It started as a normal day. Well, as normal as living in the forest as outlaws could be for a person. But things had become more civilized and there was a strong sense of normalcy. They did have a permanent camp, access to a decent amount of food, and a regular routine of drops and check ins and hold ups around the shire, helping the poor and robbing the rich and corrupt. There was still the Sheriff and Gisborne after them, and the problem of the Black Knights and the trouble with Marian... But overall, it was a pretty normal life.
Much should have learned not to say or think such things, because they always went wrong.
Djaq was with him as they made their rounds; despite her obvious preference for Will and Allan, she often chose Much's company as well.
"Don't you get tired of his constant chatter?" Allan asked her once.
She shrugged. "It is soothing to me - like a babbling brook." She smiled and winked at Much when he started to puff and bluster, offended. "And I can tease him."
They often talked about food while on their deliveries - Much complaining about the general lack of amounts and varieties in the forest, leading Djaq to bemoan the inability to get good spices and ingredients for her favorite foods in the forest. That usually evolved into discussing their favorite dishes, comparing their memories of how the food had tasted and smelled in the Holy Land. But, Much hadn't had much chance to cook with local ingredients during his stint there, and Djaq's memories and ability to translate the ingredients were fuzzy. So any attempt to recreate were either disasters, or a "continued travesty that is English food", as Djaq put it.
They were deep in conversation when the heard the shriek.
"Dear God, waht was that?" Much yelped. He spun around, dropping his parcels of food as he whipped out his sword.
"Hush!" Djaq ordered, though she drew her sword and went back to back with Much.
Neither of them were willing to take a chance that the Black Knights had thought up some new scheme to take out the outlaws. For a long minute, there was only silence; even the birds had gone quiet. Then, there was shuffling and rattling in the the underbrush. Both Djaq and Much spun toward the sound, swords at the ready as they stared at the shaking patch of brambles.
"There!" they shouted together.
The rustling stopped. A plaintive bleat sounded from the heart of the brambles.
"That is a goat." She started giggling. "A goat!"
"How do you know for sure? It sounded like a demon!"
She shook her head and walked to the brambles, still grinning. "Remember the last time you all thought there was a devil in the forest? That turned out well enough for everyone involved."
"Not before scaring us half to death!" Much argued, but he followed Djaq.
"I wasn't scared." She peered through the brambles, parting the tangled stems to see better. "It is a goat!" she said and rocked back on her heels to make room for Much. "Look."
He leaned down and squinted. A yellow, slit pupiled eye stared back at him. He jumped back with a shudder. "Are you certain that's not a demon?"
"What? I wouldn't rule it out! Though, the worst of our problems are always human based. But this does make me think of the story in the Bible, about Abraham and Isaac."
Djaq untangled a few more of the branches and reached for the center, where the goat was caught but its horns. "See? Just a goat."
"See, in that story there was a ram with it's horns caught in a bush, too. But before that, Abraham had been ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faith..."
"Ouch!" Djaq pulled her arm out, hissing at the scratches from the thorns. "Well, I don't think this is divine influence. Neither of us are named Abraham, and I know I don't have a son named Isaac, so unless you do, I think we are safe."
"Or rather, the goat is safe."
"We will see how safe, once we get it out. Help me - pull these branches back."
They fought with the brambles for a few minutes before they got the goat free. Djaq's hands were scratched up, and Much got a face full of spiky foliage when he let go of a branch because the goat bleated close to his ear. The goat's small horns had been tangled up, but it was the rope around its neck that had caused the most trouble. Once free, the goat jumped out of the brush and tried to scramble away, but Djaq kept hold of the rope.
"Well, now! Do try to be grateful," Much said, poking at the spray of thorn delivered sores on his face.
Djaq approached the goat carefully, and the little animal stool still, staring with gold eyes at its rescuers. "There now, it is just frightened." She let the goat sniff her fingers and smiled. "Good goat."
"Well, Isaac, what are we going to do with you?" Much asked as he joined Djaq; he grinned as the goat nuzzled at his hand.
Djaq just raised her eyes brows at him.
"Well, we were just talking about Abraham and Isaac. I thought it was appropriate."
"It is a female goat."
"That doesn't matter. Unless we want to call her Isaaca."
"The goat will not care. Come along, Isaac, we need to find out where you came from."
They collected the food parcels and the rest of their supplies they'd dropped and set out for their stops, with Isaac the nanny goat in tow. There were no villages, homesteads, or even hovels in the immediate area, so Isaac must have wandered quite a distance from her home. The next stop on their route was a small homestead on the edge of a tiny village, and as it was the closest, it was the best option. Though, Much pointed out that they had never seen a goat there on any of their previous visits, though they might have purchased one recently. The Greens were doing well enough as any small family could be under the rule of the Sheriff, and Much and Djaq were stopping by to check on the toddler of the family. The little girl had got a splinter in her hand, and it had gotten infected. Djaq had happened to be on the round to their home the day when it had gotten really bad, and had lanced and treated it. The young parents had been so grateful, that they urged her to come back and make sure it was completely cleared up. It helped that the little girl was mesmerized by Djaq and her voice, and would instantly calm when Djaq spoke to her; during the first visit while she was cleaning the sore, Djaq had sang a little song in her own language, and the girl managed to smile and forget her hurt.
Much asked her what the song was about.
"It was a something my father used to sing to my brother and I when he was taking care of our little hurts. Hush little child, it seems a great pain now, but I will fix it, and you won't remember in a day.. Her eyes had gone far away, and her smile was sad. "But I did remember. Which is a good thing for this little girl."
Much was certain that the Green's was where Isaac came from - between the location and the fact that a toddler would benefit from goat's milk, it made the most sense. He was so certain, that when he spotted the little family out tending their crops, he called, "This is a reunion! We have you goat!"
However, it wasn't their goat. They had never seen her before, though they would gladly take her, if the real owner couldn't be found.
The pattern continued through the rest of their rounds. No one recognized the goat, and no one was sure where she had come from. So Isaac trotted along with the outlaws, accepting pats and any bits of food people offered her.
"So if we can't find her owner today..." Much started,
"We bring her back to camp, ask the others if they heard anything about a missing goat, wait a few days, and then take her to the Green's."
"Yes, I know, but..." Much scratched around the base of Isaac's horns. The little goat leaned into the touch, eyes nearly closed even as she walked along with him. "We have space at camp, and you were talking about goat cheese in recipes before..."
"Oh, have you grown attached?" Djaq teased, her voice sing-song.
'What? No, no!" Much pulled his hand away from Isaac's head. However, she had her own ideas, and butted against his legs gently. He reached down quickly and patted her again. "There, there, you selfish little beast."
None of the gang had heard of a missing goat on their rounds, so Isaac was welcomed into the camp, at least for the night. Robin was amused, but agreed that they had to find out where she was from - a goat made a big difference for a family and their ability to feed children. John and Will were nonplussed, but Allan had a few opinions.
"What's it doing in the kitchen, where you make food?" he demanded when Much tethered her near his work station and set about cooking.
"We have birds fly through here, and I didn't here you complaining this much then!" Much shot back.
"Yeah, but birds don't sit there, and they don't smell! Goats are smelly, this one included!"
"She's no more smelly than any of you," Djaq said, pointing at the rest of the gang. "Have none of you remembered there is a stream nearby? Or that I have made more than enough soap for all of you?"
Allan didn't argue, but he muttered to himself as he settled into his corner.
Isaac didn't cause any ruckus, and as Much had tethered her on a long line near an open edge of the camp, she didn't make a mess either. She focused on the foliage within her reach, nibbling away with single minded determination. Will made one comment about her eating down the camp and the camouflage, but subsided when Much glared and Djaq raised a single eyebrow at him.
"I suppose one goat for one night won't do that much damage."
Once the gang settled in for the night, Isaac lay down near Much's bunk, legs folded neatly under her as she chewed her cud.
"It's the goat who is attached to me," Much argued with the others teased him.
"No, you're right," Robin said with a grin. "She probably doesn't have any feelings, and picked that spot because it is near the warm hearth. Any dumb animal would do the same."
"Isaac is not dumb! Why would you say that? Do you want to hurt her feelings?"
At the laughter that erupted, Much retreated to his bunk and turned his back to the others. Isaac was unmoved. The only movement from her was the sharp grinding motion of her jaw and occasional flicks of her little tail. She stayed like that for several hours, until the gang fell asleep. Much half woke a few times, at the sound of sharp little hooves click around the camp, though mostly back to where she had been eating. He woke up another time and saw Isaac at the very end of her line, by Djaq's bunk; Djaq's hand dangled down and rested lightly on Isaac's head.
After a breakfast of goat's milk for the outlaws and a fresh corner of the camp for Isaac, she went along with Much and Djaq again on their rounds. She would snatch mouthfuls of browse as they walked, and she became a bit of an attraction with the children. It wasn't that they had never seen a goat, but they had never seen one along with the outlaws and behaving like a pet.
Halfway through their rounds, Much convinced Djaq to take a lunch break in a small, sunlit meadow that they walked past. It wasn't hard to convince her; they were in no rush to get to their next stop, and the weather was wonderful. Djaq settled down with her bread and cheese, while Much bustled around to tether Isaac to a sapling so she could get sun and shade and grazing, and gave her sips of water out of the cup of his hand. Then he finally sat down next to Djaq.
"Not a word," he said.
"I didn't say anything!"
The lounged in the sun as long as they could, and Much reluctantly urged Isaac down from the little boulder she had climbed up on, to enjoy the sun while she chewed her cud.
"You know," he said as they walked to the next village, "I would be rather pleased if we didn't find Isaac's owner - and even more so if the Green's decided they didn't want her."
"I certainly wouldn't mind either. "It was nice to have fresh goat's milk for breakfast. Though she would be an added responsibility."
"I know, but not a very large one."
As they entered the village, a man came charging towards them. "Hey! That's my goat! Have you outlaws turned to goat thieving from decent people instead of helping them?"
Much, Djaq and Isaac all froze in surprise at the outburst. With a tiny bleat, Isaac darted behind Much and pressed into his legs.
"We are not goat thieves!" Much snapped. "We found her tangled in brambles, miles from here. You must be a bad goat owner to let her wander off that far!"
The man scowled. "She ran off. Worst mannered nanny in my herd. But she's still mine. Give her back!"
He grabbed for the line, and Isaac nearly squealed and bolted away, trying to get between and behind Djaq and Much at the same time.
"She doesn't seem to like you," Djaq observed. "But, you are the first person who has laid any claim to her..." She gently untangled the line and urged Isaac to move in front of her.
"But..." Much started, voice and and thin.
"This is his goat, Much. We have to give her back."
Much stayed quiet as the man lead Isaac away, though he flinched every time she bleated. Both Much and Djaq waited as the man hauled the little goat through the village, as she fought and tugged against the line in a way she had never done before.
"Come on, we still have visits to make," Djaq said after a while.
The rest of the day, Much was quiet and despondent. Djaq didn't try to fill the silence, knowing he needed the space. When back at camp, and Allan made smart comments about the lack of goat, she shut him down fast. There was no need to upset Much more. And she missed Isaac as well.
Much woke up the next morning to something nudging against his side. He rolled away, not wanting to give up sleep just yet.
Then Isaac bleated.
He sat bolt upright and nearly smacked his had against the top of his bunk. "Isaac! You've come back!" He tumbled out of bed and hugged her.
By that point, the rest of the gang was up.
"Much, you can't keep the goat, you know who the owner is now. No matter how much you like her," Robin pointed out.
He barely heard Robin, looking over Isaac with concern and growing outrage. "No, no, she can't go back, look!" He pointed out a number of scrapes along her sides, and some obvious swelling on her back. There were also raw spots on her neck where a rope had rubbed the hair away. "She's been beat!"
"She probably got those scratches running through the forest," Robin said.
"But not those bruises! And look at her neck! She must have fought to get away, or was pulled along with no regard for her health!"
Djaq joined Much on the floor of the camp and looked over Isaac's wounds. "I agree with Robin about the scratches," she said. "But those marks on her back look like she was hit with something, like a switch."
Much turned to Robin, "I know she is a goat, but you can't say she isn't smart - she found her way back here! And we can't let people in our shire go beating animals! The world is awful enough to begin with!"
Robin stood for a moment, chewing his thumb as he considered. "I agree with you, Much. But we can't keep the goat here."
"The Greens said they would take her," Much said, desperate. "I cannot see them hurting her, and they would be so very grateful."
Robin nodded, then turned and grabbed a few coins. "We are going to compensate her owner, mind. But we aren't going to send her back. I'll go see him, and you go bring the goat to the Greens."
"No! I will go see that man myself. And then bring Isaac over to her new home. This is for me to do, it has nothing to do with you, Robin!" He snatched the coins out of Robin's hand and stalked out of camp without a backwards glance.
There was a beat of silence in the camp. Then, Allan chuckled. "Much doesn't actually make a good point that often, but when he does..." He shook his head, still grinning. "But that means we get goat's milk this morning again, right?"
It took far less time for Much to reach the village where Isaac had come from than it had taken the day before. Obviously he took a direct route, but his fury fueled him as well. And it hadn't abated by the time he came face to face with Isaac's owner. With a snarl, he threw the coins at the man, cutting off anything he had been about to say.
"You can't have the goat back. You beat her. You're lucky I don't take the rest of your herd, just to make sure they aren't being hurt either. She's going somewhere she will be loved and taken care of. Take that money and don't even think of trying to get her back!"
The man blinked at the intensity of the tirade, but then started back with his own. "What right do you have to say what I can and can't do with my livestock? That goat kept getting out, so I had to beat some sense into her to get her to stay! That's my business, not yours!"
Much grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and shook him. "It's my business when she got away from you and came to find some comfort! I've been to war, I've seen the terrible things people do to each other. It's bad enough when soldiers kill each other in the name of God, and far, far worse when they kill innocents for the same reason. But to come home and see all the pain and suffering here... I'm doing my part to ease it. And it doesn't matter of the pain and suffering is people or a goat, I'll do my best to help!"
With another snarl, he shoved the man away and stormed back to the forest. His pulse pounded through his head, but at the same time, he felt light and clear. He had done what had needed to be done. And he felt good.
Since Djaq and Much had started the adventure with Isaac, it felt fitting that she went with when Much brought Isaac to the Green's farm. The little family was ecstatic about their newest addition, and Isaac seemed satisfied as well. Much knelt down and scratched around the base of her horns, and she tried to nibble his beard.
"Well, be good, Isaac, and I'll see you around," Much said quickly, and scrubbed a hand over his eyes. "I'll... just head back to camp."
"I'll catch up," Djaq told him. When he was out of earshot, she turned back to the Greens. "You'll need to get a male goat, or get access to one, once she dries up. And let us know when she has a kid, or if you decide you don't need a goat." She glanced back toward's Much's retreating figure. "We might have room at our camp for one by then."