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The Somewhat More True Tale of Robin Hood

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The Somewhat Truer Tale of Robin Hood
Based on the Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood (by MLD)

The morning was bright and the birds sang in the trees as our story opens over England. Deep in the reaches of Sherwood Forest, in a small clearing lit by warm sunlight, a group of men emerged from bowers made of living branches. One, a skinny man with a large nose, began to pick out a melody on his basilica, singing slightly off-key. Another, a large fellow with a permanent squint and a craggy brow, hauled out an oaken table and four stumps for stools, then proceeded to sit and unpack a cup and a set of dice. The others joined him.

“Alan, come on and quit yer yowlin’. We get ‘nough of that e’ry time Robin takes us t’ town wi’ him,” moaned one of the men, throwing his dice. The sun glinted off of his reddish-brown hair and fair skin, as well as the small scar that marked his upper lip.

“Aye, Alan, c’mon. Scarlet’s right.” Added the craggy-browed man. “We can’ hardly take it up in Nottingham, ‘ow do you expect us t’ take it ’ere?”


“Leave me be, Scarlet, John. Can’ a man make music in peace?” Alan strummed harder in response to Scarlet and John’s complaints, singing louder.

“Really, Alan, at this ungodly hour? I think singing ought to be left for a later time…perhaps when no one can make out your tune, old boy,” The new speaker, a short squat man in a dusty friar’s habit, entered the clearing, a pack on his back and a pair of mugs in his chubby hands.


“Fine then, since nobody ‘preciates my art,” Alan muttered. He grabbed a mug from the man in the habit, and poured a mug of ale from a stubby barrel lying on a tree stump beside one of the bowers. He drained it noisily, then dropped down on one of the stumps, his face still twisted in a put-out scowl.

“Men! You won’t believe what I have just heard!” a voice came from above them as a handsome young man dropped into the clearing from a tree. It was, of course, Robin Hood.

“AH!” screamed John, grabbing up the nearest weapon—a long handled spoon.

“John? It’s me,” said Robin, a tinge of exasperation in his voice.

“Oh. Ah, sorry, boss,” replied John, slightly sheepish, sitting back down. He laid the spoon close at hand on the table.

“So, what did you hear, Robin?” asked Scarlet, yielding his seat to the friar and moving to recline against a fallen log on one side of the clearing. Robin stood by the table, looking every inch the classic hero; he wore a white shirt and leather armguards over dark breeches, a leather belt and high, worn leather boots. A scarf of burnt orange, dark red, and brown was wrapped loosely around his neck. A quiver full of arrows was slung over his shoulder, and he held a well-oiled bow in one hand. He brushed his free hand through his rough, dark hair, pushing it away from his face as he addressed the men, his face grave.

“Only that my heart shall soon be broken. You see, the love of my life, the fair Lady Marian, is to be wed to the Sheriff of Nottingham. I have not seen my beloved for many a month, but I prayed each night that she would not have forgotten me…for, apart from destroying our love, when she weds him, our task will be become ever harder.”

“Because of the succession law, my son?” asked the Friar, looking up from his roll.

“Yes, Friar Tuck, ‘tis because of that law. King Richard has been gone for six long years. And in that time, I have lost my family’s lands and title. Robin of Locksley I am in name only. But what I have lost is nothing in comparison to what the people have lost, and what they shall lose if Lady Marian were to marry the Sheriff! The Prince John, together with his henchman, the Sheriff of Nottingham, have taken over the throne…and that was when he found that absurd law that states that should the King be absent for a certain period of time, another member of the Royal Family can choose one to take his place.”

“But, Robin, isn’t the Lady Marian the only Royal left, since the Prince cannot choose himself?”

“Yes. And I would have thought that my beloved would never have fallen prey to such schemes as that which the Prince is party to. But perhaps she hasn’t a choice. The Prince, being Marian’s uncle, can give her hand in marriage to whomever he likes. And he, of course, has chosen the Sheriff, who, once he has married Marian and become royalty himself, will choose the Prince as ruler!”

“Then we’ll be doomed,” moaned Alan. “Heaven knows we barely are able t’ stop his greed while he is merely playin’ at being King. If he were to actually take the Crown…”

“Yes, Alan. Life as we—and the good people of England---know it would be over. Taxes, death penalties imprisonments…we’d be doomed. And I …how could I go on without my darling?” Robin sat down on the edge of the table, looking distinctly distraught. “Why, I remember the day I found her again. She’d been lost to me for so long, ever since her father and mine had left for the Crusades…and I was cast out of my family’s lands…”

“Here we go,” whispered Alan, propping his hand in his chin.

“Shh! I love this story,” shushed John, staring dreamily off into space as he imagined Robin’s words coming to life.

“We fought hard, didn’t we men? Our little band of Merry Men, robbing from the rich to give to the poor…I’m sure one day there will be songs sung of us, but in those days, days not as long ago as we would like, it would have hardly made a difference. We were in danger of failing. Each day was a struggle to survive. And it was on such a day that I found my love again. We had planned an ambush, since Scarlet had brought us news of a carriage stuck in the mud. Its occupants had set off on foot, he said, and were headed this way, a fine lady and the Sheriff of Nottingham!

‘I can’t believe our carriage is stuck in the mud. I’m sorry to make you carry that chest, Marian m’dear, but with the recent string of robberies, I thought it best not to leave it lying about.’ What luck, thought I, a fine lady who might be willing to donate her jewels in aid of some poor child, and a chest that was surely filled with all kinds of money! And that was when they came around the bend. I knew the moment I saw who she was—my lady fair, who had languished in the castle since the departure of her father. She was clothed in a gown of blue like the sky, and a cloak that shielded her from the damp spring winds. Her chestnut hair glinted red in the slanted sunlight…

‘I think the forest is quite a warm and friendly place,’ my Lady was saying, looking about her. In her arm she bore a chest that was clearly quite heavy; she was nearly staggering under the load—“

“That was the chest with the Prince’s tax money, wasn’ it, Robin?”

“Yes, it was, Scarlet. And what a find it turned out to be!”

“Aye!” agreed the men. Alan and the Friar clanked their mugs together.

“Anyways, I leapt out of hiding, as was our plan.

‘Halt!’ I shouted. ‘Surrender your riches, to me, good people.’

“I do say, Marian, we are being mugged. How warm and friendly.’ The Sheriff’s voice was snide.

‘That is no way to speak to a Lady!’ I said, waving my bow. The Sheriff scoffed at me, but I could feel Marian looking close. I met her eyes, willing her remember me.

‘Marian, I do believe we are the company of the notorious outlaw, Robin Hood!’ exclaimed the Sheriff. Marian gasped and looked at me, a new light in her eyes.

‘At your service, fine Lady,” I said, doffing my cap. She smiled, and oh, what a smile! Like sunshine dappling the silver waters or the glow of a rainbow after a storm…” Robin shook his head.

“The Sheriff was outraged, I recall.

‘Do you think that you alone can rid me of my riches?’ he sneered.

‘Why, no, Sheriff, not at all.’ That was when you sprang out of hiding. And I, quick as a flash, snatched the Sheriff’s bag of gold.”

“And I took Lady Marian’s chest!” shouted John, excited. “I—I mean, I took the chest from Lady Marian,” he said, embarrassed.

“Yes, my good fellow, you did just that.

‘You won’t get away with this, you scoundrel!’ shouted the Sheriff in rage. We merely laughed. ‘This gold belongs to his Highness, the Prince John. You will pay for such thievery!’

‘I think not, Sheriff.’ I replied.

‘Why do you steal like so? Have you sunk so far, Robin of Locksley?’ Marian seemed sad, and the thought that she would believe me capable of such thievery pierced my heart.

‘Not at all. Very little of this money will be used for myself and my men, My Lady. Most will go to the good people of England, who dwell in the uttermost depths of despair. The greed of the Sheriff and the Prince knows no bounds, and the people are paying for it. Children lie awake, frightened, cold, and hungry. This gold will ease their family’s way, providing food and what respite can be found from the ruthless taxes that are raised higher each day. It is the only way the poor can survive.’

‘Sheriff? Does Robin Hood speak the truth?’

‘Marian, my dear, one day you will learn that good money is wasted on the poor.’

‘Oh!’ Marian, rightly so, was disgusted. To be frank, I could barely stand the man at that moment-not that I ever could. ‘Robin, I’m so very sorry for my words. I have been unable to leave the castle grounds for nearly a year…I had no idea of the vast suffering in our country. I shall not let it go on though, you can trust me!’ How she turned on the Sheriff! I believe she would have taken up my bow right then and shot him if she’d had a mind to! I taught her to shoot, you know, once upon a time, when we were young.

‘Marian! It does not do to speak such treason,’

‘Treason? I do not commit treason, Sheriff!’ she hissed. Marian turned back to me, her cheeks aglow with fervor. ‘Good sir, do not keep the people waiting any longer…but before you go, I have one more treasure to give in their aid.’ She looked up at me, and oh, her green eyes…like the emerald pools that only the deer know of, deep amidst the trees… ‘It is little in repayment of such a debt, but I beg of you to take this ring. My mother gave it to me before she died. It will serve her memory well if you use it for your just and noble cause.’ That was when she gave me the sapphire ring she wore. I have sold it, per her request, but I wish that someday I will be able to buy it back and give it to her….” Robin sighed.

“Then we were forced to scatter. I kept watch over her as she and the Sheriff left the forest, but I could hardly steal her away then…and I have only seen her a few times since, for she has not left the castle.”

“Don’t worry, my son. One day you will be reunited with the Lady Marian. This I am sure of.” Friar Tuck looked at his leader, slumped in his seat.

“Perhaps. But I fear for my love—perhaps her mind was changed? Why else would she be betrothed to the Sheriff?”

“I wouldn’ think so, boss,” said Alan. “Most epic love stories don’t have their true loves straying during the story, unless the man meets a sorceress…an’ you’re most likely safe from that here in Sherwood.”

“Thank you, Alan. But I feel as though we must help the story along somewhat. But how?” Silence fell momentarily, then Tuck, glancing up at the sky through the trees, stood up.

“I must return to town soon, Robin. I will come back at dusk and tell what I have heard from the people. Perhaps some new solution will reveal itself to us then.”

“Yes! Go, good Friar, and bring me what news you can.”

“God be with you all, my sons,” said Friar Tuck as he repacked his pack and trundled off into the trees.

“Hey, Boss, maybe we can tunnel into the castle?” Scarlet looked hopeful, scratching his head. “We could get the Lady out of her chamber then!”

“Without the Prince and Sheriff seeing us?” Robin seemed highly skeptical.

“From here, then!” shouted John, grabbing up his spoon again.

“Unfortunately, that is not going to work. We’re going to need a better plan.”

Meanwhile, miles away in Nottingham Castle, the Prince and the Sheriff were feeling rather…troubled.

“You mean to tell me that Robin Hood intends to lavish my riches on the poor people? He means to buy them food? Clothes? What manner of nonsense is this?” The Prince sat slouched in his throne, playing with a large emerald ring. At his feet were perched three Ladies, who stared up at the Prince with vacantly adoring expressions. Each wore a gown of costly silk in the brightest jewel-like colors: pink, sapphire and gold. The Sheriff stood beside a carven table on the edge of the dais, swirling a goblet-full of ruby-red wine sulkily. He tossed it down and poured himself another glass as he answered the Prince.

“I don’t know, Your Highness. And I fear that Marian fell for his act.”

“That’s not too much of a bother. She’s easy to handle; look at her, we’ve managed to keep her in the castle since that day, haven’t we? It’s the money I’m worried about. There were so many things I meant to do with what he’s stolen so far…silk pillow covers, diamond-studded weather vanes…”

“Pretty!” cooed one of the Ladies, stroking his arm. The Sheriff raised skeptical eyebrows in regards to the Prince’s statement, and drained another glass.

“Sheriff, is it necessary to drown yourself over there? Come here, man, and tell me what can be done to stop this ruffian.” The Sheriff poured himself another glass obstinately and came and stood by the Prince, who grandly took the glass from the Sheriff and handed it to one of the Ladies, who emptied it with the speed of a seasoned drinker.

“Unfortunately, Sire, nothing can be done. The forest is so vast, it’s impossible to track him once he and his men disappear into its depths. They are worse than shadows out there.”

“Maybe…we could bring him out in the open to us?”

“How? Everything the man could ever want or need is in that thrice be-damned forest.”

“Oh come now. Surely there must be something he wants that doesn’t grow on a tree!”

“Your Highness—“A guard burst in, followed by a determined-looking Marian.

“Prince John,” she said, as the guard sputtered. “I tried to stop her, Your Highness, but she insisted—“

“You’re dismissed, thank you,” the Prince waved his hand. “Yes, Marian, my dear?”

“Your Highness, you sent for me, remember,” She curtsied sarcastically. “You wished to see the results of your ridiculous expenditures.” She spun for him, the heavy silk of the emerald-colored gown flowing out. The dress did look lovely on her, accentuating her vivid green eyes and highlighting the red in her chestnut-colored hair, as well as flattering her thin figure. The elaborate gold embroidery at the low neckline and elbow-length sleeves as well as the pale gauzy fabric that draped past her wrists spoke of flattery and money.

“Actually, it was no gift of mine, though I wish it was. It was the good Sheriff here, who sent you the lovely gown.”

“Well, then, I thank you, Sheriff,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. He nodded, gazing at her in a way that clearly suggested what he was thinking. She burned under his gaze, but she held herself high, turning to the Prince.

“May I return to my chambers, then? I have a few more letters to write. I would prefer the King learn of your treachery before I have to marry your pet monkey.” The Sheriff opened his mouth in outrage, but was cut off by the Prince, a smirk on his face.

“You are dismissed, but mind your tongue, my Lady niece, else the pet monkey may not stay so tame.” He laughed and waved his hand. She curtsied once again, then turned on her heel and left the chambers.

“Your Highness!” the Sheriff growled.

“Sheriff, I don’t think she grew on a tree.” The Prince looked at the Sheriff pointedly.

“Oh.” They both began to laugh. The Ladies tittered empty-headedly.

“Yes…it’s a perfect plan…that’s it! Sheriff, look. We shall hold an archery tournament.”

“Yay!” shouted one of Ladies.

“The winner shall receive one thousand gold pieces and the hand of the Lady Marian in marriage.”

“An excellent idea, Your Highness.”

“I know. Robin Hood is certain to enter; he can win the hand of a fair Lady and use the money to help the poor. And we don’t have to worry about losing…everyone in the kingdom knows that you are the best archer in the land.”

“It’s a gift, Your Highness, really.” The Sheriff shrugged in false modesty. One of the Ladies blew him a kiss.

“And once you’ve defeated Robin Hood…” the Prince’s voice turned dark. “We’ll have him for good.”

“Your Highness, I ask for one thing only in return for my service.”

“Name it, Sheriff.”

“I want Robin Hood present at the wedding. I want him in chains, watching me marry his love, helpless to stop it. Then…I want him beheaded!” He raised his empty glass. “Especially for the bride. Call me a monkey, will she?!”

“Oh, Sheriff, how absolutely ghastly. We make a fine team, you and I. I will be King, you will have Marian, and Robin Hood will die. What a brilliant plan this is. It calls for a toast!” The Ladies applauded giddily.

“Indeed, Sire, it does!” The Sheriff returned to the table, pouring two goblets of wine. He handed one to the Prince, and they toasted, laughing evilly.

Yes, even as the castle rang with their villainous laughter, news was reaching Robin and his men of the tournament and the chance to win the hand of Robin’s lady fair.

“Robin! Robin!” Tuck ran along the trail that led into the clearing, his fat face red with exertion, his pack clanging and bouncing on his back. Robin was sitting on a fallen log, his head in his hands, as his men argued back and forth across the table.

“No, I still think disguises are the best bet. No one can see through mustaches, you know,” insisted Scarlet.

“No! No, I think—“ Alan shook his head vehemently.

“Stop!” cried Robin. “I appreciate your help, men, but honestly, I beg of you—“

“Robin! Wait ‘till you hear the news!” Tuck burst into the clearing.

“Tuck, my man, what is it?!” Robin leapt up and sat Tuck on the log, filling a pewter mug of ale and giving it him.

“Thank you, my son,” panted the Friar, taking a huge gulp of ale. “I brought news—a royal decree—look in my pack—“ Robin opened the pack, and rummaged through briefly. He pulled out a scroll tied with a piece of twine.

“This?”

“Yes, my son. Read it. I think you will find an answer to our problem written there,” Curiously, Robin unrolled the scroll, scanning it briefly. His face lit up.

“Men! Listen to this! The Prince has declared that an archery tournament is to take place within the week. The prize is to be one thousand gold pieces and the hand of Lady Marian in marriage!”

“What? Really?” shouted Alan. “That’s excellent, Robin!”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? It’s an answer to all our problems. All I need to do is enter this tournament and win, and we will have all the gold the people will need, and I will at last be able to marry Lady Marian!”

“Yeah Robin, and we know you’ll win,” put in Scarlet. “You’re the best archer in the land, everyone knows it. No one stands a chance.” He paused. “But I still think we should wear disguises,” he muttered as an afterthought.

“We may yet, Will, we may yet.” Robin rolled the decree up once again and began to pace. “Yes…I think that may work. We will disguise ourselves and enter this tournament. When I win, we will reveal ourselves and challenge the Prince and the Sheriff. What do think, men?”

“Yeah!” agreed the Merry men cheerfully.

“I think I hear voices—this way!” shouted a voice suddenly. “Robin? Robin of Locksley? Are you out here?”

“Men—scatter!” hissed Robin. He kicked a jug of something over the little fire that burned by the table, and climbed up a tree as his men scattered to their own trees and hiding places.

“I don’t think he’s out here, Ailen,” said another voice, closer this time.

“Quiet, Lionel. Robin’s band of merry men are said to be excellent woodsmen. They probably already know we are here.” The man’s voice was quiet, but powerful.

“Yes! What if they shoot us before we have a chance t’ explain how we want to join up wi’ ‘em?” the same voice seemed nervous. They entered the clearing—a band of roughly five or six men, each bearing a pack and a knife or bow or other weapon of some kind. The leader, clearly the quiet man speaking before, paused by the table, rubbing the ashes of the smoking fire in his fingers.

“They were just here—the ashes are still wet.”

“Robin Hood?!” shouted one of the men.

“Here!” cried Robin, dropping out of the tree, bow in hand.

“Ah!” exclaimed one of the newcomers, his hand going to a knife on his belt. The leader caught the man’s wrist and glared at him.

“You are Robin of Locksley, also known as Robin Hood?” he asked.

“That is I,” Robin replied.

“We have been looking for you, sir,” he said. “We hoped to join you and your band of men.”

“Why?” Robin seemed curious. Friar Tuck slipped out of his hiding place, joining Robin. Scarlet and the others moved to join, but Robin stilled them with a quick gesture.

“We are hunted men, each for his own reason. Most have a price on their heads for poaching in the King’s Forest in order to feed their families. We have been wronged by the Sheriff and his men, and wish to fight against them. We have heard of you and your Merry Men and the way you are the scourge of the Prince and the Sheriff, and hoped to join your cause. Each of us can wield a blade well enough, and have a thirst for helping those less fortunate; we have all seen the greed of the Sheriff and the Prince destroy innocent lives.” Robin exchanged a glance with Tuck, who nodded.

“You seem honest. Care to introduce yourselves?” he asked.

“I am Lord Ailen Laughalot,” said the leader, bowing his head in a gesture of allegiance. “This is Lionel, Byron of Bellowsbank, Marty, Donovan, and Bentley.” Each nodded to Robin.

“Well, I see no reason why you cannot join our band, provided you don’t turn out to be traitors…” he trailed off, then his voice turned dark. “Then we’ll have to deal with you less kindly. Men?” he whistled, and Scarlet, John, and Alan leapt out of their hiding places. “These are my faithful followers; Alan a’Dale, Will Scarlet, and Little John. I presume, of course, you already have seen our good Friar, Tuck?” Ailen nodded. “Well then, welcome to Sherwood Forest, good fellows. Make yourselves at home.” The men relaxed, each unloading their packs and settling in around the clearing.

“I feel as though this calls for some celebration!” shouted the Friar. “Crack open the ale, John!” He did, and mugs were soon passed around, wetting everyone’s lips with frothy gold ale.

“Shall I sing a song to celebrate?” asked Alan, reaching for his basilica.

“How ‘bout not?” replied Scarlet, lifting his mug. “I think we all need a few more rounds ‘fore that, Alan.”

“Very well,” he said, miffed, returning to nursing his mug. Robin, after sipping at his own mug for a while, set it aside and stood a little ways away from the men—who had broken into some rather raucous singing—apparently deep in thought.

“You are troubled?” asked Ailen, coming to sit beside him. Robin glanced at him as if weighing his trust, and, after a moment’s hesitation, replied.

“My Lady fair still languishes in the castle. I worry about her. The Sheriff is not a man of good character, and I trust the Prince even less. They will have no need of her once she has married the Sheriff, and I fear for her. I think I shall go to her, and tell her of our plan. I could not rest otherwise.”

“Plan?” Ailen looked curious. Robin quickly outlined their plan to him and Lionel, who had come to join them. Ailen nodded thoughtfully. “I see…it is wise to go to the castle at such a time as this, though? The guard is double what it ever was before as they announce the tournament to the people.”

“I don’t know, really, Ailen. But I feel as though I have no choice. I cannot leave my Lady alone in her despair.”

“I see…but take a man or two with you. Lionel, you’ll go with Robin, will you not?”

“Aye sir, it’d be a pleasure.”

“Very well, Ailen, I will. Will!” he shouted. Scarlet came over, head cocked, a half-empty mug in his hand.

“Yeah, boss?”

“Would you be interested in joining Lionel here and I on a mission to the castle? Just a quick trip to reassure the Lady Marian…never fear, there’ll be ale for you still when we return.”

“Aw, sure, why not? I love trickin’ the Sheriff’s men,” said Scarlet.

“Excellent, let’s be off, then. We shan’t keep the Lady Marian waiting any longer, men!” With a cheerful doff of his cap, Robin scooped up his bow and disappeared amongst the trees, Scarlet and Lionel following. Ailen watched them go, his brow furrowed.

“You don’t think Robin’s idea wise?” asked Tuck, coming up beside him.

“I don’t know. I have only just met Robin, save for the tales I have heard. He seems like a wise, careful leader. But I fear he is in danger of being too noble in the aid of his Lady. I have been to the castle; the guards have doubled in the past few weeks since Lady Marian’s engagement to the Sheriff. They’re waiting for him., but he would not listen.”

“Let us pray, then, my son.”

“Aye, Friar, let us pray.”

While Robin raced off to see his Lady fair, she was having a trying time of her own. Follow me, as we are swept to the chambers of the fair Lady Marian, high in the tower of the Castle Nottingham.

“But try this on. It really is lovely, my lady,” the speaker was an older woman, wearing a dark-blue, neat peasant dress with a clean apron. Her graying hair was bound in a net behind a white headscarf that wrapped around her features in a matronly way. She proffered a white veil, decorated with gold chips and gold tracery to a young woman of possibly twenty years of age. The young woman was clearly a noblewoman; clothed in a fine gown of rich burgundy. The sleeves fit closely to her arms, breaking just above her elbows with a band of gold embroidery to fall gracefully to her knees, and the neckline was a modest rounded square, lined with similar gold embroidery as that which was on the sleeves. Around her waist was tied an artistic leather belt traced with gold. The skirts fell to the floor, pooling around her bare feet and she sat lightly in the solitary chair in her bedroom.

“Oh, who cares?” she pushed the veil away vehemently. “Does the dying man try on his shroud before his death? No? Then why must I?”

“Isn’t that a bit much, my lady?” asked the older woman, turning away and, giving up with a sigh, fixed the veil onto a dummy bearing a sweeping wedding gown.

“Perhaps,” conceded Marian. “Though surely not by far. For if I marry the Sheriff as my uncle, the Prince, would have me do, my life shall surely be over. How could I ever hope to be happy, married to that, that—“

“Snake?” suggested the Lady-in-Waiting innocently.

“I fear that disgraces the name of the miserable creature, good Lady.”

“’Tis so,” the Lady-in-Waiting agreed. “The man is not an exemplar of a gentleman. Now, that Robin of Locksley, my Lady…” Marian colored slightly.

“Oh, yes, Lady, he is! He was once a nobleman’s son. I played with him as a child—our fathers were friends. We were in love then, too, though we never spoke of it-how could we? We were children. But then his father followed mine off with Uncle Richard to the Crusades, where they have both met their deaths.” She paused, heartbrokenly. “And then Robin was cast out of his family’s lands, which were taken by the Sheriff’s greedy thievery. And I…I am here. But I will be cursed if I let the Prince take the throne through this marriage!” she clenched her slender fingers into a fist on the arm of the chair.

A dull thwack sounded on the woodwork outside her window.

“What—“ Marian turned, and the Lady-in-Waiting made her way to the window, where she retrieved an arrow that had been shot into the wood. Attached was a small parchment scroll.

“A letter, Lady Marian. From, I believe…” she held out the arrow, which was fetched with white owl feathers. Carved into the hard oak shaft were the words “ALL MY LOVE.” Marian let out a soft sigh and pressed the arrow close to her heart.

“Lady Marian, the letter is a Royal Decree, signed by Prince John,” the Lady-in-Waiting scanned the parchment. “There is to be an archery tournament one month from today…and oh! The prize is to be one thousand gold pieces and the hand of Lady Marian in marriage!”

“What?! Let me see that!” cried Marian, leaping up from her seat. She snatched the letter from her Lady-in-Waiting, reading it quickly. “Oh, could things get any worse?” she dropped back into the chair disconsolately.

“It couldn’t be all bad, my lady. Surely someone unexpected might win your hand?”

“Oh no, good Lady, don’t you see? For the Prince would surely never have chosen such a sport if he thought there even the slightest chance that the Sheriff might be beaten. Robin was once a master archer, but that was long ago…and how could he ever hope to come to a tournament and contest for my hand?” she looked back at the window, then gasped. A green hat rested on the sill, a white owl feather protruding from the brim.

“How, my lady?” the Lady-in-Waiting seemed speechless. Marian ran to the window, skirts flying, and leaned out. There, in the oak tree that leaned tiredly against the tower wall, sat Robin Hood.

“Robin!” exclaimed Marian, then looked concernedly over the courtyard below. It seemed deserted.

“Marian, darling, could you persuaded to give gent space to land? I will join you momentarily then, fair Lady,” Marian laughed lightly.

“Of course, good sir,” She ducked out of the window and moved to her door, opening it and peeking out into the hall. She turned back. “Lady-in-Waiting, will you keep watch for the Sheriff or his men?”

“I will Marian, but…well, be careful, my dear,” the woman left, closing the heavy oak door behind her. When Marian turned back to the window, Robin was crouched there, one hand steadying himself against the window frame. He stepped off the sill as Marian suddenly checked herself on the other side of the chair. She put a hand to her chestnut hair, nervously smoothing the braided locks.

“Robin?” she said, her voice soft.

“Marian, my love,” he replied, opening his arms slightly. “’Tis I.”

“Oh, Robin!” she cried, running into his embrace. “I’ve missed you so,” she whispered.

“I was worried, when I heard of your engagement to the Sheriff, about you…”

“No!” she pushed herself away from him. “Robin, don’t ever think such a thing! That I would choose to graciously bow and wed that man! As if I—“ she stopped suddenly, catching sight of the letter lying on the table. She sank into the chair once more. “But now I fear I shan’t have a choice.”

“Darling Marian, why not?” Robin knelt beside her, leaving his bow and quiver—which he’d worn over one shoulder—on the window behind one of the long green velvet curtains. He put a calloused, warm hand over her small , slender one. She looked up at him, uncertain.

“But…you sent the decree, did you not? I recognized your message,” she said. She gazed into his cool blue eyes set into his noble features beneath shaggy, ash-brown hair and felt her heart beat painfully.

“I did, but it was meant as a symbol of hope, not—“

“How could it be? How, when the Sheriff is the best archer in the land?!” she looked distraught, clutching his hand.

“Oh, my dear Marian, but he is not!”

“What?”

“The Sheriff indeed may be a decent archer, but he cannot be the best in the land. For that title, I fear, must go to myself, good Lady.”

“You? The greatest archer in the land?”

“’Tis so, Marian, my love.”

“This is wonderful! But—how could you compete? The moment you set foot in town the Sheriff will have you killed!”

“My merry men and I have come up with a plan of disguises and challenges, Marian. But while we speak of death…” he looked pained, and turned away, pacing. “We must keep you away from the Sheriff at all costs.”

“Why? I am safe until the tournament. For as unfortunate as it is, the Prince and the Sheriff need me.”

“It is after, Marian, which I fear. How long after your wedding day do you think they will need you? Once you are married to the Sheriff, I fear your life will be forfeit. You say you would never enter willingly into such a marriage…but if I fail, I fear you must, if only to spare your life.”

“What?” Marian leapt up from the chair. “Marry the Sheriff willingly? I would sooner die, Robin. I’m sorry, my love, but I could not simply marry the man to spare my own life. If it were a question of the people, perhaps, but how could I ever hope to control the Prince once he’s become King? I am not that strong, Robin, but I also am not so weak as to enter into a marriage simply to spare myself.”

“There is nothing I could say?”

“No, my darling, there is not. How could I ever hope to be happy, even if I were to be spared, if you were gone?”

“I don’t know, Marian. I could not be, if I were in your place.” Marian crossed to Robin, looking up at him.

“I will be fine, Robin. It is you I fear for. I love you so,” she said. He reached and took her hands.

“Oh, Marian…” they leaned in to kiss.

“LADY MARIAN!!!” shrieked the Lady-in-Waiting, bursting into the chamber and slamming the door behind her. “The Sheriff-he-he’s-HE’S COMING!”
Marian turned in Robin’s arms, her eyes wide in fear.

“Robin, you have to hide! The Sheriff—he searches my rooms---Robin, to the window!” she pushed him towards the window. “Lady, keep watching! Stall him, if you can!”

“The guards are below!” exclaimed Robin, recovering his senses and looking out the window.

“He’s approaching, Lady,” urged the Lady-in-Waiting. Marian spun, desperately looking around her room. The furnishings were sadly bare, with naught but the dummy, the solitary chair, a four-poster bed, and a large wardrobe for furnishings.

“Robin, you must hide in here, and pray we can keep the Sheriff from opening it,” Marian said, throwing the wardrobe door open and pushing him in. She pulled gowns in front of him.. He nodded at her, then she eased the door closed.

“Lady, help!” she cried, pulling the dummy in front of the wardrobe door. The Lady-in-Waiting rushed in and aided her in pulling it over just as the Sheriff burst into the chambers, half a dozen armed guards behind him.

“All right, Marian, where is he?!” he roared. Marian, surprisingly calm in the face of the Sheriff’s rage, turned and walked away from the wardrobe, every inch of her slender frame radiating disapproval.

“Now, whoever could you mean, Sheriff? After all, with such heavy watch as that which you keep on this tower, I should think that no one in their right mind would ever possibly hope to enter without your permission.”

“I’m warning you, Marian. My sources say that blackguard, Robin Hood, has been seen scaling the tree to your window and entering,” A tiny flash of fear sparked in Marian’s eyes as she glanced towards her window, but she mastered it in a moment.

“Then I fear your sources are in dire need of aid, Sheriff, for as you can see, Robin Hood is not in my chambers.”

“Marian, Marian,” sighed the Sheriff, his voice dangerously sweet. “What do you see in protecting him? What could be gained from this unwise venture? The man is a dangerous fugitive. He is no longer—if he ever was—the noble boy you remember.” He gestured sharply. The guards grabbed the Lady-in-Waiting and dragged her out, despite her angry protests. Marian opened her mouth to object, but fell silent as the Sheriff continued on, moving towards her slowly. “Why would you choose to follow a man you don’t know any longer? Why choose such an impoverished life as that of a fugitive’s wife? Why, when you have such a future ahead of you…a future full of wealth, and comfort…” he continued movving forward predatorily, a sly smile on his lips. “Marry me, Marian. The Prince has decreed that I may win your hand in an archery tournament. Surely you can see that there is no treachery in that? Just imagine, for a moment, the benefits of such a marriage…” by this time, he had backed Marian up until she was pressed between his stocky frame and the cold stone of the tower wall behind her.

“Surely you must benefit more than I? What would become of me when the Prince takes the throne?” she tried in vain to push him away, but he hardly moved, merely laughing and tucking a loose strand of chestnut hair behind her ear.

“Yes, perhaps I benefit more,” he whispered carelessly. “Perhaps I do…” he leaned towards her, then suddenly kissed her. With a horrified gasp, Marian thrust him away from her and ran. Recovering quickly, the Sheriff caught her wrist with ease, laughing as she struggled against his iron grip. He pulled her close once again, whispering in her ear.

“I would not have you flee a kiss, Marian, love. Not when our wedding day is so near at hand. But do not fear; I would not have you defiled before that night,” he moved to kiss her again, easily overpowering her futile struggles.

“No—let me go—“

“Unhand the Lady!” roared Robin, bursting out of the wardrobe. The dummy fell with a heart-stopping crash. “Marian! Run, lass!” he cried, drawing a long dagger, it well-worn blade traced with gold. Before she could react, the door burst open and five of the Sheriff’s guards burst in, summoned by the noise.

“Arrest him!” roared the Sheriff. Marian, freed from the Sheriff’s grasp, put the chair between herself and the fray, knowing she had little chance of defending herself should she be caught in the fray.

Robin proved to be a formidable adversary. Despite the armor and longer blades of the Sheriff’s guards, as well as the Sheriff’s raging threats screamed at his men, he managed to kill one and wound another badly enough that the man went out of the battle howling. In moments, the remaining three were circling Robin uneasily. Suddenly, a sharp gasp and a cold laugh stopped the struggle. Robin froze as he saw Marian pinned to the Sheriff, who held a bejeweled dagger to her throat.

“Well, Robin, what shall we do? I’d hate to slit her pretty throat—I need her so—but if I am forced to, do not be deceived, I certainly shall.”

“Marian,” said Robin, his grip tightening on his dagger. His features were taught, his voice strained. He shifted as one would before a leap.

“Ah-ah-ah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said the Sheriff, pressing the dagger harder to Marian’s throat. A thin line of red appeared around the blade. Marian looked pained, but not a sound escaped her. “Well, Robin? Do you surrender? Or shall I kill the fair Lady Marian right here before your eyes?”

“No, Robin!” cried Marian suddenly. “Go! Do not worry—“ she was cut off as the Sheriff shook her hard, jarring the knife against her throat, cutting more. She choked and coughed as his arm tightened around her neck.

“Well?” asked the Sheriff, as Marian clawed futilely at his arm. Blood began to seep from beneath the blade as he pushed it even harder at the pale skin at her throat.

“No! Stop!” shouted Robin. “I surrender!” he threw the dagger on the floor.

“Seize him!” barked the Sheriff, as Marian cried “Robin!”

The guards converged on Robin without a second thought. In moments, his hands were bound roughly behind his back and held tightly between two of the guards. The Sheriff threw Marian roughly to the ground, where she took a few shuddering breaths and pressed her hand to her throat, tears leaking out of her eyes. The Sheriff gestured, and the third guard left the group’s side and grabbed her by the arm, roughly dragging her to her feet. The Sheriff strode forward and punched Robin in the stomach, laughing as Robin stumbled, the breath torn from him. The Sheriff flexed his fingers, clad in black leather riding gloves, then spun and hit Robin squarely in the jaw, knocking him sideways.

“No!” screamed Marian, fighting the guard weakly. He merely held her expressionlessly. The Sheriff grinned wickedly at her, then turned and delivered a series of blows that left Robin all but collapsed in his captor’s arms. Marian wailed and struggled desperately, though in vain.

“What goes on here?!” shouted a voice, as the Sheriff drew back for another blow. The Prince, clad in ostentatious silks and a jeweled belt and gold chain, strode into Marian’s chambers, surveying the scene.

“An unwelcome visitor, Your Highness,” drawled the Sheriff, stepping back from Robin.

“Can it be?” asked the Prince. He grabbed Robin’s hair and forced his head up, revealing his bloodied and beaten, but still recognizable features. “Why it is! It’s Robin Hood!” he shouted in delight. “Sheriff, however did you manage—“ he caught sight of Marian, blood smeared on her throat and tear tracks shining on her cheeks, staring despairingly at Robin, and began to laugh. “Of course. The fool would return for his fair Lady, would he not?”

“Your Highness—“

“Well, Sheriff, what shall we do with him, eh? What is proper torture for a criminal that likes of Robin Hood?”

“Perhaps whip him?” suggested the Sheriff, eager as a hound for blood. Marian gasped.

“Too nice, I think.”

“Brand him with irons?”

“Still too nice, I think. Wait…” he turned, suddenly pleased. “What does my dear niece have to say? What is a proper torture do you think?” he seemed tense, unhinged. Marian took a breath. If she spoke wrong, the Prince could easily order them both executed on the spot, heedless of the consequences. “Well, niece, speak up,” prompted the Prince impatiently. Marian looked Robin in the eye. Trust me, she seemed to say. “SPEAK!” shouted the Prince, delivering a backhanded blow across her cheek. She gasped, holding her cheek, but the look she gave the Prince as she opened her mouth was unmoved.

“Let him go, Your Highness,” she said. Her voice was steady, though thick with sorrow.

“Let him go?!” The Prince echoed, incredulous.

“Yes,” she replied. “He came all this way to see me, did he not? What could possibly be worse torture than seeing me remain here as he is thrown out into the woods once more?”

“Marian,” whispered Robin. “Don’t—“ he was cut off by a sharp shake from his captors.

“Interesting…” mused the Prince aloud, looking between Marian and Robin. “What an interesting thought.”

“Your Highness! Surely you wouldn’t—“ The Prince cut him off with a gesture.

“You give me your word that you will marry the Sheriff if I put Robin Hood back out amongst the trees? If I give him back to his band of Merry Men?”

“Your Highness!” shouted the Sheriff, as Robin yelled “Marian, don’t!”

“You have it,” said Marian.

“Done!” shouted the Prince in triumph. “Guards, take Robin Hood to the dungeons!”

“What?!” Marian shrieked, struggling desperately against her captor’s arms. “You lied!”

“Oh no, not at all, dear niece. You see, I have to do something that will deter Robin Hood from coming up with some ridiculously noble plan to save his fair Lady. Therefore, I plan to keep him here, in the dungeons, preferably tortured unbearably, until you are wed to the Sheriff. That way, you won’t think of refusing to marry him when the time comes—unless, of course, you want Robin Hood to die. After you’re wed, I’ll let him loose. He won’t be too much of a problem then, I think.”

“Brilliant, Your Highness. I never should have doubted you.” The Sheriff’s expression was evilly gleeful.

“Worry not, Sheriff. Guards?” he snapped his fingers, and they began to haul Robin away.

“Robin! Robin! No—Robin!” she wailed as he disappeared around the corner. The clanking of the guard’s footsteps and Marian’s sobs were all that could be heard for a moment in the chambers.

“Men?” called the Sheriff. The single guard holding the Lady-in-Waiting outside of the chambers entered, still keeping a close eye on the now extremely-disgruntled Lady-in-Waiting.

“Yes Sir?” he asked, pushing the Lady away from him. She stood, ruffled, along one of the walls, warned by a rather obscene gesture on the part of the guard not to go to Marian, who was nearly hanging from her own guard’s arms, weeping uncontrollably.

“Have someone posted outside the Lady Marian’s chambers at all times. I want to make sure she stays where she belongs!” the Sheriff snapped. “Now, leave us! You too,” he said, nodding sharply at Marian’s captor. He dropped her, somewhat unceremoniously, on the chair and left, carrying away the body of the dead guardsman.

“Now, now, don’t cry too hard, fair Lady. I wouldn’t want a wan bride.” The Sheriff put a hand on Marian’s back, tracing along her shoulder blades. She stiffened, then jerked away from him, getting to her feet. He came towards her, and she slapped him hard across the face with one blood-reddened hand.

“Monster! Oath breaker, Scum—you’re barely worthy of your name, let alone my love. I—I hope you—choke!” she began to sob again, collapsing back into the chair. The Sheriff rubbed his cheek—which bore a faint handprint—and glowered. The Prince watched the proceedings with glee.

“My, my, what a little wildcat you’re getting, Sheriff!” he crowed. “Robin Hood doesn’t know what he’s missed! Let’s hope you can control her once you’re wed.”

“I wouldn’t fear too much for that, Your Highness,” he snarled. He took a step towards her, evil intent in his glare.

“Sheriff! At ease, man, come with me. There are things which must be dealt with before the tournament can commence!” The Sheriff shook himself and nodded, following the Prince. The door slammed closed in their wake.

“Oh, my dear Lady Marian,” the Lady-in-Waiting finally removed herself from the wall and came to Marian, putting a comforting hand on her head. “My poor, poor dear.”

“It’s all my fault,” she wept. “If he hadn’t come to see me…if I’d played along properly…”

“Robin made his own choices, My Lady. And if you had not spoken the way you had, he might be off to his death at this very moment. The Prince found it crueler torture to keep him alive—but he doesn’t know the hope that has given us. Are you still an archer of some skill?”

“What? It has been long since I shot a bow, but perhaps I may still draw true. But why?”

“Robin would not have come here alone. And the Sheriff failed to remove his bow and quiver from where your love left them on your window. Perhaps you may shoot an arrow to whoever came with him, with a message concerning Robin’s plight. They may be able to rescue him.”

“Such a plan might work, Lady. I do not know if there even is anyone still there to receive a message, but it’s worth a try.” Marian stood up from the chair, wiping her eyes, then looked at her hands. “Good Lady-in-Waiting, would you be so kind as to fill a basin of water for me? I’m afraid I’m rather…bloodied. The Sheriff is no light hand with his dagger, let me assure you.”

“Marian!” exclaimed the Lady-in-Waiting in shock, examining the cut.

“It’s nothing serious, Lady, really. But my hands could use a wash.”

“Very well, My Lady,” The Lady-in-Waiting poked her nose out of the door, exchanging a few terse words with whoever was outside. She returned a few moments later, balancing a basin of water. “Well, being under house arrest seems to have its advantages,” she said snidely. “Lady Marian, wash yourself here while I set out the paper. It will do no good to send a bloodstained message, whatever urgency it may imply.”

Marian consented, and hurriedly washed her hands. When the blood had been scrubbed away, the Lady-in-Waiting took the bowl and balanced it over a fire she built in the fireplace beside Marian’s bed. Marian scrawled a note then folded it and fixe it to the arrow.

“All right, Lady. Shall we see if anyone is there to hear our plea?”

“Yes. Shoot it over the wall, my Lady. That, I suspect, is where Robin will have left his merry men.

“Very well. I asked them to shoot an arrow back if they receive my message. Let us hope we get a parting shot quickly.” Marian leaned out the window, checking for guards below, the set the arrow to the string and drew back on the mighty longbow. With a sharp twang, she let it fly. It flew straight and true over the wall, the letter fluttering in the wind. Marian stared out the window towards where the arrow had disappeared, her lips moving in a silent prayer.

“Come, Marian, we must dress that cut if we want to ensure it will not grow worse,” said the Lady-in-Waiting after a moment, guiding Marian to the bed. Marian sat woodenly as the Lady-in-Waiting applied an ointment and the now-warm water to the cut on her neck. Thwack! Both women jumped as there came the sound of an arrow hitting the wood of her windowsill.

“Lady!” cried Marian, trying to leap up and spilling water everywhere.

“Lady Marian, stay! Wait a moment!” The Lady-in-Waiting hurriedly snatched the arrow off the window and gave it to Marian, who ripped the letter off the arrow—fletched with red-tinged feathers—and read it quickly as the Lady mopped up the water with a rag.

“It is from Will Scarlet,” Marian gasped. “He says that he will return with the Merry Men and find a way to save Robin, and that I need not worry…he says to wave a white scarf out of the window if I receive his message well. He also says he will have Robin contact me somehow when they’ve rescued him!” she hugged the letter to her chest and went to her wardrobe, rifling through the clothes until she pulled out a white headscarf. She ran to the window and waved it wildly, and was rewarded by a flash of light from the trees just beyond the castle wall. She laughed and waved it once again, then turned away and stowed the scarf back in the wardrobe.

“You were right, Lady,” she said, looking out the window. “The Prince is a fool. There is still hope left for us.”

“Blast it Rob,” groaned Scarlet, climbing down from the tree, his silver belt buckle and Marian’s hastily-scrawled letter in hand. “Yer merry lass has gotten and gotten ye captured.”

“At least the Lady had wit enough to try to send a message,” put in Lionel. “I know plen’y of maidens who haven’t the wit nor the guts to shoot so clean an arrow,” Scarlet growled and put a hand to his hat, now decorated with a gaping hole, courtesy of Marian’s blindly shot arrow.

“Aye, the Lady Marian has wit. She’s right clever, that lass, and a darn good shot, if I remember aright. But we have a problem. We’ve got to get back to the others quick—the Sheriff’s men work fast, and e’en if they swear on their dear mother’s graves not t’ kill Robin, they’ll bring too near death’s door for us t’ bring him home. Come on!” Scarlet stowed the letter in his belt and took off running, followed closely by Lionel. The journey was seven miles through brush and tree, and they ran swiftly, arriving in little more than an hour.

“Tuck! Tuck!” shouted Scarlet, skidding into the clearing. The partying had clearly ended not long after Robin’s departure; Tuck knew to keep the men ready at most hours.

“What is it, my son? Where is Robin?”

“He’s been captured, Friar,” said Lionel.

“Captured? How?!” sputtered Tuck. Ailen entered the clearing, followed by Marty and Alan.

“Somethin’ went awry while he was up in the chambers with his Lady. She shot an arrow with this attached when Robin didn’t come back.” Scarlet yanked the letter out of his belt and handed it to Tuck. By this time, John, Byron, and the two other Merry Men had entered the clearing and were listening closely as Tuck read the letter aloud.

“‘To whomever Robin of Locksley brought with him; I beg of you, good sir, to come to Robin’s aid. He was in my chambers when the Sheriff apprehended him and took him to the dungeons. They plan to wed me to the Sheriff of Nottingham and use Robin as reassurance that I do, so you have until that day, sir, for after I fear Robin’s life is forfeit. I care not for my own situation, but I beg of you to rescue Robin. His fate is in your hands –Lady Marian of Ravensend.’ This is dreadful!”

“Indeed, it is. We’re going to need a plan.”

“Aye. Aye, Ailen, we shall.”

While Robin’s band of Merry Men forged a plan to rescue their leader, the Dungeons Master of Nottingham Castle had just received orders that put him in, well, shall we say a cheerful mood?

“Just you wait, Messir, just you wait. We’ve got five star accommodations here in Nottingham Dungeons. It’s not every day we get so prestigious a guest, after all. Regular torture chambers, first-rate cells, padded cells for when ye lose yer marbles, and plen’y more, what’s yer preference?” the man guffawed, spraying spittle halfway across the central room of the dungeon. Robin, his hands clapped in heavy chains and hung above him, merely stared at the Dungeons Master with dull eyes. “What, no response? No gallant shouts of ‘Mark my words, I will escape’?” The man seemed put out. “Maybe this will get you talking,” he said, grabbing a wicked-looking pair of iron clamps off the workbench along one gray stone wall.

“Dungeons Master!” The Prince’s voice was oily. “Stay your instruments, man, I have a better plan.”

“But, Your Highness—“

“No, no,” he said, entering the dungeons grandly, though stepping lightly to keep his gleaming boots clean from the filthy straw and bloodstained, grimy floor. “I have a change of orders. Nothing is to be done to Robin Hood that will permanently damage him; no cutting out of his tongue, no branding, no…” he cast an expressive eye at the array of irons heating in the fireplace on one side of the dungeon. He turned to Robin. “It seems the Lady Marian is intent on making sure I keep my promise as much as she shall be forced to keep hers. She has threatened to kill herself, should she learn of any permanent damage done to you. And that woman has a way of finding things out…” he shook his head mockingly. “Am I clear, Dungeons Master?”

“If that is your command, Your Highness,” said the Dungeons Master disappointedly, dropping the clamps back on the workbench.

“It is. Of course, that doesn’t mean be spare with anything else. Whipping, beating, the Iron Maiden…” he shrugged. “But nothing that will end in his death. At least, not yet,” he turned and mock-saluted Robin as he left the dungeon.

“Okay, so maybe nothing too drastic. But rest assured, Messir, this won’t be no walk in the park. Oh no…no walk in the park indeed.” He began to guffaw again, laughing hysterically as he arranged the ‘non-lethal’ instruments of torture along his workbench.

END OF ACT ONE

Our story resumes two days later. The tournament is merely two weeks away, and the lovely Lady Marian is in agony, trapped in her chambers with no news from Robin. The Merry Men are about to enact their plan, however, praying that the Sheriff and the Prince will fall for a slight diversion…

“Scarlet, are you ready?” Tuck hissed from the shadows of the castle drawbridge.

“Aye, I am. Good luck to you, Friar. Let us pray we meet again, with Robin in our midst!” Scarlet crouched in the bushes on the other side of the moat.

“Indeed, we shall pray,” responded Friar Tuck. He left the shadows and moved off purposefully down the road towards the center of Nottingham town, followed by Marty, Little John, and Bentley. Scarlet watched him go, then turned and faced his own men. Lionel, Ailen, Byron, Alan and Donovan stared back, their faces tense.

“Right, you know what t’ do. We’re not gettin’ any younger.” Scarlet left the brush cover and crept along the wall, climbing into a half-covered culvert along the side of the moat. He was followed by Lionel and Alan, while Ailen, Byron and Donovan crawled into a separate culvert a few feet over.

After a few yards of crawling through mud and slime that had never seen the light of day, Scarlet found himself face-to-face with a heavy iron grate. Beyond it, he could see the central chamber of the dungeons. A series of cells lined the wall opposite him, and to his right a stone staircase lit by guttering torches spiraled up out of sight. To his left stretched off a dark hallway, filled with echoing drips of moisture and faint moans of prisoners. Scarlet shuddered, remembering his own brief stay in the dungeons here. A rough workbench sat below him, spread with an array of nasty-looking torture implements sitting on it, waiting to be used.

In the center of the chamber sat an unusual-looking torture device. It was clearly some form of Iron Maiden; the base a wide board studded unevenly with nail heads. Across this board lay Robin on his back, a thick leather strap around his middle. The curious thing about the device, however, was the heavy-looking block of wood. It appeared to be one hundred and twenty centimeters of heavy oak wood the length the base board, attached by a pair of iron arms and situated a few inches above Robin’s body. It was attached to the base in such a way that Robin was forced to hold it up continually, but if he were to let it slip or fall lower, it would crush his frame between the boards, which it clearly had done; Scarlet could see the fresh blood droplets on the board, though from what he couldn’t tell.

“Peter and Paul on a donkey!” swore Lionel behind Scarlet. “How does Robin survive?”

It was true—Robin looked to be in bad shape, and was clearly reaching the end of his strength. Even as they watched, he let it fall lower to his chest, groaning in agony as the board crushed his chest, constricting his breath. His face was marred by strain, but also by evidence of several rounds of thorough and vicious beatings.

“Dungeons Master!” growled a voice—the voice of the Sheriff, whose presence caused Scarlet to shrink back slightly more into the shadows, though he watched intently the scene before him.

“Yes, Sheriff, sir?” the man was fiddling with several irons that were heating in a dismal little fireplace off to Scarlet’s right.

“I think another block might be useful for our guest,” he said. He carried a long, thin silver dagger, with which he was carelessly cleaning his nails.

“Very well, sir, very true indeed.” The man turned and reached under the workbench. Grunting with effort, he lugged out a wide block of oak. Scarlet saw what was coming and turned away swearing under his breath as the squat man, grumbling under his breath, heaved the slab of wood on top of the block that Robin held. The immediate weight nearly crushed Robin, who let out an agonized cry as he gathered what precious little strength he must have had left and pushed the weight away from him. The Sheriff laughed cruelly.

“Excellent Dungeons Master, excellent…no so gallant now, are we, Robin Hood? Perhaps I shall carry fair Marian down to you, so she can see what a weak and pathetic worm you really are. An outlaw who cowers in the woods, while real men do what needs to be done to keep this country in line!”

“She---wouldn’t---fall---for you,” each word was clear torture, but it was a challenge nonetheless. The Sheriff’s face contorted with rage, and he leaned forward, placing all his weight on the black, overpowering Robin and crushing him down. His voice was low and vicious.

“You’re lucky she hasn’t given sway yet, outlaw. The Prince is convinced that your continued existence is the only thing keeping Marian from leaping out her window in despair, so you are not to be killed. But once Marian has married me, and I have become the royalty that I deserve to be…there is nothing in this world that will stop me from killing you, as I please, right in front of her. Nothing, do you hear me? Nothing—“

“Sheriff! Sir!” the frantic voice of the guard was followed by the hurried pounding of booted feet on the stairs. “Sir!”

“What?!” roared the Sheriff, whirling around. The sudden absence of weight caused Robin to groan in relief as he pushed the block a bit farther away once more.

“There’s a protest—in the square---the Prince wants you now—“

“I’ll be there! Keep at him,” he snapped at the Dungeons Master. He followed the guard, storming up the stairs. The Dungeons Master looked at Robin as the footsteps receded.

“Keep at him? With what? Any more and the fellow’s crushed,” he muttered sullenly. “I’m going to watch! I never get any real excitement, not down here!” he dropped a pair of clamps on the workbench with a clatter and ran up the stairs. Silence in the dungeon was broken only by Robin’s pained breathing and the steady drip-drip of moisture from the ceiling.
Scarlet waited for a hundred heartbeats before nodding to Lionel behind him.

“The crowbar, if you please,” Alan passed the crowbar up from behind him, and once Scarlet fit it into place, all three began to lean on it. Scarlet could hear similar sounds from the next culvert over, as Ailen and his men tried to get out. After a while, the grate began to loosen, then suddenly fell with a heart-stopping clang. Everyone fell still for a moment, listening for the sound of alarm. When none came, they continued working.

“Seems like Tuck and the others are doing their job well,” muttered Alan. Scarlet slid out of the culvert, creeping along the top of the workbench to jump soundlessly to the floor. The others followed him. A few moments later, Ailen’s drain cover fell with a crash. They jumped out—a little less soundlessly---but no alarm came, and they went on. Lionel and Donovan ran down the hall, checking through the cells for any innocent souls who, upon not being able to pay their taxes, had been imprisoned. Scarlet went immediately to Robin, and with Alan and Byron’s help, lifted both blocks away from him. Ailen cut the strap with one swift stroke of his knife, and Alan and Byron lifted Robin carefully off the base to stand between them, using their shoulders for support more than his own feet.

“Blood!” swore Scarlet, catching sight of Robin’s back. He’d been the victim of a very vicious flogging, leaving his back lacerated.

“Wha—who?” Robin’s eyes were unfocused and he seemed too weak to stand, his breathing labored.

“Rob, it’s us. Your Merry Men! We’ve come to rescue you,” whispered Alan.

“Alan…? Scarlet…Marian, you have to help….” His head rolled as he lost consciousness at last.

“Poor man…right, let’s get out of here,” said Ailen. “Don! Lionel! We’re going!”

“Aye, sir!” came Lionel’s faint voice.

“Now, we have to get Robin through the culvert without hurtin’ him worse,” said Scarlet. “Ailen, you go up first, we’ll hand him up and we can carry him to get out.”
Ailen clambered nimbly back into the culvert and carefully helped pull Robin up. Donovan and Lionel arrived, followed by a handful of gray-faced and starved men. A few were missing hands, and a two were missing an eye, but they on the whole seemed healthy. They climbed through the other culvert that Ailen had opened, whispering their heartfelt thanks as they went. Lionel was the last man through the culvert, and as he disappeared, he heard the faint whistling of the Dungeons Master as he returned to his now sorely empty domain.
Scarlet tried not to breathe a sigh of relief as they broke out of the culvert and into the tree cover on the opposite side of the moat. Ailen carried Robin over his shoulder, and they ran a for a few minutes deeper into the tree cover until they reached a towering oak that had been their meeting spot before. Scarlet’s bow rested in the branches above.

“Right, I’m off to shoot the Lady Marian a message. When you meet up with Tuck’s band, leave me a message at the usual spot, all right?” Scarlet pulled his bow and quiver out of the tree.

“Aye, we will. Farewell, Scarlet. We’ll see you back in the clearing,” said Ailen.

“Godspeed, and be mindful of Robin!” replied Scarlet, before disappearing into the trees. He quickly made his way through the forest until he came upon the same tree he’d been sitting in when Marian shot a hole through his hat. Climbing up, he fixed the message he’d written that morning to an arrow and scanned the courtyard inside for guards. He could see none, but he did spy Marian walk past her window, followed by her Lady-in-Waiting, a white dress in hand. Shaking his head, he raised his bow and fired, watching the arrow streak cleanly towards her window and hit the frame. He saw Marian lean out and retrieve it, then he slipped from the tree and began to run for home.
About an hour later, he came upon a white owl feather sticking out of an x carved into a tree.

“Good, they found Tuck and the others,” he muttered, barely slowing as he made his way towards the clearing and the safety of deep in Sherwood Forest.

“My Lady, do you want to anger the Prince? He wished you to arrive in the dress for the rehearsal wedding. Please, just try it on?” The Lady-in-Waiting followed Marian hopelessly around the chambers as Marian paced. The cut on her neck had neatly healed into a barely noticeable line, and the bruise that had formed on her cheek from where the Prince had slapped her with his large ring had all but faded. But the wounds she bore inside her were still strong, and worry for Robin—as well as some not-undue despair for her upcoming marriage---stole into her dreams at night and gave her such nightmares that she rarely slept. As a result, she bore darkened circles under her eyes and there was a pallor to her face that spoke of much duress.

“No, no, Lady-in-Waiting. But wait—I must, mustn’t I? For Robin…” she let out a short sob, then calmed herself and nodded. “Very well, Lady, the dress, if it must be---“ Thwack. She stopped midsentence and turned, a faint glimmer in her eye. She moved to the window, leaning out and retrieving a letter, attached to a red-tinged feather-fletched arrow. Unable to contain herself, she ripped it off and read it, her eyes flying back and forth across the page.

“They did it!” she cried, a smile breaking across her features.

“Did what? My Lady?” asked the Lady-in-Waiting, watching Marian’s reaction.

“They did it! They rescued Robin! Scarlet says they are taking him home this instant, and that I need not worry anymore!, though he is sorely wounded. Oh, Lady! This is wonderful!” she laughed, tears of joy sparkling in her eyes. She spun in a circle, holding the letter to her heart. Suddenly, a far off church bell tolled six.

“Ah, my dear, I’m afraid this must go on. We can’t keep the Prince waiting.”

“No…no, we can’t, can we?” Marian seemed restored to her previous self, a hint of sarcasm creeping into her voice. She held the letter over a candle, watching the parchment burn to ash, then swept the ash into a small ceramic jar, which contained the ashes of the other letters she’d received from Robin. Once she’d done so, she permitted the Lady-in-Waiting to help her into the wedding dress.

It wasn’t necessarily a horrible gown, it had to be admitted. It was of thin silver-white velvet that gleamed in the light, with voluminous, trailing skirts. The sleeves were long and close-fitting, made up of white lace and studded with pearls and pale purple crystals. The neckline was rounded and a bit too daring for Marian’s taste, edged with a wide trip of crystal-and-pearl studded silver-purple brocade. The hem was lined with the same silver –purple brocade. A fur-trimmed scarf was made to wrap around her arms. The dress sickened Marian, thinking of all the people going hungry in order to pay for such extravagance. She looked at herself in the mirror, resigned. A sudden knock caught their attention, and the Lady-in-Waiting opened the door. She exchanged a few words, then closed the door once more, this time holding a silver box.

“What foolishness is this?” Marian muttered. The Lady-in-Waiting came to her side, examining the box.

“The boy said the Sheriff commanded you wear this today,” the Lady said. Marian groaned in a rather unlady-like way, and then took the box from the Lady-in-Waiting. She opened it, and then gasped. Inside the box were a gold-and pearl hairpiece and several long strings of costly pearls.

“Oh, my Lady!” said the Lady-in-Waiting in awe. “This is…”

“Ridiculous? Too much? Gilding the lily?” Marian tapped the pearls with one ungracious fingertip. “Honestly, does the man think I can be bought with sparkling jewels? I would rather sell this now for the people of Nottingham, not wear it!”

“Of course you would, but at the moment you haven’t a choice, My Lady. So let us put it on, and hurry, for the hour for you to go approaches.” The Lady-in-Waiting reverently removed the necklace, clasping it on. Marian laughed in derision as she viewed it around her slender neck. The Lady-in-Waiting quickly arranged Marian’s chestnut hair in two buns beneath the pearl nets and settled the gold circlet across her forehead, then draped the pearls over her neck.

“Well, My Lady, this may not be your ideal marriage, but you do look lovely.”

“I fear I would rather be in rags in the forest with Robin this moment, good Lady, but I thank you, I suppose.”

“Never fear, Marian. You know your Robin will have a plan to rescue you before you know it. Now, let us be off.” She opened the door regally. Two guards fell in line behind them as Marian made her way down the tower’s spiraling stairs and through the halls. The sentries at the grand doors to the throne room straightened visibly as she approached. Marian had little idea the effect she had; the way she held herself, her elfin beauty and the sweeping dress made the young woman look like a queen. The men were simply struck by her presence.

“The Lady Marian!” cried one of the sentries, as both hauled the heavy doors open. Marian nodded at them then entered, hearing the sound of a small orchestra playing a romantic ballad behind her. The music washed over her, and she stopped suddenly, recognizing the tune. It was an old song, one that had been first written when she was a child. A memory came to her, appearing before her eyes like an apparition: a much younger Robin, in a smart tunic and cloak, extending his hand to her as the music began, the swirling of a pale green and silver linen dress around her feet, the laughter and glow she’d felt. It had been many years since that ball, she knew, but—

“No, no, play something else. Something new, something fresh,” snapped the Sheriff’s voice, jarring Marian out of her reverie. “Marian! So glad to…see you.” He came towards her, looking somewhat uncomfortable in a pair of clean, royal blue breeches and a tunic of white, with gold embellishments and washed hair. Marian curtsied coldly, keeping her face neutral.

“I am pleased you find the dress to your liking, Sheriff. I would hate to think you had wasted such extravagance on something you despised,” she replied, taking his proffered arm as though it was something distasteful. She ignored him as they walked down the velvet-carpeted aisle.

“I suggest you change your demeanor, my lady, if you wish to keep your lover alive,” hissed the Sheriff, never breaking his smile as they approached the dais where the Prince and a man in long church robes stood.

“Of course, Sheriff,” she replied. “If you wish.” When they reached the edge of the dais, they knelt before the Prince, who nodded at them to rise. They did so, and turned to face one another. Marian met the Sheriff’s eyes determinedly. The priest began the mock wedding words in a dry, toneless voice. The Lady-in-Waiting was called upon to bear the elaborate silver cup that they each drank from, and the Prince himself tied the thick gold ribbon around their wrists, attaching them. Suddenly there came a clatter of feet outside the doors. A guard, who appeared to be nearly beside himself, raced in.

“SIR! SIR!!” he shouted.

“Silence man! Can’t you see we’re in the middle of something?!” roared the Sheriff, turning abruptly and dragging Marian—bound to his wrist---with him.

“But sir! It’s Robin Hood—he—he—HE ESCAPED!”

“WHAT?!?” screamed the Sheriff, livid. The Prince leapt to his feet, shouting. Chaos ensued for a moment or two and the Sheriff raged, dragging Marian helplessly with him.

“Sheriff! Cease man, STOP!” cried the Prince. The Sheriff, with visible effort, calmed himself and returned a sore and exasperated Marian to the dais’ edge.

“Go back at once and lead a patrol through the woods. The man was in a state of collapse. He could not have gotten far,” ordered the Prince. The guard nodded, then turned and fled.

“I swear, I will not let this stand in the way—I will wed you, if I must—now!” The Sheriff growled. He suddenly lunged and grabbed Marian, kissing her hard. She struggled, hitting her fist against his broad chest, but he grabbed her wrist, and the other was pulled back, attached to his hand that held her head. The priest began to protest loudly, and the Lady-in-Waiting made to go forward, brandishing a fan angrily. The Prince merely laughed.

“My my, unable to wait, Sheriff?” he asked derisively. The Sheriff pulled away, and Marian, furious now, wrested her hand free and slapped him.

“You’re a beast!” she snapped. He growled and grabbed her wrist once more, but she looked him in the eye, her skin pale save for two blushing spots on her cheeks. “Do that again and I swear you will regret it, Sheriff,” she said. Something in her eyes made him pause.

“Come now, Sheriff, control yourself. Wait for a few days more, if you please,” the Prince chided mockingly. “Lady-in-Waiting, escort the Lady Marian back to her chambers, her presence is no longer needed.” The Lady-in-Waiting waited as the priest carefully cut the gold ribbon, then she led Marian, rubbing her wrist angrily, out of the throne room.

“You just wait!” shouted the Sheriff as they left. “The outlaw was so beaten and broken he was barely alive when I last saw him, Marian. How long do you think he’ll survive out in those woods? He’ll be dead by dawn, and you’ll have nothing!” he laughed viciously. Marian hurried out of the throne room, not looking back. She and the Lady-in-Waiting made it back to Marian’s chambers and closed the door against the guards before Marian crumpled onto the bed. She ripped the circlet off her head and flung it down on the stone floor, where it bounced onto the throw rug beneath the chair and lay still. It was a mark of the Lady-in-Waiting’s distress that she said nothing about the circlet or wedding dress, but merely put a hand on Marian’s shoulder as the young woman cried tears of fury and joy and fear all at once.

“I hate him,” she said through her tears. “But I fear he spoke the truth. Robin will die, and what shall become of me?” she wept again, the Lady-in-Waiting patiently waiting. At last, Marian sat up, wiping the tears away. “Will you help out of this dress, good Lady?” she asked. Carefully, she stepped out and the Lady-in-Waiting re hung the dress on the dummy while Marian put the pearl nets , necklace and circlet—which she retrieved from the floor—back in the silver box and buried it beneath a pile of fabric at the bottom of her wardrobe. Marian herself wore a pale shift and a dark-colored robe. She sat on the windowsill, watching the sunset, saying nothing while the Lady-in-Waiting arranged a bath. She didn’t speak much as she bathed, and merely turned to the Lady-in-Waiting before she went to sleep.

“Thank you, Laura,” she said, using the Lady’s first name. “Thank you for understanding, for…everything.” The older woman merely smiled and patted Marian’s shoulder, then blew out the candles and covered Marian’s chamber in darkness.

“…Marian…help…watch out…no! Marian!” the shouts woke the still camp as Tuck, clothed in a night robe and a thin taper in hand, ran out of his bower across the clearing, past the dying embers of the fire. He entered into a bower, and met Marty, who was seated beside Robin, worry written across his face. Marty was the only member of the Merry Men with any more than rudimentary medicinal skills—his mother had been his village’s healer and he’d learned a few things—but he knew he was outmatched by this. Robin had been feverish all day, crying out for Marian and all different people, and thrashing periodically. The wounds on his back, though cleaned by Marty with Lionel’s help, were red and angry, and showed little sign of healing properly. Robin shook with chill and burned with fever time after time in a frightening cycle.

“No change?” asked the Friar, looking over Marty’s shoulder at Robin.

“No, Friar, none. I fear he will die if he doesn’t receive proper care.”

“But there is no one! We daren’t take him to a Healer, or an apothecary, or even a monastery. They will be watching for him all across England.”

“Then we must try to help him here. But I don’t know how much good we can do.”

“Surely there must be some way to help him…”

“Perhaps…yes, Friar! I remember once, when I was a child…my mother was brought a young man who’d been flogged even worse than Robin. He’d been caught poaching—he was lucky, really. The Prince’s men could have killed him. But my mother…she used an herb, a plant that she sent the other children and I to collect…here, watch over him, Tuck. I will go to see if I can find some. It may bring his fever down.” Marty ducked out of the bower, and Tuck heard him calling for Bayern as he went. When all had fallen silent again, Tuck sat down on the stool beside Robin’s bed, putting a damp cloth on his neck. Then, bowing his head, he began to pray.

“Marian? My Lady, it is time to wake,” called the Lady-in-Waiting. She pulled aside the curtains that covered the window, letting in the pale morning sunlight. Marian opened her eyes, then yawned and stretched.

“Good morning, Lady,” she said. She sat up, then turned and felt under her pillow. She pulled out the white-fletched arrow that Robin had sent her, rubbing her finger along the words carved into the shaft. It was dangerous to keep it, she knew, but she couldn’t bring herself to burn her last symbol of Robin’s love. She remembered the Sheriff’s parting words from the day before.

“Lady, is that guard…Roz…is he still willing to help me?”

“He may be, My Lady. But why?”

“The Sheriff was not lying yesterday when he said that Robin was beaten and broken. Few survive a stay in the Sheriff’s dungeons without coming close to death. But if Will Scarlet and the others managed to get Robin to their hiding place in Sherwood Forest, they will not be able to leave to seek aid…and they may not be able to help him. If you were to help me escape from here, do you think he could open the gates for me?”

“But why, My Lady? What would be the use?”

“I can bring them supplies—I can try to help. I worked with Mother when she nursed during the battles here, remember?”

“You were but a child then, My Lady.”

“Yes, but I remember it clearly…and I have these.” She slid off the bed, and knelt beside it, pushing away the hanging sheets. With a sharp tug, she pulled up a floorboard, revealing a small hole in the floor. Reaching in, she pulled out three books and a leather journal.

“One of these is a book on medicines Mother gave me. The other two are just old books of ours that I could not bear to let the Sheriff take from me. The journal is Mother’s old diary, from when the battles took place. She wrote many of the things she did to help the people in here—she always told me that if she had not been born first into her family, she would have become a nun so she could nurse the people. It was her gift.”

“Well, My Lady…I can go and ask and see. I’m sure between the three of us, we should be able to get you out of here. But it is dangerous, and how will you find Robin and his men?”

“I will go to where he waylaid the Sheriff and I, when I first saw him. Someone will find me—oh, I know it’s a thin hope, Lady-in-Waiting, but I cannot sit here idle, and if I find him…” She stood up, setting the books onto her bedspread.

“Very well. Have some tea while you wait, My Lady.”

“Oh, thank you!” she said. She grabbed the Lady-in-Waiting’s hands, then spun off, moving to the chair, where a tray with a teapot and a few rolls sat. She poured herself a cup of tea and returned to the bed as the Lady-in-Waiting left, closing the door behind her.

An hour later, the Lady-in-Waiting returned. Marian, deeply engrossed in her book, barely noticed her entry until she was standing beside Marian.

“Oh!” she jumped. “You’ve returned!”

“Yes, and I have been most successful, too. Roz and I have come up with a plan, My Lady. You and I will take a turn through the gardens, and you will grow faint and collapse once we are deeper into the grounds. Roz has a daughter about your age who will meet us and take your place. Roz will carry her back as though she is you—we will cover her, of course—and during this time, you can scale the wall and escape with a horse that Roz will leave for you. You can be gone for no more than three days, though. We will tell the Sheriff that you are ill and are not to be disturbed. When you return, send the horse to the gate and scale the wall once again. I will lead the girl—who will wear a veil—outside, and then we shall once again swap you.”

“This is wonderful! It is far more than I could ever have dreamed…” she paused. “But, surely, it is too much to ask of Roz and his daughter—and of you! If the Sheriff catches on—“

“He will not, My Lady. And even should he do so, this is our choice, and we would do anything for you, My Lady.”

“Oh, Lady… thank you.”

“Nonsense. Robin needs helps, and heaven knows if I get a chance to pull the wool over the Sheriff’s eyes, well, it is more fun than I’ve had in a while.” She smiled with a trickster’s gleam in her eye, and Marian laughed. “Now, I arranged for supplies to be loaded onto the horse that will be waiting for you, My Lady. Just slip your books into this satchel here and get dressed. We’ve arranged to meet Roz’s daughter at noon.”

“All right, let us get ready then,” said Marian. While the Lady-in-Waiting threw a few spare things into the satchel that the books were in, Marian slipped behind a screen that she pulled out from within the wardrobe door. When she stepped out again, she wore a well-worn and much-loved looking riding habit. It had an ivy-green under tunic with long sleeves, over which was worn a sky blue habit. It had gold embroidery on the elbow-length sleeves and a woven pattern framing the round neckline. Over the habit was a red girdle with gold cross stitching in front. Beneath it all she wore tan leather breeches and calf-high, soft leather boots. She left her chestnut hair loose, merely pinning it half-up beneath a sort of fabric cap that had once belonged to her mother.

“My Lady, pull a proper skirt over that so you can hide the breeches,” hissed the Lady-in-Waiting. Suddenly, a clock struck noon. “Time to go,” Marian grabbed a midnight blue skirt out of the wardrobe and pulled it on, hiding up to the top of the girdle. Then she slipped the satchel over her shoulder and threw on a purple cloak, and, as an afterthought, grabbed Robin’s bow and quiver from where she’d hidden them in her wardrobe, hiding them beneath the cloak and trying to ignore her pounding heart. The Lady-in-Waiting opened the door and led the way past the guards, who nodded respectfully. They may have been forced to serve for the Sheriff, but they all respected Marian and her Lady-in-Waiting to some degree.
Once they were outside amongst the gardens, they strolled casually about. Marian noticed a young woman entering the thicker greenery nearby followed by a familiar visage; Roz, the guard who had once saved her father’s life. Marian coughed slightly, then started walking towards the greenery. Once they were in, Marian put a hand to her forehead.

“Lady-in-Waiting, I fear I am not well—I feel…weak, so…” with a soft gasp, she collapsed.

“Oh, help! Someone!” shrieked the Lady-in-Waiting in mock distress. Roz arrived, followed by a young woman with ash-blonde hair pulled into a braid. Together, the four slipped off the path, and Marian, sitting up quickly, slipped out of the extra skirt and gave it to the young woman, who pulled it on over her plain gray dress.

“Thank you, Cara,” Marian whispered, glad she remembered the girl’s name from their long ago childhood. Cara nodded, a gleam in her eye, and her father scooped her up. The Lady-in-Waiting arranged the purple cloak around Cara, covering her face as though shielding an unconscious person from the light. Marian watched them go, saying a soft prayer that they would make it without arousing suspicion. Turning quickly, she made her way through a few bushes and found the wall that surrounded Nottingham Castle. It was old, and there were many places for handholds as Marian carefully climbed over. She froze for one heart-stopping moment as she heard voices in the paths nearby, but whoever it was soon passed, and she was over, jumping the last few feet. Walking along the wall beside the thick tree cover—the beginnings of Sherwood Forest—she soon came upon a powerful-looking white horse. Attached to his saddle were several heavy-looking packs, and upon looking through one, she found all kinds of medicinal supplies as well as food and several folded pieces of cloth. Over the horse’s saddle was thrown a sapphire blue cloak with a note pinned to it, reading “His name is Oberon, may he bear you well.” It wasn’t signed, but Marian smiled, and slipped the cloak around her shoulders, over Robin’s bow.

“Hello, Oberon,” she said, patting the stallion’s nose. She mounted the horse easily, and with a click of her tongue, started the horse off at a good pace down the path into the forest.
It took the better part of an hour to reach the place where Robin had waylaid them on their journey, and by that time, Marian was beginning to doubt the assurance with which she had spoken to the Lady-in-Waiting before leaving. Turning off the path, she rode slowly through the trees, looking for some sign of the Merry Men.

“Hello?” she called softly. “Scarlet? Robin? Anyone?” She kept moving, but she was soon deeper into the forest than she’d ever intended to go. She looked to turn back when a faint whisper reached her ears.

“Hush! I hear something,” it was a man’s voice, coming from nearby.

“Hello? Please, I’m looking for Robin of Locksley—‘tis I, Lady Marian. Hello?” Marian raised her voice a little and checked the horse to a complete stop. She could hear for a moment the crunch of footsteps among the leaves, then even those fell silent. “Hello?” she called again. Suddenly, two men leapt out of the trees, causing the horse to whinny in fear and start. She pulled on the reins and patted the horse’s neck reassuringly, then looked at the men, one of whom held a bow—strung and with an arrow aimed at her heart, the other with a dagger. The dagger-bearing one wore a satchel around his neck with a few leaves protruding from the top.

“Hey!” he said, lowering the dagger. “Aren’t you—“

“Yes!” she said quickly, never taking her eye off the arrow the other held. “I am Marian of Ravensend. I’ve brought help—medicine, food. I’ve come to help Robin. He was captured when he came to see me. Look, I have his bow—“ she pulled the cloak aside, revealing the bow. The men’s surprise was palpable.

“Bayern?” the man gestured with his knife hand, and the other lowered his bow.

“If ye’ll come wi’ us, My Lady, we’ll take you to him,” said Bayern. Marian slid off the horse.

“Thank you!” she said in relief. Leading Oberon, she followed behind Bayern and his companion. They walked for about twenty minutes when Bayern’s companion suddenly shouted.

“Scarlet! Tuck! We’re back, and we’ve brought a guest!” Marian smiled to see a short and squat man appear out of the brush, followed by the lean and bow-bearing figure of Will Scarlet. Tuck brushed his hands off on his habit.

“Excellent, you’ve returned. Robin is in need of—oh! Lord bless us! Lady Marian, what brings you all the way out here?”

“Lady Marian?” said Scarlet, looking at her in surprise. “I thought you got my message.”

“I did,” she said. “And I couldn’t bring myself to leave you all out here on your own. I didn’t know if you were able to help Robin, so I came. I have some things—medicine, food, blankets—for all of you. Please, just let me see him.” She tried to hide the desperation in her voice. Scarlet nodded imperceptibly at Bayern and the other man, and Tuck reached out a hand, taking the bag.

“If you’ll follow me, My Lady, I’ll take you to him,” he said kindly. “Marty, will you come again?”

“In a moment,” he said, veering off the path and disappearing into the bushes. Marian, still leading her horse, followed Tuck into the clearing, gasping at the sight of the little bowers and wooden table in the center. The men who were out and about tipped their hats and nodded to her, and she returned the favor with smiles. Tuck ducked into a bigger bower towards the edge of the clearing, and Marian—after tying Oberon’s reins to a branch beside the door and grabbing her satchel with the medicine journal in it—followed after. It was dim and warm inside, with a small fire burning. A pot bubbled over the fire. Robin lay on the bed still, his back covered now in dingy-colored bandages underneath which bubbled out a green poultice. Marian tried to hide her shock. Robin’s brow was covered in a sheen of sweat, and beneath his eyelids, his eyes moved, indicating wild dreams. His face was bruised and cut, and though not as severe as it had been at first, it looked bad.

“Marian! Marian—“ Robin suddenly began to thrash and shout.

“Robin!” she cried, pushing past Tuck. “Robin, I’m here,” she whispered, kneeling beside him. She put a gentle hand on his head. “I’m here, my love,” she whispered. He seemed to calm, though his eyes didn’t open, trapped in the dreamy world of fever.

“Do you think you can do more, Lady Marian?” asked Marty, entering into the bower. Tuck poured the leaves into the pot, stirring them. “I tried a poultice of willow bark, rosemary, and feverfew, and while I think it’s helped with the pain, and the wounds look better, his progress is slow. Too slow, I fear.”

“Perhaps…these books belonged to my Mother—she loved to nurse those she could. Here, Tuck, look through this one with Marty,” she said, holding out the book. “There may be something of use in there.” She paged through her mother’s journal, looking desperately for something that would help Robin. Towards the end of the journal, she found an entry that seemed promising. “Look! Here, my mother says she treated a young man they’d rescued from the enemy. The soldiers had been flogging him when my father had come upon them…here she writes out all that she did for him!” she gasped. “Yes, here,” she said holding the journal out so they could see. “‘The young soldier was in a bad way, and we did not think he would survive past dawn. Nevertheless, we cleaned his wounds thoroughly—he cried out, but it had to be done, I fear—and I had Odilia wash a shirt and a pair of trousers as well as she could while I prepared a poultice of Weeping Ash leaves and berries. In this poultice I mixed also a small handful of willow bark shavings and a few drops of a new pain syrup that my husband brought from one of his trips to the mainland. This we applied lightly to his wounds covering them with clean bandages.’” She turned the page. “‘Much to our surprise and delight, our patient survived the night! We now must change his bandages twice a day and keep both him and his surroundings as clean as we can. It is vitally important that we do so; else the wounds could fester, which would surely kill him. If he does not die, I believe he will heal well and quickly.’” She stopped and looked up at Tuck and Marty.

“Do you think we could try such a treatment? I may have the things we need in the supplies I brought.”

“It is worth a shot. Does your mother ever write whether or not the soldier survived?” Marty asked. Marian paged further, scanning.

“Yes…here. She writes that he is well in his way to recovery in twelve days, and that he is scheduled to return home in a few days. There is nothing more than that.”

“Then there is hope. Come, let us begin,” said Marty.

“Where shall we start?” asked Tuck.

“Let us gather what we need to make the poultice, then wash the wounds. We must do everything we can to keep this place clean, and we must hurry.” She stood and left the bower, blinking in the late afternoon sunlight that warmed the clearing. Oberon stood a few feet away, nibbling on some grass. He hardly twitched as she pulled the saddle bags off his back. Marian carried them over to the table and set them down, then began to sift through them, arranging their contents in neat piles across the table. There was a decent array of foodstuffs and blankets, as well as plenty of bandages and little satchels of herbs. And buried at the very bottom, well-wrapped in a cloth, lay a small blue glass bottle half-full of liquid: the pain syrup her mother had spoken of. Marty joined her, Tuck close behind. The other men gathered around slowly.

“Marty, I have the pain medicine my mother wrote of, but I don’t think we have enough Weeping ash or willow bark.”

“I brought some willow back only today, but I can ask if someone will fetch some of the other,” he said.

“I’ll go,” said Lionel.

“We need as much of it as you can carry. These are clean,’ she said, putting a hand over the bandages, “And we need to keep them so. Have any of you got a basket to hold them?”

“Yeah—here. I got one,” said John, holding out a woven basket he’d been carrying.

“Thank you.” She piled the bandages neatly inside. “Merry Men, I leave the rest in your hands…you know best what to do with it. While we wait for Lionel’s return, we must begin…” she stood. “Is there somewhere I can get water?”

“I’ll get it, My Lady- it’s quite a walk.” Spoke up Donovan. He sprinted off out of sight before Marian could reply.

“We’ll need to move Robin, will we not?” asked Tuck. Marian nodded.

“Yes, I think so—we’ll have to change the bedding he was lying upon. Is there perhaps a different bower we could lay him in—one without a fire in it?”

“Yes—the empty one. We have one we leave empty in case someone needs it,” explained Ailen. It’s never been used. We could lay him in there.”

“That will work. From now on, I think we must keep smoke and such out of that bower. It must be as clean and open as we manage.”

“We’ll go get Robin,” said Bayern. He a Marty turned and left, and Marian, with the help of Tuck and the remaining Merry Men, gathered fresh bracken and leaves and wrapped them in one of the blankets Marian had brought. This they placed on a sturdy little wooden frame. Marian laid another blanket down over the stuffed one, and pushed away the leafy covering that had grown over the holes in the walls that served for windows, letting in the sun.

“Lady Marian?” Marty’s voice came from outside the bower. “Can we bring ‘im in?”

“Yes, everything is ready,” she said. They entered, ducking to avoid the low door, careful not to jar Robin, who hung limply between them. They lay him gently on the bed, and Marian put a tender hand on his forehead, her eyes full of sorrow. She helped them turn Robin over onto his back, exposing the green-slimed bandages.

“My Lady,” said Marty hesitantly, putting a hand out as Marian reached for the edge of one of the bandages. “Robin’s wounds…they are bad. Not a sight for gracious eyes, I wonder,”

“No, Marty, I cannot leave now! I am not as simpering woman to wait while others attend my love,” she said firmly. Marty nodded in assent, and together they unwrapped the bandages. Marian winced as she looked at the wounds. They were not infected, but they were smothered in green poultice slime and scabbing patchily and in some places were weeping. Most of the whiplashes were superficial, but there were several that were quite deep. Blood still oozed ever-so-slightly from one or two, and the area around these was even more lacerated than others.

“We must clean it as thoroughly as we can without hurting him,” she said, steeling herself. She rose to her feet and slipped out. Tuck met her at the door.

“One of the men was given this for his wife. She is far away and unlikely to need it, but you might,” said Tuck. He held out a bundle of fabric.

“Is he sure?” said Marian. Tuck nodded. “Then tell the man I thank him.” She took the bundle of clothes, and Tuck led her to an empty bower. She slipped in and quickly changed, pulling on the rough clothes. It consisted of a dark brown under dress that had long sleeves that fit closely to her arms and a rounded neckline. Over it was a grayish-brown wrap that fell at an angle at the hem and was sleeveless, then reached up to from a sort of scarf-hood collar at her neck. She braided her hair along the sides, tying it back in a knot that would keep its long chestnut strands out of her way. Her own clothes she bundled carefully up. Carrying them, she left the bower—Tuck was no longer in sight, and none of the men were visible, and stowed them in one of the now-empty saddle bags.

“My Lady!” Donovan returned, bearing two big pails of water over each shoulder.

“Oh, excellent, come, let us build a fire to heat the water,” she said. They had built a fire in the pit by the table and set the water over it when shouting from inside the bower where Robin lay caught their attention. Marian hitched up her skirts and ran, entering the bower at a headlong pace. Marty was trying to hold Robin down—he was thrashing and trying to rise, but was clearly still dreaming.

“Take your hands off me, Sheriff! You shall not defeat me!” shouted Robin, writhing in Marty’s grasp.

“Robin!” Marian cried. “Stop! You’ll hurt yourself!” she rushed to his side and helped Marty lower Robin—now unresisting once more, back onto the blankets. “Rest,” she whispered. She turned to Marty when they had finished.

“I have water heating now. Shall we start to wash the wounds?” she asked. He nodded, and the two of them retrieved the water and set to work, carefully, oh so carefully washing the wounds, cleaning the old poultice and accumulating dirt away.

It took nearly two hours, even between the two of them, to wash his back to a point that they both agreed on as safe. By this time, Lionel had returned with the ash they needed, and Marian, leaving Marty to clean the last vestiges of the wounds, stepped outside. By this time, the sun was setting, the sky painted a masterpiece of purple and fiery orange clouds. She stared up at the clouds for a moment, breathing in the fresh air and wishing, for a moment, that she could stay forever, nursing Robin and living here with him. But her thoughts quickly flickered to her Lady-in-Waiting and Cara back in the castle, and she shook herself, crossing to the table where Lionel had joined Tuck in amassing the proper ingredients. A small clean pot of sweetly-spiced poultice bubbled beside the table.

“My Lady!” said Scarlet. He entered the clearing, a deer slung over his shoulder. “It is well to see you. How is Robin?”

“It is too soon to tell, Scarlet, but I am hopeful he will be all right, with the medicine we found,” said Marian, stirring the pot carefully. Scarlet nodded, then disappeared, the deer swinging behind him. Marian lifted the pot cautiously and brought it into the bower where Robin lay.

“I believe this is ready,” she said.

“Shall we put it directly on his wounds?” asked Marty. “We will have to clean these again.”

“I’m afraid so,” agreed Marian, “We shall have to put it on the wounds if we want it to work to its fullest.”

“Maybe a lighter coating, then,” suggested Marty, and they set to work, carefully putting no more than a dab or two on the wounds, applying more gently when Robin moaned or cried out, then Marian covered each with a strip of clean white bandage. When they stepped outside together again, the sun had set. The only light came from the stars above and the few torches tied to surrounding trees, as well as the central fire, where Tuck—the pot of salve removed—stirred what smelled to be a stew with the deer Scarlet had brought.

“We have finished, Friar,” said Marian. “And how tired I am!” she sat on one of the stools at the table, and Tuck placed a bowl in front of her.

“I was just about to serve this; eat it, Lady Marian, and then you can sleep.”

“Thank you. I’ll bring some blankets into Robin’s bower, if you deem it all right,” she said. Tuck nodded. The men came and went, some sitting politely by her as they ate, unusually quiet for a gathering of men, she thought.

“It’s Robin,” said a man suddenly. He was sitting across from her, just as she was finishing her bowl.

“Pardon?” she replied, startling out of her exhausted daze.

“The men are missing Robin. He brings life to this forest, to the men…he is Sherwood Forest, in a way. Without him, it’s just a bunch of trees.”

“I understand you, I think,” said Marian, slowly, thinking. “Robin is part of my life, too. Without him…” she shook her head sadly. “He will return, good sir, he must. He knows how much the people depend upon him,”

“I pray you’re right, My Lady,” he said. Marian stood then, inclining her head. He did the same, then she left, checking on Oberon and sorting through the remaining packs that now lay against a nearby tree. Her books were safe in Robin’s bower, but inside one she found a blanket she recognized from her own bed, and several soft cloths she often used to wash with. Taking these in hand, she slipped out of the clearing to where a stream flowed a few feet away in the shadows. She washed her hands thoroughly, splashing her face in the icy water. When she felt sufficiently cleansed, she returned to the clearing, nodding good night to those still in the clearing. Upon entering Robin’s bower, she saw that someone had lain out a blanket over some rough padding, a thoughtful gesture for her. Robin himself lay quiet, and, upon putting a hand on his cheek, she found that he felt cooler, as though his fever had broken at last. She kissed his cheek gently, then slipped off the rough-knit overdress and lay down on the floor, drifting off to the nightly sounds of the forest.

Marian woke to the sound of birds chirping wildly. Sitting up, she glanced at Robin, who lay quietly, but looked far better than he had even the night before. She wrapped the thin, brightly patterned blanket around her shoulders and stepped outside, breathing in the quiet stillness of the woodland morning. Tuck stood by the fire, tending to yet another dish—most likely porridge, by the smell—but no one else was about.

“Good morning, my Lady,” he called jovially. “The men have already eaten; a passing tax collector made an excellent offer today, and they simply couldn’t resist a chance to help the people of Nottingham.”

“I see,” replied Marian, smiling at his description of the robbery. “Then I will attend my horse briefly. I believe Robin will alright for the moment.”

“Of course.” He said. She reentered the bower, scooped up the overdress from the day before and her blanket lying beside her pallet. Leaving with a glance at Robin, she slipped out and went past Oberon. In the stream, she washed her face once more, then dressed in the brown dress and overdress from the day before. The crisp autumn breeze played with her skirts and hair, which she bound half-back. Tucking her blanket into one of Oberon’s saddlebags, she fed him a few handfuls of grass and oats she pulled from a little pouch hanging off his saddle, patting him on the nose. With a playful kiss, she left him and gladly accepted a bowl of warm porridge from Tuck. They spoke minimally while she ate, then she took a bucket of water sitting beside the table and a clean bandage from the basket and left Tuck to sit by Robin’s side. She sat at his bedside, perusing her mother’s journal, hoping to stumble upon something more they could use, and smiling at the mentions her mother made of a much-younger version of herself. Outside, she heard the men return, the low and triumphant buzz filling the camp, but she made no move to leave, and the noise faded into the background as the hours passed.

“Marian?” a weak voice broke into her reading. She looked over, and saw Robin, his eyes open, reaching weakly for her hand.

“Robin!” she gasped. “You’re awake!”

“Yes…but…where am I? What day is it? How come you here?”

“You are home in Sherwood Forest, my love. It is three days since the Merry Men brought you home from the dungeons of the Prince. I came yesterday—you were ill, and we were afraid for your life…but you’re awake! How do you feel?”

“I—not well,” he said, shifting and wincing. “Better, I think, than I have been, but not well enough to move.”

“You soon will be, this is just the beginning of the healing. Oh Robin, I was so worried for you…” She leaned forward, stroking his forehead. He closed his eyes, and she stopped. “I must tell the Merry Men!”

“Are you sure there’s naught I can do?” asked Cara for the hundredth time. The Lady-in-Waiting shook her head in annoyance.

“No, I told you, you just need to lie there. If someone comes, you must look as though you’re ill.”

“Surely there’s some mending to be done? I cannot simply lie here for three days,” moaned Cara. The young woman was used to work, and even after one night in Marian’s bed, was anxious and uncomfortable, feeling, as she put it, out of place. She wore one of Marian’s lighter nightgowns, and had quickly declared it to be the finest thing she’d ever worn, which the Lady-in-Waiting was privately glad that Marian had not heard—the girl would have been upset. She cared very much for the people.

“Here,” replied the Lady somewhat exasperatedly. She handed Cara a dress and a needle, and Cara set to work, obviously happy to occupy her fingers. The Lady-in-Waiting glanced out the window once again, wondering where Marian was in all the vast expanse of trees beyond the wall. The midday sun shone over the gardens below, and she could see the castle guard performing drills in the packed dirt on the right. Suddenly, a commotion outside the door caught their attention. Cara stuffed the dress under her pillow and ducked under the covers, shielding her blonde hair, which would have destroyed the ruse.

“I demand to see Marian at once! Let me in,” roared the Sheriff’s irate voice. The Lady-in-Waiting cracked the door open slightly.

“The Lady Marian has taken ill, sir. I fear she will not rouse for another day or more. It simply would not do-“

“You tell that girl that sulking is not going to stop the tournament from taking place. I will defeat Robin Hood if he survives show his cowardly face, I promise you that! I am the greatest archer in the land!”

“You haven’t a chance!” snapped the Lady unthinkingly. “Robin Hood is the greatest archer in the land, all the people know it.” She slammed the door in the Sheriff’s face.

The Sheriff stormed away from Marian’s room, glowering enough to frighten the maids into the recesses of the corridors as he thundered through. But inwardly, a prickle of unease began to grow. The Lady-in-Waiting, though far too loyal to Marian, was not known to lie. This presumably meant that she’d been telling the truth: Robin Hood was proclaimed by the people as the best archer in the land. And there generally was some truth in what the people believed, especially if what they believed came from a source other than the royal persona. By the time the Sheriff reached the throne room, he’d seriously begun to worry.
The Prince was in his usual position, sprawled across his throne, goblet in hand, his three ladies giggling and schmoozing around him, each wore a brightly-colored silk dress; bright blossom-pink for a girl with dark hair and honey-wood skin, sky blue for a girl with curly blonde hair, and sunflower yellow for a girl with thick light brown hair.

“Sheriff, Sheriff, come join us. Celebrate that the outlaw is surely dead in the woods and that the tournament draws near!” he cried, lifting his glass. The Sheriff merely poured himself a goblet full and stood on the edge of the dais.

“I don’t know, Your Highness. I think we may need another plan…”

By nightfall, Robin declared himself better than he had been even that morning. Marian, with the help of Marty and Scarlet, had redressed his wounds—she was quite surprised by the progress the poultice had made. Already the shallower cuts were scabbing over, and the deeper ones, though still tender, had faded from an angry red to a safer-looking pink. The men were celebrating outside as Tuck cheerful doled out the ale, and Marian sat beside Robin, talking quietly with him. She could hear the hoots of owls over the shouting of the men outside as she listened.

“Marian, darling, are you alright?” Robin reached out a hand and played with the end of her long chestnut braid.

“Yes. I just wish…I wish I could stay here with you, forever,” she said softly, taking his hand. He lay on his side, careful not to put pressure on his wounds. The blows and bruises on his face had begun to fade at last, and she gazed at his blue eyes, heart full of love.

“Why not, Marian? Forget the Sheriff, the castle, the tournament. You could stay here. The Sheriff will never find us. We’ll have Tuck marry us right here, and we’ll hide here, the outlaw and his lass, forever. I could teach you—to fight, to ride fast, to shoot straighter…they’ll write songs of our exploits. Don’t you remember our dreams?”

“I do, Robin. Oh, how I do!” she said, lighting up with a smile. “The daring hero and his faithful lady, off on one of their adventures…” she sighed. “But things have changed since then, Robin. I cannot leave Lady Laura there…and what of the girl who has taken my place? I could not bear to let them pay for my happiness. Who knows what the Sheriff might do if he were to discover I had fled? And we…we have a responsibility, you and I. To the people, to the crown…it’s our fate.”

“I know.” Robin replied wearily. “But we can still be happy. Marian, I will be healed by the time of the tournament. I will win your hand, I swear. We will stop the Prince and the Sheriff and save the people. It will be a legend that minstrels will sing of from shore to mountain when we’ve done.”

“I pray ‘tis so, Robin. For tomorrow I will have to leave… my three days will be up.”

“I will send a message as soon as I am ready, this I promise.”

“And I will be waiting, I assure you. Now, you must rest, or the day when you are well will come too late. Sleep, my love…” she began to hum, then sing softly, her sweet voice carrying a lilting lullaby. Robin’s eyes closed, and she gently reached down and stroked his brow, then kissed him softly. She then lay on her own pallet, hearing his even breathing and wishing deep in her heart that morning would never come.

“Here, Robin, you must eat. You’ve had naught for nearly four days now, if you don’t eat you’ll weaken,” said Marian, entering into the bower. Robin was sitting up, careful not to put weight on his back. She wore her riding habit from the first day, the colors bright in the dimness, and a bowl of Tuck’s porridge was balanced in her hand.

“Aye, I am awfully hungry…” mused Robin. “My appetite returned in the night, it seems.” He was peering at her books, which she’d left with him when they’d woken that morning. “Where did you come by these?”

“They belonged to my mother. I’ve hidden them—I knew the Sheriff would take them otherwise. He would have me as witless as one of the Prince’s ladies!” She sat beside him.

“Ah, but I would never,” said Robin in reply, leaning forward and kissing her. She laughed even as she broke away, handing the bowl to him.

“Eat, Robin,” she said. He took the bowl and did as she said, devouring the porridge with the speed of one who hasn’t eaten well in days.

“Scarlet! Ailen! Tuck! Come quickly! You must hear this!” Lionel’s shout broke through the clearing. Marian and Robin exchanged looks, and Marian stood up, disappearing through the doorway. Robin strained to hear.

“What is it, my son?” asked Tuck, entering the clearing on the opposite side. Lionel clutched a heavy-looking parchment in his hand, clearly some kind of notice.

“If the Sheriff’s raised the price on our heads, there was no need to come shouting in here,” declared Scarlet, looking up from where he was skinning another deer he had poached.

“It’s not,” panted Lionel. “It’s about the tournament. They’ve added an extra challenge!”

“What?” exclaimed Marian. “How? When?”

“It just appeared on the boards this morning, my Lady. Listen, if you please: ‘His Royal Highness hereby declares that the tournament shall bear an extra challenge for the suit of Lady Marian’s hand. All competitors will be expected to participate in a horse race through the town of Nottingham. The first twelve competitors to reach the finish will proceed to the archery tournament as planned, with the first place winner of the race getting first shot. All competitors wishing to enter must have their own horse on which to ride. The Prince will not provide anyone with a mount.’ What will Robin do? We don’ have a horse!”

“Robin will have to ride mine, then. See him, over there?” Marian gestured to where Oberon grazed comfortably at the edge of the clearing. “I won’t need him in the castle, and I know Robin can ride well. I remember our races, when we were children…” she shook her head to clear away the memory, and smiled. “Don’t fear. All will be well, yet, Oberon is a swift mount.”

“Marian? What’s going on?” called Robin, giving up on trying to make sense of the little he could make out from inside. Marian smiled and ducked back into the bower.

“They’ve added a race on horseback to the tournament, and Lionel feared that you had no horse. But if you will ride mine, then there will be no trouble, I think.”

“A horserace? Do you remember our races, Marian? When we were children? How we laughed…”

“Yes—especially when I fell off?” she asked, smiling. “Remember?”

“Yes! Your mother was so angry, you ruined a new dress and nearly broke your arm.”

“But I still won,” she proclaimed.

“What? Nonsense, you didn’t win that one!” he cried indignantly.

“Yes, I most certainly did!” she responded, laughing light-heartedly. “I did.”

“Maybe so,” he conceded. “Nevertheless, I shall continue to ride as soon as I am well enough. One can’t be too careful. But I wouldn’t let this race worry you overmuch, my darling. If it is the worst the Prince can throw our way, we shall have it easy indeed.”

“I will not let it. But I do wonder why they chose to add such a sport now. What could have made them change their minds so?”

“I don’t suppose we’ll find out until after. What is the hour, Marian?”

“Near noon. I must go now, I fear.” Her face fell.

“Wait! Before you go…” He reached beneath his pillow. “I asked Tuck to bring me this. It was my mother’s, once, a long time ago.” When he opened his fist, a silver ring lay there. The silver was old, but bright, and a pattern was engraved in it, of flowers and leaves. A small circular emerald was set in the silver. “’Tis for you, my love.”

“Oh Robin, its lovely…” she said softly. He slid it onto her finger.

“Wear it as a symbol of our promise. I will come and win your hand, and together we will save the people, as is our fate.”

“Our fate…” she whispered. “Thank you, Robin.” They kissed, one last, long moment before their time ran out. But it was over too soon for either, and Marian stood reluctantly. “I must go, Robin, else I will not make it back before sunset.”

“Farewell, Marian. I will send word when I am able, I swear.”

“And I will wait. The day when we will be reunited will soon be at hand. Good bye, Robin,” she said. Robin watched as she disappeared out of the bower, his heart heavy. Marian’s heart matched his own, as she went to where Lionel waited with Oberon. He had offered to go with her, so to ensure she made it to the castle safe and the return to the clearing with Oberon. Marian quickly packed the last of her books into the saddlebag—her things now filled only one—and climbed on behind Lionel. They trotted off, Marian watching behind her until the clearing faded from view. In a matter of hours, Lionel left her alongside the wall that surrounded Nottingham Castle. Nimbly, she climbed into a tree, using a buckle from the saddlebags to flash a reflection into her chambers. After a few minutes, she received a flash in answer, and she climbed down from the tree. Throwing the saddlebag over her shoulder, Marian made quick work of scrambling carefully over the wall, dropping into the foliage below. Brushing off her skirt, she settled into the brush to wait.

It wasn’t long before she heard steady footsteps and the voice of the Lady-in-Waiting coming through. Peering through the bush to see if the coast was clear, Marian met up with the Lady, and Cara, who wore a veil over her face. Quick and quiet, Marian exchanged overskirts and veils with Cara, returning to herself once more. She gave Cara a quick hug then turned and followed the Lady-in-Waiting back to the tower and her bedchambers. Once safely inside, Marian pulled the veil off and collapsed onto her bed.

“Oh, My Lady, thank goodness you’re back,” said the Lady-in-Waiting. “Things have changed since you’ve been gone—“

“The tournament?” asked Marian.

“Yes! The Prince, they added—“

“A race?”

“Yes—how did you know?”

“Lionel—one of Robin’s men—found the notice this morning. I must remember to let Roz know; I lent Robin my horse so he would have a mount to ride in the tournament. Do not fear, good Lady.”

“Oh, this is wonderful! I was terribly worried there…that it might have been my fault…we had a close shave with the Sheriff the day after you left, but nothing happened. What about Robin? How is he?”

“Better, much better, Lady. I was so worried when I arrived…he was in a bad way. But by some miracle he awoke yesterday morning, and his fever has broken, and I am certain he will be well by the day of the tournament. Everything will be well, Lady-in-Waiting.”

“I am glad things worked out, my Lady. We have a difficult few weeks ahead, I think. The Sheriff will not relent so easily, especially if he believes Robin to have died. We must hold onto that hope now.”

“I shan’t ever let it go, not until I kneel at the altar with the Sheriff,” she said fervently. “And that I will never willingly do.”

“Very well, My Lady. Oh, now, whence came this?” she took Marian’s hand, holding up the ring to catch the now-fading light in the stone.

“It was a gift,” she replied. “A symbol of a promise we have made.”

“It is lovely, my Lady.”

“Aye, it is…” Marian held her hand, one finger caressing the ring as she looked back out over Sherwood Forest.

“What are we to do now?”

“Now, I think, we bide our time and wait for the day of the tournament.” She went to the window, sitting lightly on the seat. “Yes…we wait.”

Yes, Marian and her faithful Lady-in-Waiting waited. To Marian, the days seemed to creep by as she faced hours of forced company with the Sheriff, biting her tongue at each poorly-concealed jab at Robin until she thought she might go mad. Robin, meanwhile, was soon able to walk and move about, though with more care than before. He hated lying about, and upon his recovery, he threw himself into preparing for the tournament. Marian dutifully burned Robin’s message, which carried no hint of their plan, merely reassurances of his health and allusions to their vow, and she kept the jar of ashes by her bed. As the days passed, he and Marian threw themselves into helping the people to keep their minds from the oppressive wait, but their thoughts were never far from the other. Then, suddenly, the day of the tournament was upon the kingdom.

“Are you ready, Robin?” asked Scarlet. He stood outside Robin’s bower, turning Robin’s bow in his hands. It had been restrung and polished painstakingly for the occasion, and the yew gleamed in the early dawn light.

“Aye—one moment more…excellent.” Robin left the bower, adjusting the hood till it covered his eyes. Scarlet eyed him critically. Robin wore a long coat with several shabby layers over it in a somber brown, billowy trousers, and pulled the hood and cowl close over his face, shadowing his features. Beneath it he wore his regular tunic and leather boots, and when completed with a belted-on sword and pair of dark leather gloves, he portrayed a rather dark and ominous persona—not someone the Sheriff would prefer to bother with. But it all depended on chance now, it seemed.

“Now, my trustworthy Merry Men,” said Robin, throwing back his hood and leaping up on one of the stumps in the clearing. The various men appeared from all corners of the surrounding woods, coming to congregate in a semi-circle around Robin. “Are you all clear on the plan? You’ll hide in the trees until you hear my signal?”

“Aye—HIDE IN THE TREES!” shouted the men.

"And what’s my signal?”

“TYRANTS AND THIEVES!” they shouted enthusiastically.

“Shh! Excellent. Ready? This day we shall defeat the Sheriff and the Prince, or die in our most noble venture! This day shall we free England, or this day shall we be set free ourselves from tyranny. This day they shall make songs of our deeds, whether we succeed or no! Let us make it such a day! Are you with me?” he shouted.

“Aye, Robin!” shouted the Merry Men with a resounding cheer.

“Then let us be off!” he cried. Pulling his hood back over his head, he jumped down and mounted Oberon, who stood saddled, waiting. The Merry Men, with shouts and cries, faded into the forest, each making for his own position, as they had planned long before. Robin paused once, looking around the clearing, his expression unreadable, while he waited for Marty, disguised as a manservant, to mount his own nag and join him. When he had, Robin, spurred his horse and they began a steady canter towards Nottingham.

“Come, My Lady, ‘tis time.” The Lady-in-Waiting put a gentle hand on Marian’s shoulder. Marian sat, cocooned in a woolen blanket, watching the sun rise over Sherwood Forest, a book nestled in her lap. She looked up at the Lady, her expression set.

“Well, then, let’s not leave things for long, shall we, Lady?”

“Hmmph,” the Lady-in-Waiting responded. Marian climbed off the windowsill, tossing the blanket onto her bed, and setting the book on the sill behind her. She wore a thin white nightdress, which she quickly shed in order to bathe in the now-steaming water. When she’ finished, she groaned as the Lady-in-Waiting began to unlace the under gown of the newest “gift.” The Sheriff had outdone himself this time, sparing literally no expense as he ordered the finest dress imaginable—well, to him anyways—for his ‘bride to be’ on this, his day of triumph. There were several layers of gold silk underskirt on top of the form-fitting shift. The main dress itself was a deep scarlet silk, cut with a simple bodice and wide, trailing skirts. The neckline curved over her bosom in a low-cut squarish shape, and the sleeves, barely managing to remain on her shoulders, split at the elbows into gold silk, which was loose and reached nearly her hands. The skirts were decorated with several vertical lines of gold embroidery of leaves and flowers, which Marian found oddly comforting.

“Am I expected to move much, do you suppose?” asked Marian, attempting to turn in the dress once the Lady-and-Waiting had finished lacing it—and the under shift—up. She could hardly move quickly, and she felt as though every breath was a challenge to obtain.

“Let us pray not-I don’t know who measured you, my lady, but they clearly made some mistake. These laces are designed to be much tighter than anything you’ve worn before…though I was certain I gave them the right numbers…”

“Don’t fret, it was likely no fault of yours,” mused Marian, turning slightly to look at herself in the mirror, noting how the dress squeezed her figure to emphasize her bust. “I expect it’s exactly what the Sheriff wants.”

“It certainly is…noticeable,” agreed the Lady-in-Waiting, clearly unable to find the word she was looking for.

“Have you any notion as to my hair?” Marian asked, pushing away a strand of her chestnut hair.

“Aye…I think perhaps…let me see,” the Lady-in-Waiting said. She fiddled and fixed for nearly a half hour, until she had Marian’s hair pinned tightly back against her head with a golden comb. Beneath it fell her hair in wavy curls in the front of her dress and behind. Her necklace was a design of gold knots on a delicate chain with tiny rubies dangling off of it. The Lady-in-Waiting helped Marian into the thin golden slippers that came with the dress, and stood back to admire the results.

“Well, my Lady, you will not go unnoticed in this,” she said finally. Marian looked that the bejeweled, scarlet version of herself and shuddered, although she did look beautiful.

“Never again, Lady. Never again…” she whispered to herself.

“Knock knock!” sang out a voice from the other side of the door. “Can I come in, niece?” Marian barely had time to respond before the Prince burst in.

“Hello, Uncle,” she said, a bit stiffly.

“Ah, niece, what a dress! Simply…ravishing. Another of the Sheriff’s gifts?” he looked evilly pleased. Marian had to restrain a sigh.

“Yes. Do relay my thanks if you see him,” she said, unable to hide the sarcastic bite in her voice.

“Oh surely you can relay your thanks yourself; your husband-to-be will be most appreciative, I’m sure.”

“He’s not my husband-to-be yet, Uncle.”

“Well, is there anyone else?” he scoffed. “Anyways, niece, I came to collect you. It is time to meet our adoring public.”

“Yes, Uncle.” With one last glance at the Lady-in-Waiting, who nodded encouragingly and took up her position behind them, Marian placed her hand lightly on her the Prince’s offered arm. They descended down the stairs and out to the carriage that would take them to the fairgrounds. It was a short ride; it wasn’t long before Marian could hear the cheers and shouts of the people gathered to watch the event of the year.

“—the Royal Family approaches!” Marian could hear someone announcing their arrival. She took the footman’s hand, stepping carefully out of the carriage, the scarlet skirts flowing around her feet like a river. She could hear the crowd grow quiet as the man announcing declared, pride in his voice,

“And here’s the lovely Lady Marian!” it started as a low murmur, but eventually the crowd erupted into cheers and shouted blessings. Many people had been touched by Marian’s efforts, and they all loved their hero’s true love. She waved, a smile lighting her face, and waited for the Prince to arrive. He came around the edge of the carriage, and the cheers of the crowd were cut as though by a knife. An uncomfortable silence ensued, the only way the people dared show their disapproval of the Prince.

“And…the Prince John!” shouted the MC, the Prince’s steward, into the silence, but no one stirred. John shrugged irritably, and offered Marian his arm. Together they ascended into the royal box, where several chairs were set up, along with the Prince’s colors. His three fawning ladies awaited him, twittering vapidly and fixing their hair. A low babble started up again, and eventually things returned to normal.

“Let the tournament begin!” shouted the Prince, waving a white handkerchief. Cheers erupted.

There were a handful of events before the main one of the day—the race—and Marian watched with a detached interest, delivering the promised kisses to the victors automatically, her eyes constantly scanning for Robin’s familiar face in the crowd. But as the day passed, her hope grew fainter. Perhaps he hadn’t healed enough to come. Perhaps he couldn’t make his plan work. Perhaps…and this made her shudder…he’d been captured again.

“I don’t see your beloved Robin Hood anywhere, Marian,” scoffed the Prince, reclining in the chair. One of his ladies giggled in a sycophantic way, and Marian glared at her. The race was just about to begin, and Marian was scanning the contestants anxiously. The only two whom she really took notice of were the Sheriff—who was arrogantly waving a scarlet handkerchief clearly made from the same material as her gown as a favor and strutting about—and a dark-clothed man, his hood pulled low over his face, his horse hidden behind the crush of other competitors. Something about him seemed familiar, but Marian knew she would have remembered such an unusual man, and dismissed the notion.

“Do not count him out yet, Uncle,” she snipped back. The Prince laughed.

“He realized he has been outsmarted, something you’d best realize too, niece.”

“The Sheriff may not win yet,” she whispered, mostly to herself, turning her attention back to the starting line. As she watched, the Sheriff rode his horse close up to the dark man, exchanging a few words.

“Hello. I don’t believe I’ve seen you in our fair town before?” the Sheriff extended a gloved hand. Robin took it gingerly, keeping his head turned away.

“No—I—I’m not from around here,” he said, trying to deepen his voice.

“Ah, well, I am the Sheriff of Nottingham. And you are?”

“I—ah—“ Robin would have smacked himself if he could. Of all the things to forget. “My, erm, name.”

“I’m assuming you have one?” The Sheriff was clearly not intimidated by Robin’s costume, his tone sarcastic.

“I—yes! My name is Dr…”

“Meat pies! Get your meat pies here! Fresh, hot, peppery!” shouted a vendor nearby. Robin glanced at him, then smiled sheepishly.

“Dr. Pepper, of course.”

“Ah, a physician,” said the Sheriff, nodding vaguely. Marty, fiddling with the stirrup on the other side of Robin’s horse, snorted.

“Pleased you to meet you, Sheriff. I’ve heard such things about you…” he shook the Sheriff’s hand vigorously.

“I’m sure you have,” replied the Sheriff haughtily. Before Robin could reply, the call came for the riders to ready themselves at the starting line. The Sheriff gave a terse nod, then wheeled his stallion away, taking his place at the line. Robin saluted Marty, who slipped back amongst the crowd. The Sheriff shot a kiss at Marian, who pointedly ignored it, and with a shout, they spurred on their horses, disappearing around the bend. Marian relaxed slightly, knowing the riders wouldn’t be around for several minutes yet.

Robin paid careful attention to his steed at they went around, carefully edging around those on lesser mounts. But Marian’s horse was a powerful creature with the speed of two, and Robin found himself quickly coming up behind the Sheriff and one other rider without hardly having to spur him on. Now he just had to stay there for another lap.

“Friar, are you certain this was Robin had in mind when he told us to hide in the trees?” Alan scratched himself on back with the long branch he held in his hand. He was decked out in a leafy sort of cap and carried several branches in his hands and tied to his legs, and he stood behind a tree with an expression of great reluctance on his face, his lute over his shoulder. Around him, the rest of the Merry Men were crouched behind various trees and bushes, each adorned in their own unique taste in foliage. Each also bore an expression of disgruntled dismay; clearly they didn’t think that this was Robin’s plan, either.

“Quiet, please! Robin will be around in another moment,” said Tuck, waving his hand at them. He wore a crown of birch leaves, which were itchy and uncomfortable. He, too, was beginning to wonder if this had been Robin’s plan, but wasn’t about to back out of it now.

“Why are you crying?” spoke up Bayern, looking in confusion at John, who was decked out in a long, sweeping array of willow leaves.

“I’m a weeping willow!” he said, and burst into another round of tears. “Ow!” he exclaimed, stopping as Scarlet reached out and whacked him with a branch.

“Quiet! Look—there they go…go Robin!” breathed Tuck. The men fell silent as they watched Robin race by, fighting to pass a random contester on a dappled gray stallion. “Go Robin!” he whispered again.

Marian was in stitches as they passed by again, her heart beating in time with the horse’s hooves, her fingers clutching the edge of the chair. Even the Prince showed some interest, screaming for the Sheriff to “ride, man, RIDE!” as they raced by. She wasn’t really rooting for anyone, without Robin being there, simply praying with all of her heart that the Sheriff wouldn’t win. The Lady-in-Waiting, sitting in a chair on a level below the royal box, waved her white scarf and echoed Marian’s unspoken prayer. They could hear the pounding long before they saw the riders, then suddenly, they were there! The stranger was a mere pace behind the Sheriff, the other rider long left behind. As Marian watched, the stranger pressed his white horse, until he and the Sheriff were neck and neck, each man’s horse foaming with exhaustion and blood, but neither slowing. As they blew past, Marian’s skirts wafted around her feet, and she leaned forward, watching intently. With a roar from the crowd, they crossed the finish line, still neck and neck from Marian’s viewpoint.

“Who won?” she gasped. The Prince seemed just as speechless, shaking his head, his ladies desperately trying to revive one who had fainted in the tension of the race. The Sheriff and the stranger dismounted, giving their horses to already-waiting stable boys to be watered and taken care of.
It took the MC several minutes to confer with his fellow judges, then several more to quiet the crowd.

“It appears…we have a tie,” he said finally. Silence followed his announcement, then a soft murmur welled up. How could there be a tie? What would they do? Who would have first shot?

“Your Highness?” he turned to the Prince, who had been hastily speaking in low tones with the Sheriff.

“Watch, Sheriff, as I belch forth brilliance,” he finished, then stood at the edge of the box. “Yes, thank you! Good people of England, these two master riders have reached a tie! So I have come up with an ingenious solution to end the tournament without dissent. We will eliminate the other twelve contesters—“ here he waited for the outraged shouts to die down as the others were dragged away—“And the Sheriff and Dr…Pepper…will each have one shot at a target with a bow and arrow. The best shot will be proclaimed the winner. Does this please you?” the responding roar was nearly deafening, though in pleasure or indignation it was hard to discern. The Merry Men hollered for all their worth, drawing a few looks from nearby spectators towards the screaming shrubbery. The Prince’s ladies applauded cheerfully.

“I accept, Sire!” shouted the Sheriff over the din.

“I, too!” shouted Robin, hiding his delight by polishing his monocle furiously.

“Very well, then! Steward?” commanded the Prince. Marian felt her heart sink a bit. It was wonderful that the Sheriff had not yet won her hand, but an archery contest now? When Robin was nowhere in sight? It was enough to make her weep; surely the stranger couldn’t win against the Sheriff?

“Here,” she heard the MC say, handing a target to a young lady he’d pulled from the crowd. “Pick a tree.”

“AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” there came several loud screams from the direction of the surrounding foliage. Much to the bewilderment of the girl, several bushes and trees fled the scene in terror.

“Must remember to get the gardener to cut back on the Miracle Grow,” muttered the Prince to himself.

“Sir…” the girl seemed confused.

“Ah, my dear, there’s a tree that isn’t fleeing for its life in terror. Place the target upon that one, if you please,” said the MC, pointing at a sturdy-looking oak some fifty paces away. She curtsied and did so, as the MC gestured at another man, who rushed away and returned with a fine-looking bow and several arrows from the castle armory in hand. Robin and the Sheriff readied themselves at the line. The man with the bow passed it off to the MC, who presented it to the Sheriff. He turned towards Marian, who had risen to her feet and stood near to the edge of the box, and bowed.

“For you, my beauty,” he said proudly. She remained unsmiling, her fingers gripping the wall before her.
The Sheriff turned, and with practiced movements, drew an arrow and pulled back the string. The crowd fell silent. With a sharp twang! he released the arrow. It flew straight and true, landing in the dead center of the target and sticking deeply. Marian gasped—she couldn’t help it—her hand flying to her mouth. He turned away with a self-satisfied smirk and raised his eyebrows at her as he stepped away from the line. The three fawning ladies applauded with glee. The crowd murmured. Marian turned and fled, tears pricking the corner of her eyes. The Lady-in-Waiting half rose to follow her, but sat down again at a gesture from the Prince, who was merely chuckling. But the contest wasn’t over yet. The Sheriff handed the bow off to Robin, who had been standing at the edge quietly. He accepted it and stepped up to the line, settling his feet into the good English turf. The breeze caressed his cheek as he drew an arrow; the sky above was a sparkling blue. Beyond the target he could see the shadows of Sherwood Forest, his home. The crowd behind him had fallen deadly quiet; an unearthly hush of anticipation had overtaken them. Robin pulled back on the bow, feeling the comforting strain of the taut string. He sighted down the arrow to the target, a bright spot fifty paces away. With a soft huff, he released the arrow. There was a moment of stillness, as though time itself stood still, as the arrow flew through the air, landing in the center of the target, splintering the Sheriff’s arrow.

“Amazing!” shouted the MC, breaking the silence. “Dr. Pepper has split the Sheriff’s arrow!” the crowd roared in delight, their cheers louder than ever before. “Dr. Pepper wins!”

“What?!” yelled the Sheriff. “This cannot be happening!”

“Lady-in-Waiting, please alert the Lady Marian that a winner has been chosen,” declared the MC. The Lady-in-Waiting nodded and left, hurrying away in the direction Marian had gone. Robin was surrounded by a crowd of people and carried on their shoulders to the dais set up for the winners. The Prince descended from the box and stood on the opposite end of the dais, a poisonous expression on his face, the Sheriff on the steps beside him. The MC made a show of handing Robin the one thousand gold pieces and raising his hand in front of the people, who were cheering and shouting in their delight that the Sheriff had lost. He wasn’t liked among any of the people, and even though they didn’t recognize Robin, they were pleased that someone had taken on the Sheriff and won. Moments later, the Lady-in-Waiting followed a determinedly distraught Marian onto the dais. She didn’t even glance at Robin as she came and stood on the other side of the MC, her scarlet dress bright in the browns and greens of the crowd. Robin felt heat rise, seeing her in the lavish gown among the rags of the people, knowing she had been forced into such a waste by the Sheriff’s profligate ways; he’d had a few words with the foreign seamstress hired to make the dress a few days ago…although Marian was even more beautiful than he remembered in the vivid colors. Her expression was stony; she was pointedly avoiding his eye, her fists clenched.

“And now, the grand prize of the day…” said the MC. He took Marian’s hand. “The hand of Lady Marian in marriage!” He turned to Marian. “My Lady, he has won the competition—“

“I don’t care—I shall never marry him!” she suddenly shouted, turning to the MC with a fiery glare.

“But—my Lady, he has defeated all opponents, and won—“

“I-don’t-care! I shall never marry him!” she shouted again.

“My Lady, meet your future husband, Dr. Pepper.” The MC seemed a little lost.

“ I don’t…” she stopped, as if suddenly hearing him for the first time. She glanced to her left, where the Sheriff sat next to the Prince with a furious expression on his face, the Prince bearing an equally thunderous look, and briefly at the Lady-in-Waiting, who shrugged as if to say “you wouldn’t listen." She turned back to the MC, her expression suddenly sweet. “He’s a doctor?” It was fairly clear what she was thinking—if it wasn’t the Sheriff, she’d be willing to play along.

“Lady Marian, Dr. Pepper, congratulations,” said the MC, placing Marian’s hand in Robin’s and backing away, relief showing plainly in his face and the sweat he wiped off his brow. Marian, though she kept a smile on her face, refused to meet Robin’s gaze, a melancholy sadness behind her eyes. Robin felt his heart go out to her.

“My Lady, I cannot deceive you anymore,” he said. She looked up.

“Oh? What is it, then?”

“Well…I am not a doctor, for one,” he said, squeezing her hand. “My name is not really Dr. Pepper, either.”

“It’s not?” she yanked her hand out of his, looking at his hands.

“No. My true name is…” he dropped the monocle and ripped back the hood. “ROBIN HOOD OF SHERWOOD FOREST!”

“WHAT!?” came the outraged and disbelieving shouts from the royal box.

“Oh, Robin!”cried Marian, “You came!”

“Of course I did, my love. And now, to keep the rest of our promise.” He said, leaping off the dais. Marian leaned on the railing, watching as Robin approached the royal box.

“So, Locksley. You survived,” snarled the Sheriff.

“I did, Sheriff. And I have returned to reclaim my birthright, and to free the people of England from leaders who are villainous and deceitful!” there was a heartbeat’s pause, and Robin gestured behind his back. “The poor will have a voice once again. They shall speak out against their captors, two men who are corrupt and sinister!” there was another pause, and this time, a faint voice could be heard.

“Now, Robin?” Robin made a sharp gesture again, and made to continue when the Prince cut him off.

“Villainous? Sinister? Such strong words you use, outlaw. And in the presence of your Lady, as well!” he made a sweeping gesture towards Marian, who glared at him. “The Sheriff and I are merely….morally challenged,” he said, grimacing at the words.

“And nothing you do will stop us!” agreed the Sheriff, a snarl on his face and a knife in his hand.

“Is that what you think? Well, I think we all might agree that you are nothing but TYRANTS AND THIEVES!” there was a moment of dead silence. Robin’s expression was one of chagrin. “I said, TYRANTS AND THIEVES!” another heartbeat of anticipation. “Come on men, NOW!”

“CHARRRRRGE!” came Tuck’s voice as he lead a shouting crew of belated Merry Men onto the playing field.

“Finally,” muttered Robin. “Now, we challenge you in the name of England, Prince! Relinquish your hold on the crown and pay back the money you have stolen from the people, and we may yet spare you.”

“Spare me? Spare me!” the Prince began to laugh. He descended from the royal box, the Sheriff close behind. Robin’s fingers were white-knuckled around his bow, but he held firm, meeting the Prince’s eye. Each of the Merry Men brandished their own weapon; most carried bows, and one or two bore an additional armament; John waved a quarter staff threateningly, and Lionel flaunted a large wooden cooking spoon in his free hand. “Do you hear this, Sheriff? He actually dares to offer us mercy!” he whirled around to face Robin, coming face to face with him, his expression suddenly deadly. “It is you who should be asking for mercy, outlaw.” He raised his hand.

“Guards of the Royal Army!” shouted the Sheriff. “ATTACK!” with earsplitting yells, men exploded from the tents that surrounded the central field, where they clearly had been waiting for such a signal. Immediately, the field erupted into chaos. Civilians scrambled to get out of the fray, the women screaming and scooping up wailing children. The fawning ladies let out piercing screams and hid under the Prince’s throne-like chair. The Merry Men, seasoned fighters most, held their own magnificently, filling the air with their war cries. Blood flew, and men went down left and right. Marian held her own, as well, proving skillful with a small dagger in dispatching the few soldiers who came to capture her. She was soon joined by the Lady-in-Waiting, who had waded through the fray, frying pan in hand—who knew where she’d picked that up?—to stand by her Lady.

“STOP!” suddenly came a loud and impossible to ignore voice over the sound of the chaos. There was a sudden moment of silence, as each man stood frozen, expectant. The ladies peeked over the edge of the royal box. A lone figure on a midnight black horse stood at the edge of the field, his hand raised up. “There shall be no battle today!”

“And who are you to stop us?” sneered the Sheriff, punching Donovan in the nose.

“The King’s messenger. I bring a royal decree from his Most Royal Majesty to Robin of Locksley. And it would appear,” he looked over the scene wryly. “That I have arrived just in time.”

“I do not believe this!” shouted the Prince, emerging from where he had taken cover behind the curtains of the royal box. The messenger sighed, as if expecting such a remark, then dismounted and strode up to the Prince.

“The Royal ring?” he asked, waving a ruby-crested ring under the Prince’s nose. “Now, who of you is Robin of Locksley?”

“I am,” said Robin, striding out of the fray to take the scroll, taking it just as the Sheriff reached to snatch it away. He unrolled it and scanned it. Marian left the dais where she’d been standing and moved to his side as he cleared his throat and began to read in a loud voice.

“My loyal subjects, at long last, hear the words of your king,”

“LONG LIVE THE KING!” shouted the Merry Men in unison.

“I, King Richard of England,” continued Robin, “Do hereby declare that the following proclamations come to pass, in regards to the news that has reached me here. First, the tax money which was stolen by my brother, Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, be rightfully returned to the people of England!” there as general cheering. He let it die down, then moved onto the next decree, smiling as he did.

“I next proclaim that the hand of my dear niece, the Lady Marian, be given in marriage to Robin of Locksley if she so chooses him.” He glanced at Marian, who blushed and smiled. He took her hand and continued reading.

“As a reward for their bravery, I hereby enlist the Merry Men in the King’s Royal guard, where they shall receive the honors they deserve,”

“HOORAY!” they shouted.

“In regards to the Sheriff of Nottingham…” he turned and glared darkly upon the Sheriff, who stood defiantly.

“You’re on your own,” said the Prince, nonchalantly stepping behind his fawning ladies. The Sheriff looked aggravated.

“I hereby terminate him from the position of Sheriff, effective immediately. I furthermore banish him from England forever!”

“WHAT?” shouted the Sheriff, but Robin continued on, Lionel waving his spoon threateningly at the Sheriff.

“As for my jealous and conniving brother….I henceforth banish him from England and disown him from the Royal family.”

“I—I—“ the Prince seemed speechless. His ladies stepped away from him, disgust on their faces, ignoring his protests and suddenly taking interest in the Merry Men. One waved coyly.

“I thus join my armies en route back to England. Until my arrival, I place my beloved country in the trusted hands of my soon-to-be nephew. Long Live the King.”

“Long live the King!” shouted the people.

“I don’t believe this!” cried Prince John, snatching the letter from Robin. Marian clutched Robin’s arm tighter.

“Nor do I, Sire,” exclaimed the Sheriff, seemingly forgetting how quickly the Prince had abandoned him. “This is just a scheme to make us give up our power!”

“Well, actually,” began Little John.

“Silence!” shouted the Prince, his eyes wild. He ripped the letter in two with a snarl. The Sheriff picked up him sword and nodded menacingly. “I will not give up so easily! I will be King here! Nothing you do will stop me! No letters from my fool of a brother could frighten me!”

“What about your brother himself?” boomed a voice. Gasps filtered among the crowd, and they dropped to their knees, bowing before the figure who strode onto the field. King Richard wore armor, battle-worn but glimmering in the afternoon sun with a polished shine. A red velvet cloak was thrown over his shoulder, and a golden, jewel-laden crown rested upon his brow. He looked every inch the noble king of England they long had missed. The Prince’s face turned ashy, the Sheriff immediately stepped away, a groveling expression on his face. King Richard shook his head.

“Rise, my people, and especially you, Robin of Locksley, my Lady niece. I have returned at last…and not a moment too soon, I think,” he added dryly.

“Ri-Richard…you…can’t—how did you---when---“

“I started for home soon after I sent the letter, which was many days ago. I rode ahead to see how things where faring after my message was delivered. And well that I did, John, for you and your lackey here have caused far too much trouble. Guards! Arrest these men! We will escort them out of England once things have settled down.” The guards, forgetting their watch over the Merry Men, charged and jumped the Prince and the Sheriff, who were soon bound.

“Majesty…” began the Sheriff in an oozy voice. Richard held up a hand.

“Farewell to you both, I will not see you again.” The Prince and the Sheriff began to shout and struggle as the guards hauled them away, but their protests soon faded into silence. “Robin of Locksley,” he said.

“Yes, Sire?”

“I hereby bestow your family’s estate back under your care. Lady Marian?”

“Yes, Sire?”

“Is it your wish to wed this man, be he outlaw or be he a Lord?”

“It is, Your Majesty!”

“Well then, let us have a wedding! To the church!”

“Long live the King! Long live the King!” shouted the people. King Richard smiled as he mounted his mighty destrier and turned for his castle.

The celebrations continued on through the night, and through the next day, and the next as well! Marian and Robin delayed their wedding, but the festivities continued endlessly all across England. In Robin’s clearing, deep in Sherwood Forest, the Merry Men were celebrating their final night amidst the trees. Tomorrow they planned to take up their positions in the King’s guard, and Robin returned to the Locksley estates to take control once again. There was wild dancing, and Tuck broke into several barrels of ale he’d been saving, and Marian laughed, watching the Lady-in-Waiting dance around the flames with Little John.

“Marian,” whispered Robin, slipping up beside her. “Follow me,” She did so, taking his hand as he led her through the trees to a secluded spot beside a waterfall. The last of the sun’s rays bounced off the water, sending misty rainbows across the clearing. The soft roar of the falling water filled the cool night air. Robin turned to face her at the water’s edge, holding her hands in his. She looked more beautiful than he remembered, Robin thought, in a green linen gown with a rounded neckline and sleeves that fit closely onto her arms, and dark green accents at the neckline and sleeves. The ring he’d given her sparkled on her finger, and there was a crown of white blossoms woven into her chestnut hair, which she wore loose.

“They say the Fey dance in this clearing on midsummer nights,” he said, looking into her deep green eyes. “Legend has it a promise made in this clearing will be blessed by the Fey. I don’t know if I believe it, but there always was something magical here.”

“It’s beautiful, Robin, it really, is,” Marian said with a soft sigh.

“Marian, I know I have already won your hand in contest, I know the King has approved of our marriage, and that you have agreed. But I would be betrothed the way our people have been for centuries. I would ask you, properly…Marian, my darling, my love, will you marry me?”

“Oh Robin, yes, a thousand times yes!” she cried. He picked her up and spun her around, their laughter filling the clearing. When he set her down, she leaned into him, feeling his strong arms around her and feeling peace in her heart at last. With a slow movement, they kissed, all the uncertainty of their past forgotten.

“AWWWWWW!” came a voice from behind a tree.

“Shhh!” echoed several more. Robin and Marian broke away, smiling as John stepped out from behind a tree, the weeping willow branches still stuck in his hair.

“Sorry,” he said, chagrined. With a rustle, the rest of the Merry Men emerged from the surroundings, where they clearly had all been watching.

“Oh, Merry Men, Merry Men. This is the happiest day of my life,” said Robin. “Are you ready to rejoin the festivities, oh men of Sherwood?”

“Aye, Robin!” chorused the men.

“Then scatter!” he cried, and cheering, the men vanished into the trees, leaving Robin and Marian to share one final kiss before turning and disappeared into the shadows towards the glow o f the flames and the life that awaited them.