One act wasn’t enough, Dan Scarlett was coming to realise. It didn’t matter how selfless the act. It didn’t matter that it had saved his boys from a similar fate. Years later, even now, he would catch himself going to pick something up as if his hand was still there. He’d experience a moment of disorientation, and then foolishness....and then just carry on, as if everything was normal. Because that’s how things were, now; it’s how they had to be.
Even so, leaving Nottingham had given them back something approaching a normal life. Away from the memories, and away from the vile sheriff, who like a miasma poisoned everything upon which his touch fell. They had a good life in Scarborough. Luke had found an apprenticeship; they had a cottage that - despite the occasional leak - was sound, and warm, and which had room for one more. Course it would benefit from a carpenter’s touch. And Scarborough, being a seaport, had opportunity. He’d been chatting with the shipwrights, talking up Will’s talent with wood. And he could get work there, Dan was sure of it.
That’s why he’d come. A chance to get the family back together, to see Will building a future. He was a good lad, fine and honest and brave, and with a skill that, given the right opportunities, could get him noticed. This living in the forest, grubbing out an existence from one day to the next as an outlaw, this was no life for a young man, and he’d come to tell Will so.
However, his son had disagreed.
It’s why they were here now, in the town, listening to this proclamation which Dan knew was utter rubbish. This wasn’t the pestilence; he knew it, Robin knew it, and Dan was damn sure the sheriff did too. Vaisey was up to something. This blockade was being put in place for some obscure, self-serving design of his own. And as was the case with all his schemes, people would suffer for it. Real people, ones like him, and his sons, and their friends and families and neighbours. People like Jane.
One act, Dan was coming to realise, was never enough.
He could feel it himself, now, the anger Will must feel on behalf of those who suffered from such unjust decrees. With murmurs and cries of dismay rippling around them, with the whimpers of the sick child as Robin passed her back to her mother, Dan felt his own anger, long lying dormant, begin to stir. If it was fed by a sense of shame, one that had niggled at him since Will’s harsh words to him the day before, then that made it no less vivid.
What was wrong with living a peaceful life now? Dan had asked himself. His years were advancing; he had worked, struggled, raised two sons, lost both a wife and his hand.....surely that was enough? But yesterday, seeing his son’s scorn slip through the veneer of respect which he’d previously always shown him, Dan was forced to question that complacency. Was it enough, when not only events like this one here today, but poverty, and taxes, kept the ordinary folk of Nottingham bowed and degraded? Clearly Will didn’t think so. He’d glimpsed this morning what his son did, as part of Robin’s gang. Could see the good-hearted decency of these men, and their willingness to put their own safety on the line and suspend any hope of a normal life, by doing what they could to ease the burdens of others.
He was proud of his son. More so than ever now, Dan realised. And he wanted his son to be proud of him.
“Robin, we’ve got to do something.” Will had been behind him but Dan heard him, now, speaking urgently to Robin. “He’s condemned the whole street to death.”
Dan made up his mind.
“Sheriff, this is not right!” he shouted. Dan could hear Robin calling his name, but he ignored the caution. “I’ve just had a look at a young lass, and it’s not the pestilence. I’ve seen the pestilence before, in Scarborough.”
From the corner of his eye Dan noticed Will, shadowing him from the edges of the crowd, concerned for him. But today, this couldn’t be Will’s fight. It was what Will did, every other day; today it would be his fight. Dan started walking forward, not wanting Will to intervene. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it properly. He couldn’t deny he was afraid; everyone knew the risks of openly defying the sheriff.
But there came a time, for everyone, when you could no longer just stand by. Dan had watched long enough; today he was going to act. Clenching his remaining hand to stop it trembling, firming his resolve, Dan strode forward, pitching his voice to be heard.
Yes. Today, by God, he would be heard.
Fear and pride fought for place equally in Will, as he pushed past whatever obstructions lay in his way, following his father’s progress.
“These people must have food, and water, and medicine.”
Dad, what are you doing? But Will knew exactly what he was doing, and why.
“I said, shut up,” yelled Vaisey.
His father had stopped walking now so Will stopped too, watching, petrified at what was taking place but feeling powerless to stop it. Should he call out, warn his father to leave it alone? But then how could he, when he knew his dad was doing this to earn back the regard he felt he’d lost, so that his son could be proud of him?
And Will was proud. He watched his father and was filled with a swell of affection and admiration. This took real guts, to stand up to the sheriff, in such a public place and with his guards standing all around. But Will knew it was futile....the barricades would go up anyway. They would just have to find some way to succour the victims.
Will reached Little John, and grabbed onto the frame of a pottery stall. Getting more anxious by the second, Will knew this was too public, and that there were too many of the sheriff’s men. This wasn’t the way. It was time to stop this, somehow, before the sheriff decided the same thing.
“I’ve shut up for you once before sheriff,” his father was saying, “and it cost me my wife, my hand, and the respect of my son. So I’m not shutting up for you any more. Now why,” he challenged, “are you saying this is the pestilence....”
And then there was movement; sudden, and vicious. A woman screamed and then Will knew he’d left it too late but even so he was shoving his way forward, struggling against the hands restraining him - too late, too late, dad, I’m coming. But he wasn’t. Because John was there, holding him back. And Will’s eyes were fixed, in horror, on the place where his dad had fallen.
It wiped out all else, the blade going in. The shock of it. The way it sliced in through flesh, and clawed at vital organs, and the agony of this burned a hole in his mind too vast for anything else to slip through.
My boys. Except for that.
And a knowledge that, when the blade came out, he would die. He was dying now. Swiftly. Dan knew it. No time.
The blade slid out, and his blood went with it. The body surrendered. Dan dropped to his knees, while his thoughts flailed about in a maelstrom of shock and disbelief.
But then Dan felt, at the edges of his mind, a thought which held the promise of calm. Of comfort. If only he could latch onto it. He was still reaching for it when he toppled forward, flat onto the stones.
“Hysteria, panic - in times of crisis, not very helpful. It will not be tolerated,” the sheriff pontificated.
As if a flint had struck a spark, anger ignited in Will. Lies! Vaisey already twisting what had happened. He started struggling, but the gang were there, all of them, holding him back.
“I’m going to kill him, now,” Will cried, fighting to free himself.
It incensed him. Gisborne was strutting about, instructing the barricades be raised, and meanwhile his dad was lying there, the world carrying on around him in its stupid, wicked way while one man’s bravery, and his life, became nothing but an obstacle to be passed by, or a corpse to be dragged away.
It’s wasn’t even a decision, to kill Vaisey, just fact. Something that had to be done. I hate the sheriff. How often he’d said this, and he’d always meant it. But now he felt it, in a visceral way, one that demanded action. Djaq came and laid her palms on his chest - Will - and the touch somehow quietened him, but it didn’t dim his resolve. It just meant he needed to calm down and think a moment, about how it could be done.
Because the sheriff had to die.
You didn’t need to do it Dad. I’m so sorry. You were a good man, you were all I could ever want in a father.
Words with nowhere to go. A son deprived of a father...no, two sons...Luke. He must find Luke, Will decided, and then do what needed to be done. The sheriff would be dead by sundown, and to hell with Nottingham. Today the world had lost a good man, and a brave one, and it was not going to carry on as if it simply didn’t matter.
Because at that moment, it mattered more than anything else in the world.