The wind whistled through the trees and the far cry of a hawk was all that Robin could hear. The air was still cool this late into April, but he could tell that spring was on the way. He sat crouched behind the brush that ran along the North road that led to Nottingham. He did this a lot lately and mostly alone; he preferred it that way. Ever since Marian's death, he spent most his time alone. Much and the others worried about him more than they let on. The gang knew that it would take quite some time before he was able to move on, but that journey to rock bottom is what kept them all on edge.
Robin could just sense the gang before he actually saw them. He knew that they were worried for him. He continued to tell them he was fine, but that was a lie. He loved Marian with every bit of himself and living without her was pure torture. He had never imagined his life without her and now it was hard just to get up in the morning. He would tell himself to breathe in and out. The only comfort he had was knowing that someday his arrow would draw Gisborne's blood. Perhaps he would be able to move on after that.
"Master, what are you doing?"
"Standing guard Much," Robin answered with a bit annoyance in his voice. That annoyance, of course, Much missed completely.
"For what, Robin?" John inquired. John was perhaps the only one of the gang that could even begin to understand what Robin was feeling. He had let his love, Alice, leave Nottingham to find a better life with another man. He missed his wife and son everyday and knew that Robin was not being truthful when he said that he was fine.
"Rumor has it that the Sheriff has a messenger for one of Black Knights coming into Nottingham today," Robin answered as he shifted his position; pulling his bow tighter across his back.
"Rumor from who?" Alan asked as he glanced around the woods and the road.
"Marian's lady-in-waiting," Robin quickly answered. Since her death he had been reaching out to all those who knew and loved her. He was trying to gather as many allies as he could; using her memory and connections to strengthen his position against the Sheriff and Gisborne.
The assembled men sat in silence for a few more minutes, until Much couldn't sit still any longer.
"Master, you have been here all day. Let's go back to the camp," Just as Much had finished his sentence, they could hear the sound of footsteps crunching over dried leaves. Someone was coming up the road. Robin looked at Much with raised eyebrows and a telling smirk. Much rolled his eyes in response to his master's arrogance; he really hated Robin sometimes. The four of them split up and waited to ambush the Traveler. A few minutes later a lone figure came around the bend. The Traveler was dressed in dark clothes from head to toe. He had a hood covering his head and it was pulled low enough to nearly cover his eyes. He also had a dark cloth covering the rest of his face. The Traveler's dark clothes extended down his arms to the dark gloves covering his hands and a sword hung from his hip. He was carrying a satchel on his back that looked heavy; which made Robin want to introduce himself all the more. Just as the Traveler was about to take another step, two arrows came from nowhere and stuck into the ground just inches from his feet. The Traveler stopped dead in his tracks and begun to reach for his sword as he glanced around him.
"I would not do that if I were you," Robin's voice echoed against the trees. Little John and Alan A Dale came out of the forest and flanked him from his left and right with Much at the rear. The man was surrounded on all sides. The Traveler looked around him and saw that the men who were slowing closing on him. He had heard rumors about a band of outlaws living in the forests around Nottingham and had secretly hoped to run into them. He gave John and Alan an onceover, but took a longer look at Much. This gave Much an uneasy feeling. Robin came down from his hiding spot and stood about five feet in front of him.
"Now, we are Robin Hood," he said gesturing to his gang, "and we are collecting tax for the poor of England. Now, you can be generous, donate to our cause, and be on your way. Or, we can liberate you of everything," The Traveler looked about him, trying to assess his odds with all four of them. "Alan, John," Robin remarked; signaling them closer. The Traveler reached for his belt and undid the ties to his satchel. The pack loosened from his back and he threw it towards Robin.
"That sure is a nice sword you have there," Robin playfully jibed. Alan took that as his cue to lighten the Traveler's load a bit further. After Alan had removed the sword and handed it to John, the Traveler finally spoke.
"Do I not get an opportunity to defend myself?" Robin was impressed. Many times, the people they encounter are more willing to pay to avoid a confrontation. This man was much different and he deserved a chance. Alan and Robin met eyes and Robin nodded.
"Very well," Robin remarked. John offered his friend his quarterstaff and Alan took it happily. John and Much backed away as Alan took position. Alan stood in front of the Traveler and dug his into foot into the soft dirt. The Traveler took one step back and bent his knees a bit, readying himself. Alan made the first move. Using John staff, he lunged at the man who easily countered out of Alan's way. Alan stumbled past the man and quickly caught himself before he landed on his face. He turned back swiftly and swung wide at the man. The Traveler swung his right at Alan and connected just under Alan's ribs. Pain shoot through him and he grabbed at his side. He brushed off the pain and could barely contain the anger that was bubbling inside him. He was being showed up by a complete stranger in front of his mates. This would not do.
With each attempt that Alan made, the Traveler responded. The men watched as Alan tried every maneuver he could, but the Traveler did not relent. Robin watched the Traveler; there were several times that the man could have delivered a fatal blow to Alan, but did not. He even managed to relieve Alan of his dagger from his hip without Alan even noticing. The Traveler delivered a barrage of punches and kicks that set Alan on his back and his own dagger against his throat. All of the men stood quietly, except for Alan who gasped for breath.
The Traveler straightened himself and took one step back. He then flicked his wrist and Alan's dagger struck into the ground just shy of his left ear. The Traveler pulled his mask away revealing fair skin slightly darkened by the sun. He pulled his hood back and a mane of dark curls was exposed to the sun. Robin could not believe it. This Traveler was not who he was expecting
"Robin!" the woman said with a welcoming smile.
"Julia?" he said in pure shock. Robin closed the short distance between them. The two of them embraced and laughs were shared. Julia turned and faced Much. "Much, ever faithful," she walked to him and pulled him into a hug. He could not help the laugh that escaped him.
"Since you're givin' 'em away," Alan remarked as he held his arm open. Julia smirked at the man and walked past his open arms and back to Robin's side.
"What are you doing here?" Much asked.
"I was on my way to Knighton to visit Marian and my uncle," she answered. It was then that the mood went from jovial to tragic.
"Julia, there's something I need to tell you." Robin said in a quiet voice. He stepped even closer to her.
"What?" She had begun to get an uneasy feeling.
He put his hand on her back and gently directed her down the road. She fought him at first, but he needed to do this privately. The others could not hear them speak, but they knew when Robin was finally able to tell her. Julia yelled and Robin grabbed at her arms to calm her. She fought against his grasp; trying to pull herself free. She finally relented and collapsed into his arms. The both of them sat on the forest floor; Robin cradling her limp form in his arms. All the men could hear was the wind in the trees and Julia's uncontrollable sobs.