped in the arms of his captors. He was finally dead.
Chapter 5: Haunted
Robin let out a sigh of relief when the man who had caused so much pain for the people of Nottingham was dead. That much was finally over. Robin nodded to the two men holding Vaisey's limp body.
"Dispose of that in any way you see fit, just don't make it in the sight of the general populace," he ordered. "I don't want them knowing that anything is wrong. Much, see to William," he added. "And, Allan, put the castle into lockdown. Take as many men as you need with you. No one goes in or out without my permission or King Richard's."
The four members of the Private Guard nodded their assent and moved to do as ordered. Robin stretched his side and winced. The blade had struck the old wound that had nearly killed him. Much paused, looking back at Robin.
"Are you sure, Master?" he asked. "You're hurt, too…"
"Yes, Much," Robin replied. "I'm fine for the moment. See to William. He took a knife to the side. I have a couple of scratches. See to him first. I'll see to myself once we have things settled." Much let out an exasperated sigh, shaking his head at Robin.
As Much helped William up and into the heavy wooden chair that had served as the sheriff's throne, Robin leaned against the wall, hand pressed against his side to try to dispel the pain. For just that moment, he wished that Djaq was there. That moment passed quickly, though, as he straightened and looked at the King for a moment. Richard nodded to him.
"I suppose we should get to restraining the guards and throwing them in the dungeon," Robin said. Richard nodded but did not speak. He could see the look in Robin's eyes – the look that had been ever present since the day he had returned to the battlefield.
"This is goodbye, Robin. It is time for us to both grow up and accept our lot in life."
Robin's eyes slid half-closed as images assaulted him. A charred mask, the soft orange color that smelled faintly of soap and a slightly floral fragrance, burning blue…
"You said grow up and I'm growing up."
A hand on his shoulder jerked Robin out of the waking dream. He looked over to see Raymond standing there, concern on his face.
"You know, Robin, you really should not lie about your wounds," the older man told him. Robin shook his head.
"No. Allan is putting the castle into lockdown and will be putting the guards in the dungeon for the time being. You need to rest," Raymond told him. "And get those wounds cleaned. You don't want another incident like last time when the stitching became infected," he pointed out. Robin sighed.
"Alright," he agreed. "I will rest. I suppose that means that you are in charge, Raymond."
"Oh, really? That's an honor," Raymond replied, shaking his head. Robin had not once allowed anyone else to lead the guard save for when he was completely incapacitated. This was a change. Robin rolled his eyes at the other man, pushing himself away from the wall.
"Just don't do anything stupid," Robin said. "I do not want to have to fix your mistakes when I get up." Raymond shook his head as he watched Robin disappear. He could not tell by Robin's tone if the younger man had been joking or not. But then, one could never tell these days. That was how Robin of Locksley operated now – with very little sense of humor, and when he did show it, it was nearly impossible to tell that he was doing so.
Robin wandered through the open hallways for a little while, fully aware of the throbbing wounds on his body. He walked back down to his horse, noting that Allan had already replaced the guards by the portcullis with members of the Private Guard.
Once he had retrieved his saddlebags and the limited number of his possessions that they held, he continued to wander for a little while longer. Eventually, he ran across the steward of the castle, who directed him to a room that he could claim as his own while he was there. Somehow, Robin was shocked at how the man acted – seeming to be practically Vaisey's polar opposite – compared to most of the people that had served under the former sheriff.
Once he reached the room, he lowered the saddlebags onto the desk and let out a tired sigh. He removed the clothing impeding his view of his wounds a few moments later, examining the cut in his side and the two wounds on his arm. They were not the worst he had ever suffered. By far, they were only tiny nicks in comparison to the scar that had resulted from Gisborne's blade when the traitor had stabbed him.
As he touched the wound in his arm, there was a knock on the door. Robin was silent, only wincing when the cut throbbed under his fingers. The knock was repeated. He ignored it again.
"Master, I know you are in there. Do not ignore me!" Much said from the other side of the door. Robin sighed.
"Fine. Enter, then," he replied. Much twisted the knob and pushed the door open. In his arms, he carried an assortment of things, including bandages. "I thought I told you to see to William," Robin added, turning to look at Much for a moment.
"I have. His wound is not nearly as severe as it could have been," Much told him. "You were also injured, and we do not have Djaq to fix you if you get yourself into trouble again."
"No. I am not going to ignore your injuries," the former manservant replied. "You know what will happen if you do that. Do you want them to become infected?" he demanded of Robin. With a sigh, the Crusader shook his head.
"No, I do not," he said. "See to them if you must."
It was not a long process for Much to clean the three wounds. The one in his side was a short, thin, and very shallow cut that would heal on its own as long as he kept it clean. The other two had to have stitching. That irritated Robin, but he knew that it was for the better. He winced a few times as Much worked, but did not complain. It was better than having the physician who had been with them in the Holy Land doing it. That man had been very rough when he had been sewing wounds shut, and it was more often than not that they became infected for some reason or another.
"Now," Much said when he was done. "You need to sleep."
"I do not have time for that, Much," Robin replied. "I have things to do. I do not like leaving the guard under Raymond…"
"No, you are going to sleep. I mean it. If you do not, you will collapse and then you will get stuck in bed and everything will only go downhill," Much told him. "You need to sleep or you will not be able to protect King Richard as you should," he added. Robin let out another sigh.
"Fine. I will sleep. Wake me if there is any trouble," he said. Much nodded. The other man went to gather up everything that had come with him. "Much?"
"Does it strike you as odd that Gisborne was not here?" Robin asked. Much turned to look at him, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"It does," he admitted. "But perhaps he was sent to London or something of that sort. I would not worry about it right now if I were you."
"If you were me, this would not have happened," Robin replied. Much gave him a look.
"Sleep. Or I will have someone knock you out," he told Robin. Robin shook his head in exasperation, but Much ignored him and left without another word.
Once Robin slipped under the blankets on the small bed in this temporary room of his, it was a long time before he fell asleep. His mind was whirring in multiple directions, as usual. He rarely slept well anymore. Constant nightmares filled his head when he was asleep, every changing and always tormenting. They were never the same, but they never left him alone.
He was in the cave again – the one that they had used as a hideout nearly two years before when it was raining. Robin could feel the heat of the torch that was only two feet away from him easily. The light scattered, illuminating crevices and creating shadows in the rock. The light seemed to pool in a single place – the rock slab that had held the body of the woman he loved – had loved – when she was dying. It was empty now, but her things were still there: her sword, the mask, the cape. There was dried blood on the slab and an empty wineskin lay where it had fallen, covered in dust.
Everything was covered in dust. It was as if all of this had lain untouched since it had been abandoned not long after she had married that man. Robin moved forward, his throat tight. In many ways, he wished that this was how it had ended. An empty cave and only mementos of the months before.
"She is dead," a voice said behind him. Robin whirled to see the treacherous physician, Pitts, standing there. The arrow that had killed him still sprouted from his back. "Your friend is dead," he repeated. Even then, Robin's throat tightened again with the fear and grief that had overwhelmed him once before.
"Oh, grow up," another voice said. He half-turned to see her standing there. She was dressed in the golden gown she had worn to her wedding, her veil tossed backwards. It seemed as though beauty incarnate stood before him in many ways. Part of him – the part that he wanted so desperately to destroy – wanted to reach out and touch her soft chestnut curls and run a finger over her ivory cheek.
"You were never good enough," she continued. Anger flared in his chest. "He has qualities," she added, smirking knowingly at him. Her eyes were like ice as he looked into them. Cold, hard, and full of absolute hatred. "You left, when you could have had me. It is only fitting that you lost in the cruel game you played."
Robin was silent. He wanted to scream at her, shout that he hated her, that he was glad that he had left her, but he could not. He did not understand why, but something, somewhere deep inside him, would not let him. Anger and hatred coursed through his veins, willing him to do something. To slap her, to remind her that her game had been just as cruel.
"It is time for us to both grow up and accept our lot in life," she told him, echoing her statement of years before. His own words seemed to be on the tip of his tongue, but he refused to utter them. It would only give the phantasm pleasure in provoking him.
Suddenly, the cave disappeared, and all but the golden-clad specter with it. His gang stood before him. Djaq, with her short hair and unfeminine clothing and manner. Will, his arm around her waist, axe in one hand and disappointment on his face. Allan, standing as far away from Djaq and Will as space would permit, disgust clear on his features. John, his staff in hand and crimson staining the leather of his coat. Much, looking away from everyone, unease written in every line of his body and unhappiness plain on his face.
With slow, indistinct movements, the beautiful apparition walked toward them, taking glorious pleasure in the way the gang stood motionless in front of her and Robin. Finally, she stopped in front of John, looking up at him.
"You betrayed him," she told Robin. "You let him die. You deserved neither his friendship nor his loyalty. He died for no reason, and you, Robin Hood, could have saved him. If only you had cared more about him…" She put a hand on John's bearded cheek, staring into his eyes. When she removed her hand, he vanished. She gazed at Robin with sadistic glee in her own eyes and on her face.
Next, she moved to Djaq and Will, studying them without interest. She touched Djaq's cheek with a finger, then gaze up at Will, tilting her head a little. The images of the two seemed to fade a little, becoming slightly translucent.
"You abandoned them. Even more so than you did John. They trusted you to lead them in the right direction and show them what to do. They wanted to fight the Sheriff even after you had given up. But they loved each other more. That is why they did not go with you. Djaq could not fight her own people, and Will would never betray her like that. Like you did. They trusted you, Robin. Whatever became of them, do not dare to think that they are happy with the way you caused everything to turn out. They may be happy with each other, but they cannot fight injustice in England without Robin Hood. They loved you when you were that man. Do not even venture to think that they will love you now," the ghostly woman told him. Robin flinched, as if her words had physically struck him. In an instant, the images of Will and Djaq disintegrated, turning to dust before his eyes.
Only Allan and Much remained. Neither of the images looked at Robin, but he knew that what the specter said next was true. There was no way to deny it.
"And so you have chased them away. You have but two loyal friends left," she told him. She walked from Allan to Much, then to Robin himself. She laid a hand on his shoulder and he flinched away, as if her touch burned.
"You have done this all to yourself. You could have had everything. Me, your home, your friends, everything. But you spent it without care. Now you are left a broken man, without the woman you love, without Locksley Manor, without your friends… You have abandoned them, and they have abandoned you. Allan and Much are unlikely to put up with you for much longer…"
Robin did not answer her, gritting his teeth instead. An ache resonated from his chest, the biggest reminder of all that he had suffered in the past two years.
Without warning, the phantom was in front of him, her hands on his shoulders. She was just as beautiful as she had been when he had last seen her in life. Her blue eyes were just as cold as they had been before, and her every feature more perfect than he ever could have imagined them.
She leaned up and kissed him softly. For a moment, a sensation of pleasure coursed through him. The next instant, it was like poison. He pushed her away in disgust. Her cold eyes watched him in silence. Finally, she turned and moved away. The apparition paused, reaching out to touch the images of Allan and Much, and they vanished.
"You're going to lose them. One day at a time, they will stop being your friends," she told him. "No matter what you do. They'll die, like John, or they will leave because you chased them away. That is what you always do, Robin. You have destined yourself to be alone," she said, shaking her head. Her expression was mocking as she walked on.
As she walked, the dark figure of another specter materialized. Clad in black leather, the image of Guy of Gisborne appeared in Robin's line of sight. Hatred welled up in his chest, followed by the dark urge to plunge a sword through the apparition's belly. He stayed rooted to the spot, no matter how hard he tried to throw himself at the ghost of the man he hated more than anything in the world.
Even as Robin watched, the ghostly image of Gisborne wrapped his arm around the phantom woman who walked by him. She smiled up at him, bright and happy.
"You lose, Hood," Gisborne said. Robin growled deep in his chest as he watched. Then they disappeared.
Robin was catapulted into a different dream within seconds. A tumult of images assailed him. He could barely tell one from another, but there was one thing that penetrated the haze. Pain. Agonizing, horrible, never ending pain. Screaming reached his ears, but he could never tell where they were coming from.
Suddenly, weight seemed to press on his chest. He couldn't breathe-
Then he woke, gasping for breath. The first thing he noticed was Much standing over him, concern in his expression. The second was that he was covered in sweat and nearly as tired as he had been when he had fallen asleep. He had hoped that he would be able to sleep, even for a short time.
"Are you all right, Master?" Much asked. Robin looked at him for a moment, his chest still heaving. Then he swallowed and nodded.
"Yes, Much. I'm fine," he said.
"James heard you screaming as he walked by," the other man replied. "I thought I should wake you before it escalated. We've found something that you might be interested in," Much added. Robin frowned slightly, but nodded again as he pushed himself into a sitting position.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It seems that the sheriff was going to have a banquet, in honor of something or other. Gisborne and Marian are on the guest list. The banquet is tonight."
Chapter 6: A Banquet to Prepare
"What? There's a banquet tonight?" Robin asked. Much nodded, proffering a piece of parchment with Vaisey's handwriting on it.
"This is the guest list we found on his desk," the other man told him. "Marian and Gisborne are coming, it seems." Robin took the parchment, his eyes running down the list of names. At the top of the list were the two names he did not want to see. The one that was absent, though, bothered him more than a little.
"Much, do you know why Sir Edward of Knighton is not on this list?" he asked. Much shrugged.
"I do not know. I did not have a chance to ask around before I came to wake you," he told Robin. "Perhaps Sir Edward declined the invitation…" Robin shook his head, still looking at the list.
"No one declined an invitation from the Sheriff," he pointed out. "Something must have happened to him." Much shrugged again, taking the paper from Robin.
"Try to sleep again," he said. "You won't be of any use to King Richard if you do not sleep." Robin was silent as he gave much a look.
"And you are a pain, just like Allan," he replied.
"I am not," Much snapped. "Allan is an even bigger pain than I am. I make sure that you take care of yourself so that you do not get yourself killed. He is just a pain." Robin snorted, shaking his head.
"That is true. Allan is 'just a pain,'" he agreed. "But he's a loyal pain, and a loyal friend," Robin added, brushing hair out of his face. Much glanced back at him, then nodded.
"Sleep. Or try to, at the very least." Robin let out a sigh, making another face at Much.
"Fine," he replied grudgingly. Much nodded and walked out of the room, parchment in hand, and closed the door behind him.
Robin lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling for a long time. He cleared his mind several times in an attempt to sleep, but he did not succumb to unconsciousness again until the sun had begun to sink in the sky. When he did, he fell into a blessedly dreamless sleep. It was the first time in weeks that he had gotten any truly restful sleep whatsoever.
It seemed like much too soon when there was a knock on his door that woke him. Letting out a groan, Robin pushed himself up, brushing hair out of his face and trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. He pulled his boots on and walked over to the door, opening it a crack. One of the men of the Private Guard stood there, his face expressionless.
"What is it?" Robin asked.
"His Majesty has called for your presence in the Great Hall, sir," the man said.
"Tell him I'll be there momentarily," Robin responded, moving to close the door. The other man moved his foot into the door, so that he could not. Robin turned a scathing glare on him.
"He said immediately, sir."
"Tell him I will be there momentarily," Robin repeated. "I have just woken up, and I must dress," he continued. The man nodded and disappeared down the hall noisily. Robin shook his head as he closed the door.
He rapidly changed into the spare set of clothes from his bag. He paused by the mirror in the room as he buckled his sword belt on and made sure a dagger was also within easy reach on his belt. He glanced in the mirror and sighed, running a hand through his hair to at least make it look presentable, rather than sticking up in multiple directions as it was.
A moment later, he let himself out of the room, moving through the corridor. The sun was painting the horizon with reds and oranges. He had obviously slept for several hours. That was good. Well, somewhat. Robin was not entirely happy about the dream that was still fresh in his mind. The specter's image seemed to appear whenever he closed his eyes. He had never had a dream like that before. They had all been strange, torturing, haunting, but not like that. Never like that.
He pushed open the door to the Great Hall and glanced down from the balcony. King Richard was seated in the sheriff's old chair at the table. The heavy wooden seat almost seemed throne-like with the King of England sitting in it. Robin nodded to the two men who stood at the top of the stairs and slipped past, walking down the stairs. Once he had reached the bottom of the stairwell, he moved over to the table and bowed to King Richard.
"You called for me, your majesty?"
"Yes. Much spoke of a banquet that was to be held here tonight," Richard said, looking up from the parchment he had been studying. Robin nodded.
"He told me earlier," he replied. "What does your majesty command?" he inquired. The king was silent for a moment, studying Robin.
"It should go on," he said finally. "As if nothing had happened. You can catch your traitor, and we can be on our way."
"Your majesty wishes to catch Gisborne just like that?" Robin asked. Confusion showed very slightly in his expression.
"Yes. He will hang as soon as he is found guilty. We will move on to London as soon as possible and the new Sheriff of Nottingham will be appointed, either before or after we leave. It has not yet been decided." Robin nodded once again, thoughts whirling wildly.
"As your majesty commands," he replied, inclining his head to King Richard. "Have the plans been made already?" he asked. The monarch nodded, pushing a paper toward Robin.
"Your friends have already gone to some lengths to attempt to plan it for you. Much said that you would like to have a look at it, and that you would probably change it somewhat," Richard told him. "It is fairly well done, but he is correct in saying that it does not have your touch to it." Without hesitation, Robin reached out and picked up the parchment, looking at it as he had the list of guests earlier. He frowned slightly as he read it. Dropping all of the formality that had been in place – mainly for the sake of appearances – Robin spoke.
"You want to dress up as a messenger and announce Gisborne's guilt and strip him of lands and titles yourself?" he asked, his eyebrows rising as he met the King's gaze. Richard nodded.
"I do," Richard replied. "I am not without protection, Robin. You will be there, as will the rest of the Guard. It is perfectly safe."
"I do not think that this is a good idea," Robin replied. "Gisborne cannot be trusted like that. He has killed more times than I can count. You would be putting yourself in unnecessary danger."
"That may be, Robin, but how else do you suggest we remove the man?" Richard asked.
"I have a plan!" Robin said. Richard just looked at him. "Half a plan," he corrected. Richard continued to look at him until Robin groaned. "All right, I don't have a plan," he admitted. "But I'll think of something…"
"No. We do it this way. I trust you with my life, Robin. You know that," Richard reminded him. Robin pursed his lips.
"That is true, but I do not trust Gisborne to play fair," Robin replied. The King shrugged.
"So be it. The point remains. We will be up on the balcony. Unless he has a bow or something of the sort, he will not be able to do much of anything, Robin. He will not be able to get past you and the rest of the Guard," he said. Robin was far from pleased. He looked away, turning his head toward the wall, a dark frown deepening the lines on his face. In that moment, Richard appeared to be the younger of the two, despite that the English King was more than a decade Robin's senior. The last year and a half had not been kind to Robin of Locksley. Constant scowls had drawn premature lines in his face.
Robin looked back at King Richard, shaking his head. The King had been in danger constantly in the Holy Land. It had been both of his own making and of their enemy's. Once, Richard had even ventured out to meet one of Saladin's emissaries without even one guard. Had Robin not gone after him, England would be under the rule of King John rather than Richard the Lionheart.
"I do not think that this is a good idea," Robin told the King. Richard nodded.
"Your opinion has been voiced. Thank you, Robin, but my mind is made up. I want this traitor gone so that I may begin weeding out the traitors in the rest of my court. You are a faithful servant, and I am glad of it. I owe you my life, and England owes you even more. But we will do this as it has been planned unless you can come up with a better plan before sundown," he replied. Robin sighed.
"As you wish," he said. There was nothing but respect in his voice when he spoke, but Richard knew that he was upset. Robin had always taken the monarch's safety very seriously and had nearly died on multiple occasions to ensure it. The young nobleman had the scars to prove it. He watched as Robin turned to go.
"Robin." The other man turned back to look at Richard. "Do not take this so personally," Richard told him. "Think of it this way – you will have your chance to exact your revenge on Gisborne. You can strip him of all that he took from you," he pointed out. Robin nodded. His face was completely emotionless, but his eyes seemed to look as hard as emeralds.
"Of course, sire," Robin replied. He blew out a breath. "I am not pleased that you are putting yourself in danger, particularly considering that it is my duty to protect you, but I will do as you wish," he said. Richard smiled faintly, nodding to Robin.
"Thank you, Robin. You may go. Prepare for the banquet as you see proper," Richard told him. Robin bowed and turned away.
He walked up the stairs to the Great Hall and went looking for Much and Allan. He found them standing in the corridor not too far away, speaking quietly. They paused when Robin walked over to him. Much looked slightly concerned when Robin did not say anything for a moment.
"The king tells me that you two devised a plan," he said finally. Allan and Much exchanged glances, then Allan nodded.
"Yeah, we did," he said. Robin raised his eyebrows. "What of it?" Allan asked. Robin looked at him for a moment, a frown appearing on his face. The hostility in Allan's voice bothered him.
"I was going to say that it wasn't bad, Allan," Robin snapped. "I don't approve of you deciding to use the King as bait, though."
"That wasn't our idea," Much said, cutting Allan off before he said something else. "That was King Richard's idea, Master." Robin nodded.
"I don't doubt that," he replied. "It is a good plan, even if the king will be put in danger." Allan's eyebrows rose.
"I'm not being funny, but you're being unusually nice," he said. Robin gave him an annoyed look.
"What did I tell you about saying that?" he asked Allan. The other man rolled his eyes.
"That you'll punch me if I do it again. I know."
"Exactly. Do it again, and I will make good on that promise yet again," Robin told him. Allan made a face.
"You should be a little nicer," he said. "We've risked our lives for you, both here and in the Holy Land. If it wasn't for me an' Much, you'd have died at least a dozen times over," Allan pointed out. Robin just looked at him.
"Things are changing, Allan," he replied. "Get used to it. The sheriff is dead and there will be a new one once King Richard has appointed someone he can trust. I have done what I've had to do to survive."
"You're Robin Hood," Allan said. "You don't just survive, you help people. That's what we spent months doing." Robin shook his head.
"I am not Robin Hood, Allan. Robin Hood died long before we went to the Holy Land. I am not that man, and I do not intend to be so again," he told the other man. Allan stared at him, a frown on his face. Robin glanced at Much, then back at Allan. "I am going to get ready. I expect you two to meet me, Raymond and James at the King's quarters when people start arriving," Robin added. Much nodded. Allan pressed his lips together, but did the same, despite the unhappy look on his face.
Robin returned to his room, determined to follow through with this plan without letting anything happen to King Richard. If something did, it was the death of England as he had known it. He was not going to have that.
As he moved around the room, he took stock of the injuries he had suffered earlier that day. His arm was sore and the stitching pulled at the skin around the wound. Still, he could almost move it freely. If the stitches broke because he used his bow, that was that. Much could get on him later – like he knew Much was going to do.
Next he moved over to his things, opening the saddlebags and rifling through them. He found the things he was looking for by the time he reached the bottom. Four sheathed blades lay on his bed when he was done. He put a pair in his boots, then unbuckled his sword belt and slid another pair onto it, pushing one to rest next to his curved weapon. Then he slid his quiver of arrows into place and picked up his bow.
He glanced out the window and paused. Twilight was upon them, and there were people in the courtyard, filtering into the castle, clad in bright colors and chattering away idly.
Robin turned away from the window, moving toward the door to his room. This was not going to be easy. That was plain enough from prior experience alone. If Gisborne showed his face and had his way, it would indeed be very difficult. And then if she was there, she was bound to make a fuss about Gisborne being arrested or something of the sort.
He closed the door behind him, then turned, nearly running into Much. Robin stopped and took a step back so that he avoided knocking one or both of them to the ground.
"What are you doing here, Much?" he asked. Much pursed his lips for a moment, then sighed in a dramatic sort of way.
"I was worried about you, and Allan is being annoying," Much told him. "I was going to see if you needed any help…" Robin shook his head, the very hint of a smile playing on the curve of his lips.
"No, Much. I am as ready as I will be. Have you seen Raymond and James?"
"Yes. They are by the King's room, as planned," Much replied. Robin nodded again.
"Good. Then we need to get there. Is King Richard in his rooms?" Robin inquired. There was a pause, then Much nodded. Robin's expression shifted to the nearly constant frown and he raised an eyebrow as he looked at his old friend. "Is there something you want to tell me, Much?"
"No. I just don't like it when those of us who are left fight like you and Allan do," Much said. Robin let out a sigh and looked away for a moment.
"We can take care of the bad blood between me and Allan after the King is safe and ruling England. That is all that is important now," he stated. Much nodded. "Is there anything else I might need to know?" Robin asked. Much paused, then shook his head.
"Erm, no. It's just that Allan is in a very bad mood and has been going on and on about the ways that you've changed since we were last here," he told Robin.
"He has been upset with me since we got back," he said, more to himself than to Much. He shrugged, then looked back at his friend. "I didn't ask the steward about setting up a room for King Richard. Has he done that?" he asked. Much nodded. "I take it that you know where it is?" Much nodded again.
"Of course. It's the guest room that the sheriff used to use for his important guests, like the prince who came here around the time you rescued Harold in Locksley," he replied. Robin nodded and started off, Much trailing behind him.
Robin was lost in thought most of the way there. He was vigilant, but only just. And that much was mainly out of habit, because he had to be. That little, niggling part of him couldn't help but wonder…would she be there? He wanted to silence that part of himself many times over. It would not leave him alone. The thoughts – even her name caused pain – and the dreams…
Robin shook his head, jerking himself out of those thoughts. They would not do him any good here. Even so, it made his heart pound and a feeling of dread settle over him. He did not like it, not at all.
When he and Much approached the King's room, Raymond, Allan, and James were already waiting outside. Each of the three men had a sword at their belt. Allan had a bow peeking out from under the cloak he wore. He did not look at Robin as the other two made motions of silent greeting to their commander. Robin paid little attention, instead watching the surroundings as he usually seemed to.
They stood there, waiting for King Richard, for another half-hour. From there, they could see the guests filtering in. Robin could have sworn that he had seen a flash of a soft red-orange at one point, but he shook it off (or tried to), muttering to himself under his breath.
When Richard joined them, he was dressed as a royal messenger, right down to the crest of the royal family on the scroll of parchment he held. In the flickering torchlight, the King was unrecognizable. Robin and the others bowed to their ruler as protocol dictated. Richard inclined his head in acknowledgement.
Then they waited once more. It was not until every guest had entered the Great Hall and Aaron, one of the younger members of the Private Guard, came out of the hall that they moved. Aaron nodded to his fellow soldiers and bowed to the king, though he made no move to kiss Richard's ring.
"Some of the guests are asking where the sheriff is, sire," the young man said. "Sir Guy of Gisborne has ordered me to find the sheriff and remind him that he has guests to attend to," he continued, glancing at Robin. Robin half-turned toward King Richard, who did not react.
"We will take care of that as soon as His Majesty is ready to do so," he told Aaron. "Much, go get Carter and tell him that he needs to be as close to Gisborne as he can without being conspicuous," Robin added. Much nodded and disappeared down the hall. Several moments passed before he returned, panting slightly.
"He said that he would be in place immediately," the former manservant told him. Robin turned again to look at King Richard, who inclined his head very slightly – a silent agreement that it was time. Robin raised his right hand and signaled to the small group as well as the members of the Private Guard that were within sight of their captain.
Silence held as they moved swiftly down the hall. Robin steeled himself for the coming confrontation. He would be ready. He had to be.
Chapter 7: Traitor in the Midst
The halls themselves were nearly silent but for the soft footfalls of the five men heading toward the Nottingham Castle's Great Hall. The chatter of more than two dozen nobles from the shire wafted toward them in the soft breeze that floated through the open hallways.
Robin's lips were pressed into a thin line as they moved forward. This was not something he wanted to do. Not only did this plan put King Richard in danger, but it forced him to face everything he did not wish to. He could already feel the searing gaze that he knew could make his knees weak and shatter his resolve. He could already see the shade of azure that had nearly been his undoing before.
And for once in his life, Robin of Locksley dreaded seeing her. He could not even bear to think her name anymore. She was a poison to his mind, a terror in his thoughts. She haunted him in his sleep, and torturing him in the waking dream that was his life now. She had broken him, and he would not admit it.
Light from the Great Hall assaulted them before they got there. Robin's eyes flicked to the corners, looking for a shadow to stand in. Much and Allan had cloaks on already, with the cowls up. Robin, on the other hand, was dressed in only the clothing he had been wearing since he had risen that afternoon. Pausing for the barest fraction of a second, Raymond shed his cloak and handed it to Robin. Robin gave him a grateful look, setting his bow down before taking the cloak and pulling it over his shoulders. He slipped a few arrows out of the quiver, then clasped the cloak and pulled up the hood. He picked up his bow and knocked one of the arrows, flexing the bow ever so slightly.
His hand tightened on the smooth wood, turning his knuckles almost white before he loosened his hand to readjust his grip. The stress was getting to him. Much glanced worriedly at him, but Robin shook his head slightly. Now was not the time for that.
King Richard glanced over his shoulder at Robin before they entered the Great Hall. Robin nodded, pulling the bowstring and arrow back just slightly, ready to bring the bow up and aim the instant he had to.
The seemingly mindless chatter continued as Richard stepped into the light on the balcony and moved to the right, Much and Allan falling back slightly. Raymond was at his side, but Robin had a clear shot at any person or place in the room if he stepped forward. Instead, he hung back in the shadows, green eyes traveling over the group of people.
The treacherous flash of color was present, but it was – thankfully – not the woman he had been dreading, he saw. It was another young noblewoman, but she had blond waves hanging down her back rather than russet curls. But then his breath caught in his throat.
It was not the telltale orange. It was a soft blue, complimented by silver ornamentations that flashed in the dim light.
Robin felt like he had been kicked in the gut. Over, and over, and over again. Every bit of air seemed to leave his lungs in that moment. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't feel. He couldn't feel anything. Not the soft breeze in the hallway. Not the cold stone at his back. Not the bow in his hand.
The arrow that he had held clattered to the floor, barely noticeable in the noise from the hall below. His bow slipped from his hand seconds later. Barely more than a minute later, a blow with enough force to snap his head to the side collided with his face. Robin looked up at Raymond, who stood over him, anger written on every inch of the older man's face. Robin's own expression held confusion and pain – utter agony, in fact. Raymond did not even flinch when his friend turned his tortured gaze on him.
"Snap out of it, man," Raymond hissed. "This is not about the girl. You are stronger than that! I know you are. Don't you dare let that girl be the cause of King Richard's death! All that we have worked for will be ruined. England will be doomed. You can wallow later, Robin. Don't do this now! You are not the Robin I know if you let this pain cripple you and crumble all that you have become. You are stronger than this, Robin! Snap out of it!"
Raymond raised his hand to strike Robin again if he had to. A long moment passed before Robin's hand clenched and his expression changed. The pain and confusion disappeared behind fierce determination as he reached to grip his bow again. He bent to retrieve the arrow, straightening as he fitted it back into place. He looked at Raymond and nodded to him.
"Thank you," he said quietly. Raymond nodded to him, a faint smile touching his lips.
"You are my friend, Robin. I would do anything for you, as would Much or Allan," Raymond replied, turning back to the banquet below. Robin took a step forward, not quite out of the shadows. His face was as hard as stone, his emerald eyes mirroring it. If there was one thing that Raymond had been right about, it was this. It had to be this. He could not let what was shredding him on the inside be the cause of the death of England's only hope.
He pulled the bowstring back as Richard unfurled the scroll. He leaned on the railing, raising a hand to get the attention of the nobles in the room. They quieted after a moment, looking unknowingly at the King of England – their lord and master.
"Sheriff Vaisey will not be joining you tonight," Richard said. "He has been…detained." Guy of Gisborne was among the first to jump to their feet. Carter tensed a few feet behind him as the cacophony of voices erupted from the gathered nobles. Gisborne made several sharp motions, stilling the uproar. Marian was paler than usual in her seat next to him, her crystal blue eyes wide as she glanced between her husband and the disguised monarch.
"What do you mean 'he has been detained?'" he demanded. Richard inclined his head ever so slightly.
"I mean that he will not be attending tonight," Richard repeated.
"What happened?" Gisborne snarled. "Where is he?"
Richard calmly held up the loose scroll and began reading it as if he actually was the messenger rather than the author of the message. It was treason charges against Vaisey, and call for his immediate death under the orders of King Richard.
"Does that answer your question, Sir Guy?" Richard asked politely. Guy glared at him, fury clear on his face.
"Why did King Richard order this?" Guy demanded. Richard shrugged.
"I don't know. Maybe he was a traitor?" he suggested. Gisborne was turning red now.
"He was trying to make England a better place!" he declared. "The King had no right to kill him for that."
"Oh, contraire, Sir Guy," Richard corrected. "He is the King of England – your rightful sovereign. He has the right to do whatever he wishes to," the King pointed out. "Which reminds me: I was not finished when you interrupted, Sir Guy."
Richard raised the scroll again. He began the same way he had before, but this time, it was Guy, not Vaisey, who was being sentenced. A faint sense of relief was spreading through Robin as everyone stared at the disguised monarch. No one moved.
"…Sir Guy of Gisborne is hereby stripped of the titles of Lord of Locksley and Earl of Huntingdon and all lands associated with these and every title he carries. I, Richard, King of England, declare Guy to be a traitor, and sentence him to hang accordingly," Richard finished. It was not the usual manner of royal proclamation, but it was valid, with his own signature and seal at the bottom. It was somewhat fitting, in a way.
There was complete silence for several moments. Then Gisborne let out a savage growl, tearing a curved dagger from his belt.
"Liar!" he shouted. Then he flung the blade toward the King. Robin reacted instantly. He stepped out of the shadows, the hood still hiding his face from view. He loosed the arrow. And missed. His wounded arm protested vehemently with every movement, and that of drawing and releasing his bow was even worse.
He knocked another arrow as fast as he could, pausing for only a half-second to aim before he loosed it. The tip of the arrow hit the knife, knocking it off of its trajectory. A feeling of immense relief washed through him. Robin took another step forward, knocking another arrow as he moved. There was a gasp when people saw the cloaked figure on the balcony by the 'messenger.'
Gisborne reached for another hidden knife as Robin watched. He shot the arrow, trying to ignore the flares of protest from his arm. Gisborne yelped in pain when Robin's arrow hit its mark and penetrated his hand. Robin smirked in the shadows of the hood. This was not how he had imagined bringing down Gisborne, but it was almost as good.
It was almost as good; except for the numbness that seemed to spread through his whole body with every breath. Numb was better than feeling at that moment. Robin was grateful for that much. It was better that he feel nothing at all than it was for him to suffocate under the weight of all that coursed through him.
Gisborne glared up at Robin and Richard, clutching his hand awkwardly to his chest. His wife's eyes were wide as she stared at the mysterious figure and the messenger. Her hands clutched the arms of the chair she sat in, her hands white with the pressure she was putting on them.
"What is to happen to Locksley, then?" she asked. Her voice made Robin's heart pang as he stood there. King Richard's expression did not change as he looked at the dark-haired beauty with utter indifference.
"It has been returned to its rightful lord," he replied. Marian frowned. "Robin of Locksley has been granted his lands and titles once more," Richard elaborated. "And he has been cleared of all of the charges leveled against him by Prince John and Sheriff Vaisey."
"How can that be?" she asked, confusion written on his porcelain face. "Robin Hood is dead…"
"Robin Hood is dead," Robin agreed, raising his voice for the first time. "But Robin of Locksley is not." A collective gasp floated up from the nobles below. Robin pulled back his hood, letting it pool around his shoulders. He made a swift motion, flinging the cloak over his shoulder, and reached for the quiver over his shoulder. He knocked it in the bow and drew the string back in a practiced movement. He aimed at Gisborne's chest.
"You lied to us?" Marian asked, her blue eyes wide as she stared at Robin.
"I never lied. I followed orders," Robin snapped. His gaze never left Gisborne as he spoke.
"Orders?" she questioned. Her mouth was set tightly as she looked at him.
"It is none of your business, Lady Gisborne," he told her. "Now, I ask you to be silent. This is not a woman's business." Marian stared at him, her mouth falling open. Shock pervaded her features. Robin ignored her.
There was complete silence in the Great Hall. Nearly everyone was staring at the Captain of King Richard's Private Guard. Those who weren't were either servants who had known of Robin's presence or the men who served under him in the Guard.
"Carter, take Gisborne to the dungeon," Robin ordered.
"Yes, sir," Carter replied, nodding to Robin as he moved. He signaled to two of the other men who were close to him. They deprived Gisborne of his sword and the other weaponry they found when they searched him, then led him to the dungeon, forcing him to move when he resisted.
Robin let the tension on his bow ease, then removed the arrow. He did not put it back in the quiver, however, just in case. He inclined his head to Richard, who smiled faintly in acknowledgement.
"Your plan worked, Your Majesty," Robin said. "I was wrong to doubt that it would." Richard shook his head.
"Your concerns were valid, Robin. This was a risk. If you had missed that knife, I would likely be dead. England owes you her thanks, and I owe you my life," the King said.
"It is my job to keep you safe," Robin reminded him. "This is where I am at my best – in my service to the King of England."
"And yet, I do not think that you realize how adverse an effect this has had on you," Richard replied. "Perhaps you should rest," he suggested. Robin shook his head.
"I will find no rest when my king is in danger." Richard raised his eyebrows very slightly.
"And you will put your king in more danger if you do not rest," the monarch told him. Robin scowled at him. He did not want to admit how tired he was. Nor did he want to admit that facing the incarnation of the ghost in his nightmares had drained him to the point of numbness.
"When you leave, I will leave," he insisted. "I am the most skilled marksman in the Guard, Your Majesty, and you yourself appointed me Captain. I will rest when you are safe tonight." Richard was not amused. Robin could tell by the look on the King's face.
"Robin, this is an order. I want you to go rest. You are not invincible, and, I will be honest with you, everyone can see that you're starting to fall apart. You are no good to me or to England if you do this to yourself," Richard said. Robin stared at him, color draining from his face. While he had never been a particularly good actor, he had always thought that he had done a fairly good job concealing what he had felt inside. It seemed that he had not done quite as well as he thought he had.
"No. Go now. Raymond and the rest of the Guard are perfectly capable of protecting me," Richard told him. "I will not be unprotected. And if there is trouble, they will be here to prevent it from escalating," the king added. "Robin, I want you to rest. As your king, I need you at your best. Will you listen, or must I have Raymond knock sense into you?" he inquired. Robin sighed.
"I will go. But I will not be able to rest, Your Majesty. It is as it was in the Holy Land. No rest for the wicked," he said. Richard shook his head.
"I am sorry for that. Perhaps being back in England will help, perhaps it will not. Only time will tell," Richard replied. Robin shrugged, then bowed to him.
"Perhaps," he agreed. "Good night, your majesty."
"Good night, Captain Locksley."
Robin turned, moving toward the hallway. He paused to unclasp the cloak and hand it back to Raymond, thanking him quietly. He slid the arrow back into the quiver and shouldered it and his bow before starting back to his room.
As he walked down the hall, he could hear another set of footsteps echoing behind him. He did not bother to turn back to look at them. He did not particularly want to deal with anyone other then King Richard or the men he had served with in the Guard. This person, however, was plainly not among that number. The footsteps were soft – most likely feminine.
"Robin, stop!" a voice called behind him. Robin flinched involuntarily at the sound of her voice. Still, he did not stop. The footsteps behind him quickened. "Robin!"
This time he turned, his face set. She almost ran into him when he stopped short. Her eyes were wide with shock as she took a step back.
"What do you want, Lady Gisborne? I do not have time for this."
Chapter 8: Robin Hood is Dead
Two figures stood in an empty hallway in Nottingham Castle. One held himself like a soldier, bow in hand and sword at his hip. The other was a noblewoman, with her head held high.
The air was tense between them. Robin's green eyes were narrowed as he stared at her with a cold expression on his face. Her expression was a jumble of emotion, beginning with anger and indignation and ending in confusion.
"What do you want, Lady Gisborne?" Robin repeated. Marian frowned at him, confusion reigning in his expression for a moment.
"Lady Gisborne?" she asked. "Robin, we have known each other since we were children. I should be Marian to you, not Lady Gisborne," she told him.
"It is Lord Locksley to you," Robin snapped. She stared at him for several moments before he turned away. He was about to stride down the hall when she stopped him, speaking again.
"I thought you were dead," she said softly. "Everyone did." Robin turned to look at her again.
"Clearly, I am not," he replied. "Is that all?"
"No, it is not," Marian responded. "I want you to let Guy go. He did nothing wrong. He was misguided by the Sheriff, but he is a good man."
Robin raised both eyebrows as he looked at her, a humorless chuckle escaping his lips. He shook his head.
"No. Attacking King Richard is a hanging offense, and he will hang for it," he told her. "Trying to kill the King of England is unforgivable."
"I said no," Robin snapped. "And I expect you out of Locksley by tomorrow at noon."
"Robin! Locksley is my home – I have nowhere else to go," Marian protested.
"That is not my problem," Robin told her. "You are not entitled to live there, as it belongs to me."
"What happened to that thesis of yours?" she asked. "The people will be shocked if Robin Hood no longer adheres to his own ideals…"
"Robin Hood is dead, Lady Gisborne," Robin told her. "His ideals died with him."
"Robin Hood is not dead," Marian argued. "He is standing right in front of me, and I know that he still believes that there is good in everyone," she said. "Give him a second chance, Robin. Please."
"He has had his second chance," he replied coldly. "He has had as many chances as he was given. He will have no more chances to kill England's only hope."
"Guy would not do that, Robin. You don't know him as I do. He has qualities!" Marian exclaimed.
"I do not know him as you do," Robin agreed. "And I am thankful that I never will. He is the lowliest kind of scum in this world. He would kill King Richard, who is the only one who can set England to right, the man I have made it my purpose to protect! Gisborne will hang for high treason – I will not give him another chance to murder King Richard for his own selfish gain," he promised. Marian turned slightly pale at his statement.
"That is not what the Robin Hood I know would do," she said coolly. Robin's eyes narrowed slightly.
"How many times to I have to tell you, Lady Gisborne, that Robin Hood is dead?" he asked her. Marian pursed her lips, her fingers clenching on the sleeves of her beautiful light blue gown. The silver stitching caught in the firelight, as did the silver of her jewelry.
"I do not understand how you can say that he is dead when he is standing right here in front of me," she stated.
"Robin Hood is dead, Marian," Robin told her, placing emphasis on her name as if to make it a frozen blade to cut out her heart. "You killed him."
That said, Robin turned on his heel and strode away, leaving her standing there, staring after him. He paused at the end of the hallway.
"I expect you out of my house tomorrow at noon, as I said. If you do not remove yourself, I will remove you myself," he said coldly. "Good night, Lady Gisborne." Then he walked away, the grip on his bow so tight that his knuckles were white and his hand was starting to hurt.
His heart was pounding. The pain that had taken his breath away earlier was beginning to rush through him again. There was an aching pressure in his chest as he walked. It stole every conscious thought except for those of her.
She was still just as beautiful as he remembered her, if not more so. Her bound chestnut curls had shone in the flickering torchlight. Her soft porcelain skin called for him to reach out and touch her cheek, just to know that she was truly real. And her eyes – her beautiful crystal blue eyes sparked with the same passions they had before. She truly was the embodiment of the specter that haunted him when he dreamed.
Robin strode down the hallway toward his room as fast as he could. He had to get away from her. She was poison to him – she came softly, but she was still so very deadly. If he allowed her to dig her claws into him again, he would never be free. He knew that she would never let him go, and she would use him until she was tired of him. Just as she had before.
He closed the door behind him, almost dropping his bow. Leaning against the wood of the door, he caught himself, reining his thoughts in while he still could. She was nothing to him. She had been something in the past, but that time had long since passed. Robin had put that behind him long ago.
Unconsciously, his hand traveled up to the chain around his neck, where the silver ring rested. His fingers closed around the metal and gemstone, clutching it tightly, as if he needed it to survive. Eventually, he let his legs give out and slid into a sitting position against the door, his head bowed as brutal waves of fatigue and anguish rolled over him simultaneously.
The lone candle that had been left burning flickered out eventually, leaving Robin sitting in the dark, his back pressed against unforgiving timber. The air around him was warm and sticky without the breeze to cool it. But Robin did not care. His own anguish was pounding against his defenses. Despair was creeping in slowly.
He buried his face in his hands in the dark, wishing desperately for relief from the torture that had besieged him for nearly two years now. There was a soft knock on his door sometime after the candle went out.
"Robin?" a voice outside called. Robin made no move to rise, or to even speak. He did not want to talk to her. He did not want to see her, or even think about her. It seemed, though, that he was not allowed to erase her from his mind, or his memory. She was always there, haunting him, whether as a specter of his dreams or one of flesh.
There was another knock on his door: her again. He ignored her again, but got up. Nearly tripping in the dark, he felt his way over to the bed. He slipped the quiver off of his shoulder, placing it gently on the floor, then pulled off his tunic, letting it join the arrows. His bow was somewhere by the door, he noted dimly as he removed his boots, but he didn't really care. He wanted sleep. Calm, restful sleep, which he had been deprived of for far too long.
The knocking continued. She called his name several times, but there was no answer. Eventually, Marian left, allowing Robin to slip into an undisturbed, dream-filled stupor. He found no peace there, just as he failed to find it in his waking hours, until close to dawn.
Robin slept most of the morning once the dreams departed, waking only when Much retrieved the key from the steward and promptly tripped over his former master's bow upon entering. Much crashed into the desk, knocking things askew and causing several hard objects to hit Robin in the face.
He let out a yelp and sat bolt upright. There was silence for a moment as Much righted himself. Robin shot him a dirty look, rubbing his face where he had been struck by the projectiles.
"Was that really necessary?" he asked. Much rolled his eyes at Robin, turning to pick up the object he had tripped over.
"That was not my fault. It was yours," he replied. "If you didn't leave your things all over, there wouldn't be a problem."
"If you watched where you were going, we wouldn't have a problem either, Much" Robin replied, a very faint hint of the old playfulness entering his voice. Much blinked at him several times, then glanced around.
"Are you playing a trick on me?" he asked. Robin made a face at him as he rose and began searching for a fresh set of clothing among his things.
"Much…" he said warningly. The other man shrugged. "Nothing has changed, Much," he continued. Much sighed, shaking his head sadly.
"Nothing is ever going to change, is it?" he asked softly. Robin shook his head, turning away to continue his search. Despite the truth in the statement, somehow, he still regretted admitting it, even to Much.
"No, I don't think it will," Robin replied. Again his hand snaked up to the silver chain and the ring that hung on it. He stared into the distance for a moment, lost in the all-consuming ache that resonated from his chest. It was not a temporary thing anymore. When they had stood in sand and sun rather than on the cold stones of Nottingham Castle it had been different. There had been other things on his mind, rather than the constant throb of regret and pain.
More often than not previously he had been able to push it aside easily because of the constant threat they had been under. King Richard ruled from the front lines, fighting side by side with his men. Because of that, Robin had had to be constantly on his guard and always ready to protect his sovereign in the split-second that could mean life and death for all of them. That had taken more of his conscious thought than anything else and rightly so. He was the Captain of the King's Private Guard after all.
It had been easier to put stray thoughts from his mind then, when he had had many other things to focus on. Now, however, he did not. He was still Captain of the Guard, but the danger was not so imminent. There were few Saracens in England, and not all of them wished Richard harm. There was even one who distinctly did not. The threat that remained was not so constant with Vaisey and Gisborne so swiftly removed. Well, Robin amended, it did not seem so constant, but he knew it was.
After another moment, his mind turned back to her and his hand tightened on the ring. Why was this so hard? Did he really deserve this? He had asked himself those questions often, if not daily, in the nearly two years since leaving Sherwood.
It had been worse at first. When they had first returned to Acre she had been in every thought. Slowly, she had been partially replaced by thoughts of his duties as Captain of the King's Private Guard, but she had never left for good. Until now he could put her out of his mind. Seeing her again, though… It had pushed her back to the forefront. The fact that she had unraveled all of his control so easily scared him more than a little.
"Master?" Much's voice jerked Robin's attention back to the present. He glanced at the other man, unclenching his hand from the necklace.
"Are you alright?" Much asked. Robin paused for a moment, then nodded.
"I'm fine," he replied. Much looked at him for a moment, as if making sure that Robin was telling him the truth. He seemed to accept that it was as close as it was going to get.
"The King said that he wanted you to take some time away from your duties today," he told his former master. "He said that Raymond was perfectly capable of leading the Guard in your absence." Robin sighed, leaning his head back. Of course the King would insist that. He usually did when he felt that Robin was on the verge of collapse.
"I suppose that you and Raymond agree with King Richard?" he asked his friend. Much nodded.
"Yes, we do. After what happened last night, everyone does," he replied. "Half of the Guard heard your conversation with Marian."
Robin closed his eyes and groaned. That was exactly what he did not want to hear. Then he shook his head.
"She followed me," he said with a shrug. "And she wants us to let Gisborne go."
"Are you going to?" Much asked. It was more out of curiosity than anything else. He doubted that Robin would even think about letting his sworn enemy out again. Robin's response was to frown at Much.
"Of course not," he responded. "Gisborne is a traitor. He will hang for his treason." Much nodded, more out of habit than anything else this time.
"What are you going to do about Marian, then?" Robin did not respond for a long moment.
"I don't know, Much," he admitted finally. For a moment – as it had earlier – his voice betrayed him. A tone of resignation had entered it this time, joining the weariness and the well-hidden despair that were always there. He let out a sigh, then turned to pick through his packs again.
It was a luxury to have time away – but it was not a luxury that Robin treasured. He would rather thwart an assassination attempt than spend time off-duty. It was easier for him that way. Then his mind was focused on protecting King Richard, on his duty.
"You told Raymond and His Majesty that I would be rather not have the day to myself?" he inquired. Much gave him a blank look. "Of course. You agree with them, after all…" he muttered, shaking his head. Much snorted faintly.
"Of course I do. You're running yourself ragged," he replied. Robin made a face at him.
"You're very helpful," he said sarcastically. "I suppose you're going to be following me around, then?"
"If you want me to," Much told him. Robin smiled faintly at his friend – something he had not done in a long time.
"I'm going to Locksley," he informed his friend. Much paused for a moment. A faint frown formed on his face as he considered the information.
"Marian is in Locksley," Much pointed out. Robin nodded.
"She is," he acknowledged. "She is to be removing herself from the manor by noon today," he added. "I am going there so that I will be able to make sure that she does so."
"I do not think that is wise," Much replied. "It did not go well when you saw her last night," he continued. There was silence for a moment before Robin sighed.
"I suppose you are right," he acknowledged. "But it must be done and I would rather do it myself." Much let out a sigh, shaking his head at Robin. His expression said that he was not at all happy. Robin mentally shrugged it off.
A moment later, once he had changed out of his wrinkled clothing and into his last clean set, he glanced back at Much. He had checked the bandages over his wounds and found that they were clean enough, which was a good thing. He would undoubtedly have to change them later.
Before anyone could say anything else, there was a knock on the door to Robin's room. He paused, glancing at his friend, before he went to open the door.
Standing at the door was a pageboy who looked to be about ten years old. He looked up at Robin with wide blue eyes, as if he was meeting his hero for the first time, which – in reality – he was.
"You're Robin Hood?" the boy asked. Robin pursed his lips and nodded.
"Yes, I'm Robin Hood," he replied. The boy grinned at him.
"You're my hero! I want to be just like you when I grow up!" he told Robin. An ache settled in Robin's chest again as he forced himself to give the boy as genuine a smile as he could manage.
"Then practice with a bow if you can," he said. "One day, you could be as good as me, then you can protect your village from outlaws and those who would wrong you." The boy continued to grin at him.
"I have a message from the King, sir," the boy announced. Robin gave him a nod to go ahead. "He wishes to see you in the Great Hall after you return from your day away." Robin nodded again.
"Thank you, lad. You have done well." He moved over to the things on his desk, where Much stood watching. He pulled a few coins out of the small pouch that sat there and turned back to the boy. "These are for you and your family," he said.
"Thank you, sir!" the boy exclaimed. "Thank you!" Robin smiled at him, genuinely this time.
"You're welcome," he replied softly. He watched the boy go, his expression slipping into one of sadness. In the back of his mind a future that he would never have wiggled its way out of hiding.
Robin let out a sigh and closed his eyes as he did the same to the door. Much continued to watch him for a moment before he spoke up.
"You told him you were Robin Hood," he commented. Robin opened his eyes and looked at him.
"I did, but not because I believe it," he replied. "I will not crush a child's dream of being like his hero simply because I am not the same man he thinks I am." There was silence for a moment after that before Much nodded.
"It is a good reason," he acknowledged.
"Good. Then we're off to Locksley, Much."
Chapter 9: Blame
Despite Much's protests, the ride to Locksley was uneventful. Robin was silent the entire time, ignoring his friend's attempts to dissuade him from continuing in this direction. The continuous babbling of reasons why he should not go to Locksley only managed to strengthen his resolve. He had a purpose in going to Locksley this day – one that had little to do with reclaiming his home and possessions.
He was tired of dealing with everything that Marian had brought on. Yes, he was partially to blame – he had left her. If he had not, Gisborne would not have had the opportunity to take advantage of it. If he had not, then perhaps they would have been married and living happily in Locksley together.
But, that was not what had happened. She had married his mortal enemy – she had broken him. The man he had become because of that was one who had put himself together – and not very well – and made do. She still haunted him relentlessly with countless utterings of 'what if' and nightmares that would not leave him alone.
All she managed to do anymore was cause him pain and make him angry. That was all she had since before he had left, starting when she had thrown her ring at him. Then, he had hoped that she would wait for him. Instead, she had been so very angry with him. It had not changed his choice in the least. A small part of him was glad of that.
People looked up when Robin and Much entered the village on horseback. Some of them took a couple of steps toward the two men, their mouths falling open in shock as they watched. Rumors had spread like wildfire from the castle after Robin's reappearance the night before. Stories of Robin Hood's return had already begun circulating. It was no surprise to anyone in the Guard, particularly Carter, who Robin had spoken to before they had left.
A few began following them as they rode toward the manor, where things appeared to be quiet. No doubt she had ignored his ultimatum, Robin thought to himself.
He allowed his thoughts to wander off as they approached the manor. It had been almost two years to the day since he had seen Locksley, he realized. Nearly two years before, Raymond had found him sitting on the hill overlooking the village. A sigh escaped him. His near-constant scowl returned, the harsh lines marking his face even more evidently.
A stablehand scampered up to them as they dismounted. He froze when he saw Robin, much like the page had earlier. Robin ignored him.
"Three days, Much," he said quietly. Much paused, confusion flashing across his face.
"Three days?" he asked.
"In three days, it will be two years since we left Locksley and Sherwood behind," Robin replied. "It does not seem like it's been two years, does it?"
"No, it doesn't," Much agreed, shaking his head. "Is that the reason why you came here?"
"No, it's not," Robin told him. "I told Lady Gisborne yesterday that she is no longer entitled to stay in Locksley Manor. She was to remove herself by noon today, which she has clearly failed to do."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Much."
"She has nowhere to go, Robin," Much protested. "Knighton Hall burned down a year ago. The servants in the castle told me about it yesterday. And you know that Marian has no living family now that her father is dead." Robin raised an eyebrow.
"And what gives her the right to stay in my house?" he demanded. "My father left these lands to me when he died in that fire all those years ago, not to Marian, not to Gisborne, to me! It is a disgrace to my father's memory to have their lot living in his house."
"What do you mean 'their lot'?" Much asked softly. "You didn't meet Gisborne until we came back from the Holy Land…" Robin shook his head, the scowl disappearing.
"That's not true, Much," he said. "I met him before." Much stared at him.
"Then why didn't you tell me that before? Why didn't you tell us?"
"Yes, Robin, why didn't you tell us?" a feminine voice asked behind them. Robin turned to see Marian standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her simple dress. She was glaring at him, blue eyes flashing.
"What? And you would have believed me?" Robin asked mockingly. "I doubt that," he added before she could reply. "It's none of your business, either of you. What he did is unforgivable," he spat.
"What did he do, Robin?" Marian asked. "He is my husband. I have the right to know."
"No, you don't," he snapped at her. "Just because the traitor married you doesn't mean that you have any business prying into my affairs, Lady Gisborne."
"And my husband's business is not mine? Honestly, Robin, grow up," Marian replied. Robin flinched, his hands clenching into fists. His eyes fluttered closed for a moment.
"This is goodbye, Robin. It is time for us to both grow up and accept our lot in life."
"You said grow up and I'm growing up."
He opened his eyes again, glaring at her. His gaze was as hard as stone.
"Grow up, Marian? Grow up?" he asked. "Do you even think about what you say?"
Marian frowned at him, unsure what he meant. Much was simply blinking at him, also uncertain. Robin scowled at her. For a moment, she saw someone else – someone far older than the man she had known. The person she saw had been consumed by his anger and hatred. The lines that time and anger had so greedily chiseled into his face were unkind to him. He did not look like the Robin of Locksley she had fallen in love with all of those years ago…
"Take the horses to the stable," Robin told the stablehand. "Take care of them, and make sure that they are ready to go when they are needed. I have things to do," he said. Marian was not impressed. He did not care, though. He turned back to her, green eyes glinting harshly. "Inside, now," he ordered. Marian glared back at him silently. His eyebrows rose, as if he were daring her to ignore the order. With a huff, she whirled, leaving the door open behind her.
Robin paused for a moment, watching the boy lead the horses away. Then he entered the manor, Much following at his heels. The lower level was largely unchanged, save the slight redecoration that had probably been by Marian's hand.
"Why must you ruin everything, Robin?" Marian demanded, whirling around again. He clenched his jaw, still glaring at her. A moment later, he snorted derisively.
"I would ask you the same question," he told her. "Honestly, grow up? Do you think about the words that come out of your mouth?" he asked. Marian stared at him.
"I don't know what you mean," she replied, looking away from him.
"Grow up? Do you have any idea of what I have gone through in the last two years?" Robin inquired. His voice was deadly soft. Silence met his question as Marian stared at him. Her cerulean gaze was locked on him as her face paled. She shook her head very slightly.
"A month after we saved your father, King Richard called me back to the Holy Land," he told her. "I did my duty – I went, out of loyalty to my King. I fought; I saw horrors you can't even begin to imagine. I have killed so many people I have lost count. The blood of Saracens – Djaq's people – is on my hands. There is no glory in that. War is not glorious. I sought no honor in going back to those forsaken sands!" he continued, his voice rising.
"I am the Captain of the King's Private Guard, the King's most loyal servant. I have fought at King Richard's side, stopped countless assassination attempts, both by Saracens who wanted him dead and by that traitor you call your husband!" Robin spat. "I have given everything I had for King and country. And what do I get in return? I get told to grow up! As if it's something so simple and necessary that I seem to have forgotten it. I do not need to grow up. I am grown up. I was before I came home, I was before you rejected everything I offered you.
"You, Lady Marian, need to grow up. You need to look at what you have done and think about it," he said. "You don't see anything, even when it is right in front of you."
"I don't need to grow up!" Marian shouted. "I accepted my lot in life, like you should have!"
"I accepted my lot in life long ago!" Robin retorted. "Do you realize what has been lost because of you?" he demanded. Marian glared at him.
"Whatever it was, it was probably better!" she snapped.
"John. Little John. He's dead," Robin said quietly. "He died in the Holy Land."
"Oh, Robin…" Marian started. He cut her off, his eyes glinting again.
"Don't 'oh, Robin' me, Marian," he hissed. "I don't want your sympathy. I don't want your pity. I don't want anything to do with you. You have cost me more than I was willing to pay," he told her.
"Then maybe you should have thought about that before you came back!"
"I came back, Lady Gisborne, because my King commanded it. I am the captain of his guard, after all," Robin replied.
"That man last night. That was the King, wasn't it?" she asked softly. Robin did not answer her. He let out a huff of breath, turning his eyes to the manor and the fire in the hearth. "Robin?"
"I am not interested in what you have to say or what you think of me, Marian," Robin said finally. "I am done caring."
"Then you are not the Robin I knew," she told him, tears forming in her eyes. "The Robin I knew never would have thrown a woman out of the place she called home!"
"I am not the man you knew, Marian! Get that through your thick head! I am not him! You killed him!"
"I did nothing of the sort! If I had killed him, you would be dead, too! The world would be a better place then!" Marian snapped. Robin let out a frustrated growl.
"You have no right to say that!" he snarled at her. "I am this way because of you!"
Their voices rose as they shouted at each other. Much glanced between the two of them, unsure what to do. He did not like that they were fighting – he knew that they still loved each other. Despite the anger, he had seen it in Robin's eyes and he had guessed (after watching Marian in the little time he had spent in her presence) that Marian did, too. One could never say that Much was not observant.
"Whatever you have become, it is not my fault, Robin. You did it to yourself!"
"No, I did not! Do you know the one thing that has followed me constantly since the day I left? You!"
"That does not make it my fault, Robin!"
"Then why does it all center around you?"
"I don't know! Maybe because you don't know when to give up?"
"I gave up on you the day you married that traitor," Robin hissed at her.
"You could have stopped it! I did not want to marry him and you know it!" Marian shouted. "But I accepted my lot in life, unlike you!"
"You let yourself fall in love with him!" Robin retorted. "It is not my fault that you married him. It was a choice! Everything is a choice! Everything we do…"
"Then you could have chosen to change that, Robin!"
"No, I couldn't have," he replied quietly. "I couldn't do anything then, and I can't do anything now. Get out of my house the instant you are packed. I don't care where you go. Just go."
Marian glared at him for a moment, and was about to say something when she was cut off. The sound of a crying child filtered down the stairs. The three people were silent for a long moment as Much and Robin stared at her. The former was confused, but Robin was not. He was far from confused. He knew exactly what was going on, and he was not happy about it at all.
"Wonderful job, Robin," she said sarcastically. "Now you've woken Roger…" Robin narrowed his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest.
"Roger?" he asked tersely. Marian gave him a nasty look.
"Yes, Roger," she replied. "My son."
Robin's tightlipped expression was enough to tell both Marian and Much exactly how displeased he was.
Not only was the boy yet another symbol – and reminder – of the betrayal, but he knew (he knew) the significance of that name. Roger of Gisborne. Another reminder of all of the pain the Gisbornes had caused him.
He closed his eyes, drawing in a breath as an attempt to calm himself. In the instant that he was not looking at them, everything trapped in his head assaulted him. The Gisbornes' part in his father's death, Guy taking everything in his life and turning it against him when he was gone, Guy stealing Marian from him...
The flames roared in his mind's eye while he was held back. Had it not been for that, he would surely have perished in those flames, too. Flames that Gisborne had set. He had caused Robin's father's death, as well as his own parents. But, it was his father, Roger of Gisborne who had started the problem. The leper had come back to the village and because of that, Malcolm had tried to stop him and save the rest of the family. And died trying.
Robin's eyes opened again, still as hard as they had been before. He hands clenched, itching to move, to do something.
"Just like his leper of a grandfather, then, eh?" he muttered, more to himself than to Marian. She froze, looking at him with wide eyes. Confusion and the barest hint of something Robin could not quite name appeared in her expression.
"How did you know that Guy's father was a leper?" she asked softly. Robin gave her a nasty, mocking false smile for her comment.
"How do I know, Marian?" he asked tensely. "How do I know? Do you really want me to answer that?"
"Robin? What happened?"
"My father died because of them!" Robin snapped, his green eyes blazing as he glared at her. He was about to speak again when Marian cut him off.
"They had nothing to do with that fire, Robin, it was an accident. No one could have known that someone had left that candle burning, nor that it would fall over," she said. Robin's expression changed from anger to absolute fury.
"You weren't there, Marian! You have no idea what happened. That is a lie. Gisborne started the fire! He is responsible for my father's death," he spat at her. "He killed my father. If it wasn't for him, none of this would have happened."
"You need to let old wounds heal, Robin!" Marian cried. "Guy had nothing to do with it – he told me that he didn't!"
"Gisborne is a liar!" he snapped. "You know that – he lied to you about trying to kill the King!"
"That is not important, Robin! He had reasons for what he did, I'm sure of it. Why won't you ask the King to pard-"
"Because he is a traitor!" Robin shouted. "He made a choice, and he must pay for it. Now, I suggest that you go calm the child down and start packing. I will give you until tomorrow, but if you are not packed and ready to move, you will be evicted," he promised. Marian glared at him, but did not have time to respond before he turned on his heel and stalked out of the manor. Much followed him quickly, throwing a glance over his shoulder at her.
Robin fumed as he walked quickly – and precisely – over to where the stablehand had tied his horse. He untied the lead rope and mounted up a moment later. Much did the same, shooting worried glances at his former master.
The ride back to the castle was silent. Robin did not say a word, instead glaring at the road ahead of them while Much tried to hum cheery songs to himself (and failed). He kept glancing over at Robin, praying that things would work out before long. If they did not…well, it was not going to be pretty if this carried on for too long.
They rode into the courtyard in front of the castle not long afterward and dismounted once more. Robin left his horse with one of the servants, climbing the stairs and walking toward the Great Hall in search of the King. He wanted to find out exactly what Richard had wanted to see him about and to get it over with. He was tired, despite the relatively early hour, and wanted the day to be done with.
He paused by the door for a moment, then shook his head, wandering toward his room. Much had said that he was supposed to speak with King Richard later. Until then, he would practice with his bow. Then a voice behind him broke him out of his reverie.
"Robin!" He turned to see Raymond walking towards him.
"What is it?" he asked. He was already a little irritated with his second-in-command. In all honesty, Raymond had not done anything (so far) to get on his nerves, but Robin just wanted to be left alone.
"The King wants to see you," the other man replied. "He said once you had returned…though you are far earlier than he said to expect you to return…"
Robin was silent as he looked at Raymond for a moment. "Things did not go as expected," he responded curtly. Raymond sighed and nodded.
"Of course they did not…" he said. Robin gave him a look. "Fine, fine, sorry. Why don't you go see the King, then go off and do whatever you're planning?" Raymond suggested.
"How do you know I was planning anything?" Robin asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Because I know you. You're always planning something," Raymond replied almost absently. Robin scowled at him, turning to backtrack toward the Great Hall.
"I'll trust you on that, then," he called over his shoulder. Raymond watched him go, shaking his head.
Robin entered the Great Hall a moment later, pausing to peer over the balcony at the long table below. King Richard was seated in the great throne-like chair at one end, papers spread out in front of him. He looked up when he heard the sound of Robin's footsteps on the wood. A faint smile graced the older man's features.
"Robin. Good, you're back. Why don't you come join me for a moment?" he suggested. Robin inclined his head, moving to obey.
"Of course, Your Majesty," he replied. Once he was down the stairs and standing at the table, he waited for Richard to speak.
"I will make this quick and to the point, Robin," he said. "I am appointing you as the new Sheriff of Nottingham."
Chapter 10: Hold It Against Her
Three Months Later
"All work and no play makes for a very boring life, Robin."
A deep voice called Robin of Locksley from his work. He looked up to see Raymond of Durham standing in front of his desk, a faint smirk on the blond man's face. Robin raised an eyebrow and let out a sigh.
"It's good to see you, too, Raymond," he replied absently. "What are you doing here? You're Captain of the King's Guard, and, last I checked, King Richard was not here."
Raymond gave him an irritated look as he pulled off his gloves. He did not respond immediately. Instead, he walked over to a chair by the door, lifted it up, and took it over to Robin's desk. He sat down across from his old friend and his smirk returned.
"I was sent by King Richard to make sure that everything was performing optimally for you and the shire," Raymond told him. "If you came out of this little office of yours, you would have known that this morning," he added. Robin glared at him.
"This is not funny," he retorted. "You told my guards not to tell me, didn't you?" Raymond chuckled, nodding.
"Of course I did. What fun would it be if you knew the very instant I walked into Nottingham Castle? Not very much, that much I can tell. Do you spend all of your day every day cooped up in here?" he asked curiously.
"No. I spend three days a week out in the Shire, and one day doing as I please," Robin replied dryly.
"How are things with Marian?" Raymond inquired.
The abrupt change of topic knocked Robin slightly off balance. His expression darkened and he looked back at the parchment he had been writing on. The silence in the room was tense until Raymond broke it.
"Robin," he started. Robin slammed his quill down. Fury flashed in his eyes as he glared at Raymond. "Don't do this-"
"Don't do what, Raymond?" Robin demanded. His voice was softly, cold, and very, very angry. "Don't hate her for what she did? Don't blame her for her willful betrayal? Don't what?"
Raymond sighed. He did not so much as flinch while Robin railed against his former betrothed.
"Don't hold this against her, Robin. It's not entirely her fault. You know that," he replied. "You did promise that you would find a way out for her. She has only dealt with it as she has been forced to."
"Everything is a choice, Raymond," Robin snapped in reply. "Everything we do."
"She had a habit of saying that to you, didn't she?" Raymond asked. Robin growled at him, sitting back down with a thump.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Robin…" Raymond admonished, giving him a warning look.
"What? Now you're going to tell me that I should let everything go back to how it was before?" the Sheriff of Nottingham demanded. "What's done can never be undone."
Raymond sighed, looking down at the gloves he held. This was not going as he had wanted it to. Robin was still so hostile toward Marian. It was sad, really. Raymond had spent a little time with Robin when they had been teenagers – he was only a little older than Robin. He could remember when Robin was absolutely besotted with the young lady, who was five years his junior.
Robin had been so much different then. Yes, the man at the core of the Lord of Locksley's being was the same, but he had been through much that had destroyed bits and pieces of him. Losing Marian to Gisborne had simply been the final straw, it seemed.
"You need to think about this rationally," Raymond informed him. "The way you are thinking about it now is ridiculous. You realize that it is not entirely her fault, yet you blame her for everything. You're at fault, too, Robin. Think about that," he added.
Then he got to his feet and walked away from his friend. Robin was silent. "I am going to go rest for a little while," the older man told him. "I trust that we will have dinner tonight and discuss what I will need to report to His Majesty?"
"Of course," Robin replied absently. "Don't be late, Raymond. I don't have time to deal with your insistence on lack of time management."
"I won't be," the Crusader responded. "Think about what I said, Robin. It will do you some good."
Robin did not respond as Raymond walked away. Raymond did not glance back to look at him as he left the room, but he did wonder what had happened to Robin in the last few months? The former outlaw looked exhausted, like he was stretching himself far beyond his limits.
A moment later, he passed a pale and frantic looking Lady Marian. Raymond paused, half-turning to look at her.
"Is there something wrong, my lady?" he asked. Marian turned to look at him, her blue eyes wide. There was a tense silence for a moment before she nodded.
"Yes," she said. Her tone was soft, scared, and very unlike the woman Raymond remembered meeting so long ago.
"May I ask what it is?" he inquired. Marian bit her lip, which he now noticed was bleeding.
"It is nothing you should concern yourself with, my lord," she told him.
"It has to do with Robin. He is one of my closest friends, Lady Marian. I know what he has gone through and I know that he is very bitter. What can I do?" Raymond asked. Marian sighed.
"My son is ill and Robin will not speak to me. He has forbidden me to leave the grounds and he has made sure that I am watched. I cannot leave the castle, nor can I sneak away as I used to. My son needs a physician," she told him. "But I cannot fetch one and I do not know what to do."
Raymond paused for a long moment, his deep blue gaze meeting hers briefly. Everything Robin had told him about Marian before his return to the return to England three years before had said that she was everything he wanted. They had even been engaged before Robin had gone to fight. When he returned to the Holy Land, he had been a changed man. He said it was because of her. He blamed everything on her.
As he watched her, Raymond did not believe a word that Robin had told him in the last two years. Marian was not power-hungry or ambitious as Robin had accused her of being. She was not a bad person. She had just been forced into a situation and had attempted to make the best of it.
Just because it had not turned out well for Robin, he was bitter toward her. Beyond bitter, in reality. He seemed to hate her more than anything now.
"Perhaps you could try again?" Raymond suggested. Marian shook her head.
"No. He has refused to speak to me since I attempted to help Guy escape three months ago. You saw how angry he was with me for that," she reminded him. Raymond nodded.
"That does not surprise me, considering how Robin hated your husband," he said. Marian nodded, tears welling in her eyes.
"He did, but Guy was a good man. Robin never gave him a chance to make up for the things he did. He had stopped listening to the Sheriff and he was finally doing the right thing…" she told him. Raymond frowned slightly.
"Begging your pardon, my lady, but your husband committed high treason against King Richard. Robin is completely loyal to our king. He nearly died for King Richard several times, including when your husband tried to kill him three years ago," he reminded her.
"You do not even know if it was Guy who did it," she replied. "He was ill when Robin was in the Holy Land. He nearly died then. There was no way he could have been there to attempt to kill the King," she continued.
"Yet, he admitted it to Robin when he discovered the tattoo on his arm. Think about it, Lady Marian. Did you see Gisborne when he was ill? Have you ever thought about the fact that he might have lied to you? Everyone in the Guard knows about that tattoo and we all know what the Sheriff did to it. I saw the scar on his arm when he admitted it to me." Marian's eyes widened as she stared at him.
"He…admitted it?" she asked. Raymond nodded, trying to ignore the horror in her voice and expression.
"He did. The day before he died," he told her. "Robin was quite vindicated by that. I assumed that he would have told you."
"He did not say anything," Marian informed him. "He let me believe that Guy died innocent and that he was just out for revenge. Robin has changed a great deal since we knew each other."
Raymond could not agree more with that statement. Robin of Locksley was not the man he had once been. "I suppose he blames you for that," he said quietly. Marian nodded. The first of her tears slipped down her face.
"He does. He made that very clear to me when we first spoke after King Richard returned. He blames me for everything," she replied.
"Perhaps that is because of you actions when he had returned to Nottingham," Raymond suggested. "He was openly hurting when I found him to give him the King's missive," he continued. "To be honest, Lady Marian, I have never seen someone as torn up as he was when I arrived."
Marian stared at him for a long moment. It was as if she was unsure what to say. More tears dripped down her face as she nodded. "I know. I saw him once after my wedding when he rode away with Much. I had no idea what it would do to him. Does he truly hate me as much as he seems to?"
"Perhaps," Raymond replied. "But Robin is a good man, even if he acts in a manner that is harsher than it should be. He needs time to be able to forgive you for betraying him,"
"I never did anything to him-"
"You married his archenemy, did you not?" Raymond cut her off. "You of all people should have known how Robin would react to that. He still loved you when you wed his enemy. It tore his heart out," he said. "I do not believe he has ever recovered from that."
"It was not my choice to marry Guy. He forced me into it. I found out after the ceremony that I had been tricked…but I did love him despite that," Marian replied. "Has Robin truly been so hurt by what happened?"
Raymond nodded. "You have no idea, Lady Marian. I have known Robin for a long time. I watched him fall apart and put himself back together again in the Holy Land. He did the best he could, but he will never be the same. He was torn apart by your betrayal of his love…" he continued, looking back at the doors that separated them from Robin. "It nearly destroyed him."
"I had no idea," Marian said softly. Raymond gave her a knowing look.
"That is why you fail to make any progress. You will not see past your own pride, milady. You need to be more understanding of him. I realize that he has not been acting in a manner befitting his station in regards to you, but you did bring this on yourself."
Marian stared at him for a long moment. "There was nothing I could do to avoid it. One way or another he was going to be hurt. Yet he acts like a child compared to the grown man he is," she replied. Raymond sighed.
"I can see that nothing I am going to say is going to make any difference," he said. "Robin needs time to forgive you, but what you are doing and what you have been doing will not earn you anything. Robin will not respect you for what you are doing and he will never listen to you if you are not willing to act appropriately toward him. Good day, Lady Marian."
Marian's mouth fell open as she watched the Captain of the Guard go in shock. She had not expected that. She had not expected any of it, if she was honest with herself.
She bit her lip again and thought about what Raymond had said. He had a point, she had to admit. Perhaps her pride had pushed him farther away. Perhaps the fact that he had loved her was making this very painful for him. She could still recall the look on his face when he saw her and Guy leaving the church.
Guy had been pleased by that expression. He had told her that he felt like he had finally won a battle with Robin a few days later when he had caught the then outlaw in the act of stealing money right out of the castle. Robin had been forced to bolt, leaving behind most of the coins behind.
Being with Guy had been difficult at first. She had cared about him before. She had found him attractive, certainly. There had, however, been times during their betrothal when her dearest wish was to be as far away from Sir Guy of Gisborne as possible.
When their wedding was put into motion, everything had been such a whirlwind that she hadn't known her feelings for him or for Robin at the time. When it had been revealed that King Richard had not returned, she had been absolutely furious with Guy. With time, he had convinced her that he had only been trying to protect her and her father and that he had not known until much later. It had taken a little bit of time to sort out her feelings, particularly after that, but she had known that she loved him before they had discovered her pregnancy.
They had been happy together before Robin had come back. He had changed. Guy had not been following Vaisey blindly anymore. He had done so much good in his position as deputy. He had even saved people from the Sheriff's injustice and he had been kind to the people of Locksley and the other villagers. He had truly changed.
That had not stopped Robin from having him hanged. Nothing could have stopped that. Robin had been hell-bent on eliminating Guy. He had not even given Guy a chance to prove himself.
Robin had been nearly ready to strangle her himself when she had been caught attempting to break Guy out of his cell as the Night Watchman. She had never seen him so angry before. After that, she had a guard following her everywhere. She had been given no privacy, save for when the guard had been kind enough to allow her a moment or two for the sake of decency.
Marian was grateful for the kindness of the other members of the King's Guard. It was because of one very kind man that she had been able to say her goodbyes. She had only been allowed a few moments, but that time meant the world to her. Because of him, Guy had been able to hold her in his arms as they said everything they could to each other before they had been caught. That last kiss still lingered strongly in her memory. Even after they had been caught and Robin had dragged her away. He had put Henry in the stocks for allowing her to see Guy.
The hanging had been the worst of it. It had been so quiet, so somber, so heartbreaking. Guy had been so very solemn as he was led to the gallows. All they had gotten was an instant, a brief touch and a soft 'I love you' before Guy had been taken away from her forever. The moment when their eyes had met for the last time had practically ripped her heart out of her chest.
She had truly loved him. There was no chance that anything could make her deny it. She hated that he was gone. The hurt was still so fresh. Marian missed Guy horribly every day.
Perhaps she should not blame all that had happened entirely on Robin. If what Durham said was true, then Guy had committed high treason. That was something that no king looked on lightly. Had he known that he was going to be sentenced to death the instant the king knew who had tried to kill him? Had he known that Robin had gone back to the Holy Land after their wedding and that was why he had not found the outlaw in the woods a single time and the visits to the village had abruptly halted? Considering the time he had spent ranting about it, she sincerely doubted that he had known. None of them had. They knew that Robin was gone. The guards had found the remains of the outlaws' camp some time after they had disappeared.
Then all of this happened. Everything she had felt was constant in her life was gone and she was left alone with her son. They had nothing but the small fortune her father had left her and the charred remains of Knighton Hall. That brought a whole new set of painful memories to the surface. Her father's death and the storm that had set the building on fire less than a week after his burial… Robin had no idea what she had gone through when he was away.
Robin was not pleased, either, when he walked out of his office to find Marian waiting for him.
Chapter 11: Doubt
He ignored her as he turned and walked in the other direction, three guards trailing behind him.
"Robin!" Marian called after him, hurrying to catch up. She caught a few strange glances from the guardsmen who were standing near him, but ignored them. Robin stopped, obviously more than a little irate. He sent a scathing look over his shoulder at her. Marian ignored it and moved to stand in front of him.
"What do you want, Lady Gisborne?" he demanded. Marian bit her lip again.
"My son needs a physician, Robin. He has a fever and it is only getting worse," she told him. He just continued to give her the same look. "Please, Robin. Roger is innocent of Guy's misdoings. He is only a child. He has never done you any harm."
Robin stood there for several moments, a slightly far off look in his eyes. "Fine," he said. "You may go get the physician and return to the castle, but nothing else. You are still confined to the castle excluding this single trip. You are not to slip out of the guard's sight," he told her. Then he turned to his Master-at-Arms. "Allan, you will escort Lady Gisborne on her errand and back to the castle."
Allan nodded. "O' course, Sheriff," he replied. Robin turned and continued down the hall, unaware of the resentful look his friend was giving him. Allan's blue eyes were slightly narrowed as he watched Robin disappear. The resentment seemed to flow off of him as Marian studied him.
"I…thank you, Allan," she said. Allan turned to her and nodded.
"Not a problem. It's better than bein' stuck around him all day," he replied, shaking his head. Marian nodded, turning to walk back toward her room.
"It cannot be that bad," she said. "Even with the way he has been since he returned…it's still Robin." Allan shrugged as they started walking.
"Sure it is. But it ain't the man I used to know. The Robin I knew wouldn't 'ave acted like this. He doesn't even treat me an' Much like friends. We're just soldiers t' him," he replied bitingly. Marian could not respond to that for a long moment.
"Surely there is still some of the man he used to be in him," she said. Allan stopped, giving her a strange look.
"I'm not bein' funny, but you're puttin' a lot of confidence in men who treat people like they're jus' not worth it," he told her. Marian sighed.
"I suppose I have made a few mistakes…but Guy was not a bad man, Allan. He was just misguided. He was driven by ambition, but not as Vaisey was. He only wanted to restore honor to the Gisborne name. He was blinded by that and led astray by the old Sheriff. If you had gotten to know him as I did, I would like to think that you would have understood his motives. He did a great deal of wrong, I will not deny that. But he was a good man at heart," she insisted. "Robin…he…I think this is harder on him than either of us has been willing to give him credit for."
"He could stand to be a bit nicer about it, then," Allan replied. There was a great deal of resentment in his voice as he spoke. "All he ever does is order all of us about, like we're nothing to him. He doesn't seem to care anymore, either. It's just Allan do this and Allan do tha' and don' question me," he added. "It ain't like there's any inspiration for him to be who he was before, but…" he shook his head and looked away. "Much doesn't even really notice…he's too good and just, well, Much. He'd take anythin' for Robin and everyone knows it. Tha's why he's deputy, I guess. It just don't seem fair, you know?" he asked. Marian nodded.
"I know, Allan," she told him. "I know exactly what you mean. I'm not defending him, but I think he's very hurt. Because of what happened before the four of you went back to the Holy Land. I realize that what I did hurt, but I had no choice. Now it's destroying him. I don't think he realizes what he's doing…"
Allan looked at her for a long moment, then sighed. "I'm not being funny, Marian, but even if he don't realize it, it's hurtin' everyone else around him. 'T ain't good for anyone what he's doin' or how he's acting. People are losin' their faith in him. So am I," he told her. They were passing the castle gate now. Allan nodded and held a hand up to the two guards who moved to stop Marian from leaving the castle. "The Lady Marian has permission from th' Sheriff t' leave th' castle under my protection, lads," he told them.
The two guards exchanged glances, then nodded, deciding it was better not to argue with Allan. They allowed him and Marian to pass. Marian could not help but smile at the first little taste of freedom she had had in months. Robin knew every way in and out of the castle, which had not worked for her advantage. He had a guard on every entrance or exit that he had not blocked. He had effectively trapped her in the castle. Had Roger not been so ill, she might have been tempted to try to beg Allan to take her to the market before they went to retrieve the physician.
Marian glanced at Allan as they walked. "Robin is still the man you knew, Allan. He has changed, but he is still very much the same person. He's hurt. I think he is trying to separate himself from everyone who could betray him. It's my fault," she said. Allan sighed.
"He took it a bit too far, if you ask me," he said. "Th' only person who's close to 'im at all is Much. Much is the only person he trusts. He knows I wouldn't betray 'im, but he won' give me a chance." Marian nodded.
"I'm sure he did not mean it the way it comes across, Allan," she replied. "Perhaps if you speak to Captain Durham, he will be able to help you. Robin does trust him. Otherwise he would never have left the Guard and he would be in London with King Richard," she pointed out. Allan shrugged, falling silent once more.
They did not speak the rest of the way to the physician's house. It was only when they got there that Marian glanced at Allan again. She knocked on the door, looking more than a little uncomfortable.
"Do you ever miss them?" she asked softly. They heard a voice inside call that he was on his way.
"Who?" Allan asked. He seemed to be trying to remove every possible expression from his face. He was failing.
"Djaq, Will, John, your brother…" Marian trailed off as Allan sighed.
"I miss them," he replied quietly. "At least Will an' Djaq might come back. They're only in Scarborough," he added. "John…It's no' th' same without 'im. He's been gone for six months now. He was a good fighter, too; took down nearly a dozen enemy soldiers before he died. Me an' Robin were with him when he died. He died bravely an' got an honorable burial. We still haven't found Alice to tell 'er, but we will."
The physician opened the door, then. He was about Allan's height, but not nearly as thin or muscled as the thief turned soldier. His brown hair was graying and he was starting to bald. He had the look of a kind man to him, as though he was someone that anyone could trust and never be misled. He paused when he saw Marian and Allan standing there. Both were easy to identify if one had spent any amount of time near Nottingham Castle in the last few months.
"Lady Marian, how may I be of service?" the physician asked, glancing between her and Allan.
"My son, Roger, is very ill," Marian told him. "He has a fever that is getting worse rather than breaking and needs the care of a physician immediately," she said, realizing that she did not even know this man's name, though he knew hers. The physician nodded.
"I will gather my things," he replied. "Give me a moment and I will come with you to the castle." Marian nodded, offering him a grateful smile. He disappeared before she could even utter a word of thanks.
"That was easy," Allan commented. Marian shrugged as she turned to look at him.
"I suppose," she replied, shifting anxiously as they waited. "I don't know what I'll do if anything happens to Roger," she added softly. Allan nodded and put an arm around her in an attempt to comfort her. The next few seconds were extremely awkward until he removed his arm.
"You'll be all right," he told her. "You'll have me an' Much. It ain't the best, but it's all we've got to offer you," he added. Marian offered him a weak smile.
"Thank you," she said softly. "That means a great deal, Allan. I just wish Guy were here. Everything would be easier if he was…" she added. Allan nodded.
"I know what you mean," he replied. "I miss Tom, my brother. It's not th' same, but I know how it hurts to lose someone."
Marian nodded in response, tears beginning to glitter in her eyes as she thought of Guy. She opened her mouth to say something else to Allan only to be interrupted as the physician bustled out of his house with a multitude of supplies stuffed into his bag and more than a few in his arms.
"Always be prepared, I always say," he said when Allan gave him a strange look. "You can never be quite sure what you'll need." He started to bustle off, then looked back at them. "Is there a problem?" he asked.
Allan and Marian exchanged a glance before the latter spoke. "No, there is not," she said. "But I don't believe I know your name," she continued. The physician smiled and nodded.
"Of course, of course," he replied genially. "Thomas Carpenter at your service, Lady Marian, Master 'A-Dale." They exchanged astonished glances again.
"How do you know who I am?" Allan asked suspiciously. The physician gave him a slightly exasperated look.
"You have been in Nottingham for three months," he reminded Allan. "People knew who you were before you left and came back, and obviously people know you now. You're hard to miss, Master 'A-Dale. The Lady Marian is very well known about the town and in the shire, particularly after her marriage to the late Sir Guy. Does that answer your question?"
Allan looked at him for a moment, seeming to be slightly stunned. "Maybe," he said finally. Marian raised an eyebrow as she watched him. Allan ignored her. That had not been the brightest question to ask and now he wished that he had not actually asked it. He shook his head at himself as they started walking silently back to Nottingham Castle.
He was not looking forward to going back. He was not looking forward to being treated as though he was just another soldier, not someone that Robin had once called his friend. If there was anything he could have done to stop it, Allan most certainly would have. However, he knew that the only reason Robin was like this was because of the events that had occurred in the last few years.
That made things both easier to forgive and harder to forget. They had all had a difficult time. He and John had not quiet been prepared for the battles of the Holy Land. Much had not wanted to go back, but he had. He had warned them of all of the horrors they would face, but it had not been nearly enough.
Now Allan understood exactly what had haunted Robin and Much when he had met them. When they had been outlaws, he had seen something in the way they stood – he had studied them like any thief would, if only to get a better idea of who the people he had fallen in with were. There was also something in their eyes, whether they meant it to be there or not. There was a bitterness in the way Robin had fought the Sheriff, but that had become worse when they had left.
The decision to go had not been an easy one. Djaq had openly refused. That had been understandable – it was her people that they had fought against. She had not been openly disgusted, which all of them had been grateful for, but she had told them that there was not a person in the world that she would do that for. She had understood why Robin was going back and had wished them well, saying that she hoped that they would meet again one day.
Will had not been willing to leave Djaq, which was not surprising.. After all, he was in love with her. They had packed things up almost immediately, discussing plans to go to Scarborough to join his family, though Djaq had wanted to return to her homeland. It was not something they had the luxury of doing when there was a war going on, however.
Allan and John had spent a great deal more time deliberating. John wanted to continue to help the poor. He had finally found a purpose to work for after so many years as an outlaw. He had found something to do with his life, but he had decided to go in the end. It was much more difficult to work on his own and Allan had decided that he was going to go with Robin. John had been a bit reluctant to leave, but he had relished the freedom from his outlaw status in the end.
To be truthful, Allan missed John. John had been able to keep everyone in line in a way that not even Robin could. Robin was a commander, a leader, but he was not the peacekeeper that John was. Particularly not in his present state. The men followed him and were absolutely loyal to him so long as he was loyal to King Richard, but some of them had not appreciated being left behind with him when the Guard left with the King to reclaim his throne in London from Prince John.
Allan nodded to the men at the gate, his attention turning to the surprisingly silent Marian as she walked back toward the castle. The physician walked on her other side as they made their way toward her room. The guard who had been trailing her earlier, James, looked up at Allan, who shook his head. James nodded to him and returned to his previous duties. Considering that it would keep him away from the Sheriff and someone needed to keep an eye on Marian, he did not mind doing it himself. After all, Robin did not need him that much today, it seemed.
Upon arriving at her room, Marian took the physician to where her son was in the crib that had been set up for him. Roger was usually a happy little boy. When Allan had been introduced to him a few months ago, he had smiled at the former thief almost instantly. He had Guy's black hair and the blue eyes both of his parents had. The maidservant who had been watching him and doing her best to try to make him comfortable curtsied to Marian and moved away to allow Carpenter to do his work.
The physician frowned and moved over to Marian's desk, putting his things down and rummaging through his bag to find something.
Allan watched silently for a long time. Carpenter bustled about, going back and forth between Roger and his supplies.
"I think the boy will be fine," the physician told Marian as he worked. "The fever should break soon and that will be the worst of it. I will stay here until it does and do my best to take care of him. He's a strong lad, my lady," he said to her. Marian gave him a faint smile.
"Thank you," she said. Her eyes were glittering with tears. Carpenter nodded to her.
"It's nothing, my lady," he replied. "I am only glad that I am able to help."
Marian gave him a bigger smile but said nothing as Carpenter turned back to her son.
A sharp rap on the door interrupted Allan's thoughts a little while later as he was watching the sun go down through Marian's window. He turned to look at her as she moved to answer it, obviously glad to have a distraction. Allan paused for a brief moment, then walked over to join her in case it was Robin.
Raymond stood on the other side of the door. He looked between Marian and Allan.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Lady Marian, Allan. I don't suppose either of you know where Robin has gone off to?" he asked. Marian glanced at Allan, then back at Raymond.
"Not since I spoke to him earlier," she said. "That was only a few moments after we spoke. I have not seen him since." Raymond frowned, then nodded.
"We may have a problem on our hands," he said, turning his gaze to Allan. "He was expecting me to dine with him tonight to discuss the King's business, but it seems that he has not yet returned. He was supposed to be back some time ago, it appears."