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Allan a Dale Eats a Peach

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The hard, seasoned wood of the deck was to his bum, his back to the massive strength of one of the wales in the ship's side. Over the past weeks of travel toward the Holy Land he had quickly learned he had no interest whatsoever in sailing as a vocation, but as a leisure activity, sailing, on a day such as this, he could very well do it forever.

Well, okay, he would have to get off the boat every now and again. And so, thanks be for Malta. The first stop at which he had been able to swap his Gisborne leathers for soft clothes amenable to the local climate. It had felt more than a little like the shedding of an old skin that no longer fit.

After endless days of bad weather in the ship's hold among the lads, none of whom were feeling entirely chummy with him at the moment, save Djaq, who at least saw her way clear to treating him decently (even if her conversation nowadays existed almost entirely of nostalgic talk of her homeland), he was not sure the removing of the last piece of physical evidence glaringly pointing to his episode of disharmony with the gang had not been transforming.

Certainly it had felt so.

The man who had betrayed Robin Hood. But there was no Robin Hood, here. Only, Robin. No longer 'of Locksley', even (a place name which held no meaning, here). Certainly, Allan assumed the closer they came to the King, to the King's wartime court, the more likely it would become Robin, not Hood, not of Sherwood, but Sir Robin, Lord Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon, a nobleman of elevated position that he, Allan, certainly had little experience with. Of which none of the gang (save Much, save Will for a handful of hours, perhaps some childhood memories) had any true familiarity.

He welcomed the sun onto his face, feeling its heat beating down on his knees, propped up heavenward, tasting the grit of the salt in the air, crusting on the decking as the sea water evaporated in the far-from English clime. He closed his eyes, though he still felt them reflex-squint at the intensity of the light.

Djaq had told him that soon his hair would lighten, if they stayed here for any length of time. She had seen it in other Englishmen, she said. Richard, Himself, Robin had noted, had seen His own hair change color by several shades from His time on Crusade.

Allan hoped he wasn't destined for strawberry blonde, that reddishness his mother had claimed she had doted on when he was small and his hair had first come in. 'Strawberry blonde', not very manly, that. Ah, perhaps these very Southern girls might fancy it. Might find it exotic.

But Djaq and Robin had also warned them all that their skin, exposed to sun, would redden and burn, as if scalded, if they did not cover it well, as did the dark locals. Allan liked his skin quite well as it was, thank you, but still, in this moment, he could not bring himself to go belowdecks, nor to put on the head drape Djaq had attempted to show them all how to tuck and wrap.

He brought his hand out of his pocket for the moment he had been waiting for all day. In the Malta markets he had found something so beautiful, so entirely appealing and lovely he had been saving it for just such a perfect moment. He had not been able to ask the paynim seller what it was called, due to the impasse of language, but when Much spied it in his hand later, he had told him it was called a 'peach'.

In his life, fruits such as this were nothing short of imaginary. As rare as silk thread, as rare as tavern wenches with all their own teeth. As rare as mates such as those he proudly called his sitting belowdecks doubtless wondering what he was getting up to now.

He rolled the fruit into his left hand, taking the four fingers of his right and swirling them over its surprisingly fuzzy skin, bewitched by the give in it, the innate softness, as though foreshadowing the tender meat it held within.

He brought it up to his nose, where he had drunk in the exotic scent of it more than once since he had bought it. He hesitated to put his lips to it. Doing so seemed so final. Once eaten, he would never have the pleasure of it again. Not this peach, anyway.

He again inspected it for any bruise, any mark of misuse or harm that might have come to it while in his trouser pocket. None. Outwardly: perfection.

He lifted it to his mouth, held it between his thumb and first finger. As his teeth bit through the skin, it was as though he had broken through a dam. Sweetness like nothing he had ever encountered before-even when eating from the leftovers of the Sheriff's table-flooded his mouth. The sticky syrup of the peach's juice tried to escape, running out of the corners of his mouth, but his fingers, always quick, always ready, swept what excess there was back toward his tongue.

He had done nothing to deserve being back among the people whom he cared for most in the world. He had faltered in the clutch. Twice, even, losing Marian to the Sheriff's plans for her. Perhaps he had no right to this moment, to this experience, to this personal discovery of something so perfect. Robin was below, trying to live until they landed, finally, at their destination. Much was beside him, trying (one would hope) not to push Robin the rest of the way to cuckoo. Will and Djaq were quite consumed with one another, understandably (yet uncharacteristically) so. And John was, well, John was John.

He had, perhaps, accepted forbidden fruit from Guy in the form of coin (and release from further torture and imprisonment), accepted it, pridefully thinking he could handle (spin, even) their agreement, limiting the transgressions against his fellows (and those related to his fellows) he might have to make. He was a numbers man, after all, a glass-half-full chap. One did what one must to get by.

It was a conflicting lesson to learn that in Robin's world (Sherwood what now was), playing the percentage, getting by and greasing wheels was not going to work. Straight up, that one was expected to give up everything. One was expected to believe in the support of the gang. One was to put the welfare of others above the welfare of self. Above his own, lifelong credo of self-preservation at any cost he did not personally have to pay.

The large, almost nut-like seed he had found at the center of the peach he plopped into his mouth, hungrily sucking the last of the fruit from it.

Accomplishing that, he withdrew it again with his first two fingers and thumb, examined it closely under the still-brilliant heat of the day's sun, and added it to the (for the most part, empty) money pouch at his waist.

He did not know when they might again see England (perhaps he was foolhardy to think that they all would). He did not know in what way they might be returned there (in glory, at the side of the King? in torment, as prisoners of the Sheriff?), but he made an unbreakable pact with himself in that moment; that he would carry that seed home with him, and plant it in good, English soil.

...the end...