Chapter 1: A Whisper in Darkness
Allan-A-Dale understood all-too-well that the frequent trips to the Sheriff's dungeons were in some way Guy's version of a mind-game. But as much as the former lone grifter enjoyed games (mind-based or otherwise), he found no joy to be had in these dark journeys.
Such trips some version of a reminder (Gisborne no doubt thought) of where Allan had first found himself that had brought him to where he presently was. A warning of where he might (if he did not behave to Guy's complete satisfaction) once again wind up.
Still, he managed it; the dungeon walk. Still (he liked to brag to himself), he bore it well.
There was but one spot for sure and certain he avoided as though it were nothing but the blackest of abysses: his cell. The place of his torment--the site where he had sealed his treason-pact.
Treason. For surely Robin saw it that way: treason--not to the state, not to Richard (country and King). Rather, to the realm that was Sherwood, to its chief sovereign--its outlaw cabal; Robin’s Court.
And Allan-A-Dale’s punishment upon the discovery of his treachery? Banishment, not death.
Banishment and (indirectly) the employ of Sir Guy, and by extension, the Sheriff.
Banishment to the unwelcoming stone of Nottingham Castle, to friendlessness: to Will knowing that in the clutch he, Allan, had abandoned Will to Robin's anger, choosing self-preservation over their friendship bond. To Djaq, now knowing the unvarnished truth of him; of how wretchedly and faithlessly he had treated Will. Of how he had not been able to trust her with the truth. And Robin...
All of which he chose not to think about.
But protracted trips for Gisborne on dungeon errands (actual or fabricated) made such deliberate suppressions of the growing catalog of his shameful acts much harder to sustain.
So, because such a small thing was yet in his control (unlike so many far, far bigger things), he avoided his prior cell, as one might avoid a bloke known to have Plague.
But soon enough time came when even his commitment to that course of action had to be broken with.
"Allan!" again, hissed into the dungeon's artificial darkness.
Coming from just that unapproachable spot.
He turned toward his name without thinking, peered warily into the dungeon's midday night. It was more likely than not that more than one dungeon resident might share with him an acquaintance, recognize his face.
"'Oo's there?" he hissed back, taking his cue from the other man's covert tone.
"It is I," the voice called, a shackle rattled. "What news of Knighton?"
And he heard the hope of rescue spill over into the voice, the shuffling jangle of chain being gotten ready for the breaking.
The proper-ness of the diction echoed strangely amongst the usual, coarse occupants of the Sheriff's 'great unwashed'. It could belong to none but a noble: Sir Edward, still trying to be about safeguarding his people and lands, concerned for his now lord-less holding. Begging to know; ‘what news of Knighton’.
Allan could not immediately decipher if Edward’s request sounded more of Much irritatingly on again about Bonchurch, or of Robin, sincerely concerned with Locksley's precarious welfare.
At the sound of Edward’s voice for a moment Allan was transported back to a season-long series of meetings: dark nights sitting as the coals threatened to die away upon the hearth of Knighton Hall, a cold (though generous) joint of meat in one hand, a cup of mead in the other, as Edward (at Robin's request) met with him to broaden his knowledge of Nottingham Castle's many weak points and secret passageways. Things naturally known best to the shire's previous sheriff.
And then, short weeks beyond those Sherwood-Knighton summits, the embarrassment of Tom having cased Knighton, and set his two accomplices to erroneously ransacking it in the name of Robin Hood.
Allan had apologized to Edward then. Earnestly. As he knew he must apologize to him now.
He moved as close (but no closer) as need be to be heard when speaking at a cautious volume. "Sorry,” he began, his tone incredulous—how could Edward not know? “Knighton is ash," he told of the Hall. "The great chimneypiece alone remains. I have seen it with my own eyes. More than one outbuilding and cottage also damaged from cinders, caught upon that night’s fickle wind."
"But Gwyn?” Knighton’s lord gasped. “Fernand? Jeremy? The others?" Edward asked after the Hall's servants.
"All were found shelter--though none knows for how long,” Allan related, his eye toward the scant light coming in at a high grating rather than upon Edward’s face. “Knighton’s rumored to become Sheriff's new garrison. Surely you know this,” he pried, confounded at the lord’s ignorance. “Surely Marian has told you."
"No," Edward huffed into the dungeon's damp atmosphere, his breath nearly visible. "She treats me as a child. Tells me nothing she thinks might discomfit me." His morale spiked. "But you are arrived, yes?" Edward asked of the man he thought his friend, his dependable compatriot. "To spirit me away?"
The temperature of the air immediately surrounding Allan-A-Dale seemed to drop by several degrees.
"Add this to your list of 'not been told'," Allan apprised the Lord of Knighton, wholly sardonic (toward himself) in his delivery, a cock to his brow. "I work for Gisborne now. Rescues are not our spec-ial-ity."
There had been no rescue that night, nor on any yet to come. But in the interim Allan had found himself now drawn to--rather than repelled by--the place.
It was difficult (at best) for him to sleep inside castle walls. More often than not he caught catnaps during the day whenever and wherever he could find time and space to settle himself into. The spectre of the Sheriff, of his inappropriate violations of personal space (both physical and geographical), always looming large about the castle ‘quarters’ Gisborne had officially billeted him into.
Allan’s aversion to being caught there by a questing Sheriff led him off into foreign spots of a night, making nights far longer than they used to be when spent among comrades rather than among a garrison of troops who utterly distrusted him, and among the devious villain in charge who quite possibly thought he now owned him.
“But how could--how can--you?” Edward had begged an answer of him that first night they had encountered one another, and the breadth of Allan’s betrayal and break with Sherwood had come into the light. Marian’s father was shocked, and deeply confused by the unexpected turn of events--this man, once an outlaw, a guest in his home, now…traitor to Robin’s (and his) cause.
“Yeah, well,” Allan had quipped, far less seriously than he had felt at the time, “see how you feel about joining up with Guy after a few weeks in here…”
In retrospect, later the next day, guilt for the remark (far too casually dropped and flouted to a man presently in the dungeon’s grip) descended upon Allan, and sometime after nightfall Allan made an appearance at Edward’s cell, his three cups and one pea in hand for a bit of practice.
What else had Edward to do to pass the time? he asked. Oughtn’t he be glad for the distraction of helping a chap sharpen his already considerable skills on an interesting variety of tavern games?
“I say, Guy,” Allan caught himself asking one day as he accompanied Gisborne to the stables, taking direction on some castle matter or other. “Thinking on Sir Edward, there in the depths--”
“Yes?” Gisborne all but stormed in reaction, Allan needing to catch his breath at the close proximity in which his one-time dungeon tormentor had rounded upon him. At the way it could still unexpectedly affect him.
Clawing up the slope of barely suppressed terror, grasping at composure, Allan continued, “a bed rack there would not go amiss, methinks. Neither would a coverlet. Nothing grand, just a bit of a cloak, perhaps.”
“I am not in the habit of granting prisoners luxuries, no matter how inconsequential,” Gisborne haughtily informed him, then, turning the screw. “I do not recall any pillows or coverlets during your stay there.”
“Yes. Right,” Allan agreed, at the ready with his reasoning. “Only, I was thinking…the Sheriff may want to interrogate him, and it would not do for you were he to be carried off by the grippe before then.”
Allan thought he could almost hear the mechanism of the man’s brain grinding into motion.
“There is also Marian to consider,” Allan offered tentatively. “Few women on earth would have angry words for any man who tended to an ailing father.”
It had felt odd to play the Marian card, even in the process of rendering a kindness toward her father.
For a moment Allan had felt a bit like he had been bartering with her, promising Guy he understood Lady Marian well enough to direct the tall knight in his own wooing. For though Gisborne was certainly injured and still angry over his jilting, Allan could see in his behavior that the day was not so very far off that he would yet greedily respond to any scrap of attention (much less affection) she might let drop in his general direction.
So, he was unsurprised when Gisborne had agreed, if curtly, to his suggestion.
The bed rack was an easy find. However, the cover Allan had put some effort into acquiring, not immediately finding anything to his liking. But then, like faery treasure, it had winked to him out from among a cast-off pile of things Guy’s men had pillaged from Knighton in the wake of the fire there. Edward’s lordly cloak, familiar as the beard on Marian’s father’s face. Allan dug it out without a second thought, bundling it together, no matter the fact that it still smelt strongly of smoke.
When he presented it to his incarcerated friend--a man that now ought by rights and logic to be his enemy--Edward asked no questions about where it had come from, nor why (or how) he was being gifted it.
In fact, it became yet another item in a long list of things they never spoke upon. Robin. The immediate past. All silently understood to be mutually off-limits. Things like the fact that Allan knew much of his own appeal to Gisborne as a lackey had to rest somewhat in his status as Robin’s ex-man, and not at all in his own charms or merits. Things like the fact that Edward did not once, not ever, ask Allan to give his word that he would look out for, and protect Marian, his daughter.
Still, the nightly visits continued.
They had been at discussing the new jailer, another man in the position consequent, Edward claimed, that the previous man--the man who had hosted Robin and Djaq--had, when Edward had been Sheriff, been his man. With Edward’s incarceration it had become necessary for the Sheriff to employ someone less connected to his noble prisoner.
“Give us your attention, now. Full attention,” Allan had moved into his initial spiel, still at trying to finesse his three cups’ grift, Edward as his captive practice partner.
It was a night of no particular importance, in the dungeon or below. As usual, Edward was housed slightly off from the other prisoners, to increase the weight of his solitude. From time to time, if a very unpleasant individual was arrested, or a prisoner tortured to a particularly nasty point, the Sheriff would throw them in the cell directly adjacent to Edward’s, to worry and discomfit his Lord guest. But tonight, Edward and Allan were effectively alone.
Allan sat opposite the man more used to being referred to as Lord Knighton, or Sir Edward, both their bums to the hard, stone flooring, neither more than an arm’s-reach away from the bars that separated them, the bars that kept Edward from his freedom. Bars kept in place by a lock whose key (or other means of circumventing it) was easily within Allan’s ability to acquire.
As he had re-set up his cups, Allan felt, more than saw, Edward’s drifting attention, tried to regain it by increasing his assuring patter. “Easy does it, there, ‘round and ‘round the old oak until—”
In the relative darkness, in his black Gisborne leathers, it was only the occasional shine of a torch on Allan’s face, the reflection of it off his ungloved hands, that reminded Edward he was not, in fact, visiting with only a spectre of the younger man he had come to know seated at the hearth of Knighton Hall, whose quick mind and ready hands had absorbed the logistical information Robin had bid Edward bequeath his man. Who had once, in that bleakly difficult time--the Sheriff’s spies deployed about Knighton to intensify Edward's isolation--been able to make him laugh.
“I have been thinking on your predicament, Allan,” Edward said, his mind far away from perfecting Allan’s tavern diversion.
“An’ wot’s that, then?” Allan asked, his eye and concentration still to the trick he was practicing. “Wot to do with all the coin I shall nick from The Trip’s customers come Market Day?”
Edward was not to be diverted. “You have forgotten, I think, that I was once Sheriff of Nottingham. That these dungeon cells opened and shut upon my command. This dungeon was just as full of prisoners when I held the title as it is today. The men—and occasional women—housed here, their welfare is on my conscience. As are their lives. For good or for ill.”
“Nah,” Allan dismissed it, but without interrogating Edward’s statement too closely. “You were a good Sheriff, right? Marian would’nt’ve let you be otherwise.”
It was a name generally unspoken between the two of them, the subject of Marian (of her safety in the castle) too incendiary for either to broach. Edward, who should have protected her unable; Allan, who could have protected her, unwilling.
“I fancied myself a just man, yes. That is true,” Edward agreed, eliding over the mention of Marian. “At the time.”
Allan grew impatient with both their attention’s veering away from his sport. “Then wot’s changed? Someone write you a letter of complaint? Learnt you’d condemned an innocent man? Wot?”
In clearing his voice to further speak, Edward was besieged by a bout of coughing. “My position,” he spoke through congested lungs before regaining his voice. “My position has changed, Allan. It could not be more different. I saw the world so utterly divided into black, and into white—guilt and innocence, then. I cared nothing for why an accused individual had done what they were arrested for. I had very little compassion toward prisoners’ treatment—and I learned a great deal about what might be done to a man to break him, to get the information needed, or, a confession.”
“Yeah?” Allan replied, deliberately concentrating even harder now on sliding about the inverted cups.
“And that breaking point differs for each person. And it is a rare person indeed who hasn’t one. Do you know what I discovered?”
“I cannot possibly imagine,” said Allan, in the same tone as one might say they couldn’t possibly care. For a moment he considered returning above-stairs.
“Breaking a high-born man was nearly impossible.”
“Really? Imagine that, better ‘an us on every level still, are you?”
“No,” Edward replied, feeling Allan’s dislike of his chosen topic. “But the high-born, Allan—they feel part of something bigger, grander. They often have an unshakeable faith that not only will they be released and rescued—but that they are better than what is being done to them. That they are somehow above it.”
“Bless ‘em all,” Allan said, his hand fumbling with the pea, which rolled out of the light, beyond his cups into darkness.
“But the low-born—and in particular those living on the edge of society—those who have always had only themselves to look out for? Those who have been told their entire lives they are nothing, that they matter not at all? That have no one and nothing? Breaking them was far simpler.”
“Bag of coin likely was all they wanted,” said Allan, groping into the darkness in search of the pea, his trained fingers all the tool he had.
“No, I don’t believe so—” Edward considered, “even if that was what they believed. In the dungeon, alone, and without escape—no one coming for them, no one to advocate for what they’d done, it was their own isolation that did them the most ill—made them the ripest for breaking, and then turning. It is very hard—perhaps impossible—to remain loyal when, for an entire lifetime, no one’s yet been loyal to you.”
“So, it’s a head game, everybody knows that,” Allan shrugged, trying not to imagine Edward standing by, watching someone tortured on his command. Tried not to imagine Edward looking on, just beyond the space where Gisborne had overseen his session.
“I thought myself a good man, Allan—among the very best. My own measure of any situation the correct one, what actions I took above reproach. But this place has turned me. I have done things for which I must be shriven and atone. A month in such a cell, surely, was all the appropriate punishment for those crimes of want and poor judgment I adjudicated in my tenure Sheriff. I can only recall once, perhaps twice at the most, I should ever have taken more severe action. And yet I did so, daily. I did not enjoy it in the way Vaisey clearly does. But I cannot deny a satisfaction found in lording over this grim space, its residents chattel under my command whom I believed it was my duty to guide and punish.”
Upon catching the errant pea, Allan replaced it, and continued to roll the it about beneath his trio of cups. “I get it, Ed, you’re sorry. Consider yourself absolved—you never did me nor mine a harm,” he really, really wished they could get back to their game.
“No, you don’t get it, Allan. Robin,” and Edward's use of the name sang out between the two of them, “is still a Crusader. And the worst thing a Templar can encounter is faithlessness among his fellows, in those pledged to stand with him at any cost.”
“At any cost,” Allan's echo came out like a scoff.
“Allan,” Edward said the name as a loving parent might. “Everyone’s cost is different. Robin was born to a life of untouchable nobility. The world in which he moved, designed to rotate around him. When he was brought to Nottingham’s dungeon, we know not a finger was lifted against him. He was allowed to walk free as part of Vaisey’s test. What, then, could the Sheriff strip away from him to break him? Perhaps we shall never know—”
“But we could well-guess,” replied Allan, levelly, his eyes hard, now, on Edward’s.
“When Guy brought you here, he understood something you didn’t, that perhaps you still don’t. He understood that breaking you to the point you betrayed—and continue to betray Robin—matters to Robin. Because your loyalty—your brotherhood matters to him. It is part of the very reason he is more difficult to break. Robin has faith in you, in the others. He believes himself not alone. Was it the action of a man who cared nothing for you that he did not banish your brother for attacking Knighton? That in full faith he arrived to rescue Tom and his fellows from hanging?”
Allan felt something of a frog in his throat. “That didn’t work out.”
“No, it didn’t—but he did not know that. Guy has split you apart, and in doing so has weakened Robin and—I don’t even know the word for it—shattered you, Allan. You have turned your back on the man you were at becoming in Sherwood among the others. You have drowned him.”
“Yeah, well, p’rhaps I was wrong about myself then, as you were wrong about yourself when Sheriff.” He did not say he felt as though he were at drowning every waking hour, and in his sleep, as though he’d never learned to tread water.
“If a man were judged only by his deeds then I would agree,“ Edward nodded. “Yes, you behaved well when you were surrounded by good men. And when you were not, you behaved faithlessly. And do so still. Surrounded by bad men--of your choosing.”
“If not by that, choice and deeds--then how do you judge, former Sheriff?” Did he even want to know? Should Edward’s weighing of him even matter? Allan could usually see, in his trips to the dungeon, who was in a cell, and who walked free outside it. But tonight, he and Edward sat so close to the bars, the darkness giving something of a confessional cast to their conversation—he was no longer certain he, too, was not also a dungeon resident, imprisoned. That he had, perhaps, never walked into the light again once he had accepted Guy’s arrangement.
Edward put one hand up to draw his cloak closer about his shoulders.
“I judge by the cast of your eyes when there is light enough here to see it, Allan, I judge by your visits to me, by the way you still react strongly to the cell that turned you traitor. You have learned to be a good man, Allan. Do not wait too long to understand that for yourself.” Edward reached out and tapped his finger on the inverted cup of his choosing.
“Now, you’ve worked up something of a con, there, tryin’ to trick me, Ed—” Allan rejected his reasoning, “but I told you: Guy don’t take kindly to escapes. Or to those what effect them.” He lifted the chosen cup to show it did not hold the pea.
“No, no shell game here, Allan,” Edward coughed. “This place—this dungeon I, myself, had workers fortify to the extent it now is—has taken years from my life. I do not expect to last much longer, here. And perhaps that is right, and just.”
As quickly as he discounted Edward’s earlier conclusions, Allan disputed this prediction and condemnation as well. “Not bein’ funny, but you’ve got a lot to live for, Edward. Reckon they’ll come for you.”
“I hope they find you here should they come, so they might see in you what I have.”
“Nah, they don’t want me, Ed,” he swallowed back down the words ‘not even Djaq’. “Some things can’t be put back in the box.”
Edward allowed himself to disagree, to transgress against Allan’s wish to speak on another topic one last time. “Something in life I’ve learned, Allan—and you must learn it, too: it is impossible to let someone down unless they believed in you in the first place. You cannot betray where there has not first been real, and true, trust.” Edward turned over his hand showing the pea, to Allan’s surprise, not under a cup, but cupped in the Lord's palm.
Quickly, Allan tipped over his inverted cups, finding each to be empty. His eyebrows shot up as he looked at the older man.
Perhaps there was something he could yet learn from Edward of Knighton after all.
I am ashamed at how long it has taken me to finish this for sylvi10--and perhaps, moreso, how long it has taken me to 'break' the final chapter of this story, and figure out how to tell it. Thankfully, I found a way into what I wanted (Edward) to say, and what I think Allan needs to accept and understand.
Allan's non-redemption arc is among the most unsatisfyingly abandoned plot developments on the show. If you're reading this story, no doubt you agree.
This story has literally been, unfinished, in my documents since July of 2012. It is with great relief I post it here.