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“Have a rope prepared for his neck,” ordered Sir Dunstan.

Robin watched as the men moved quickly to fulfill Sir Dunstan’s orders. He’d been left unbound and relatively unguarded in the corner of the stable as the men worked, though he could feel Sir Dunstan’s squire’s eyes upon him. It appeared that Sir Dunstan was quite confident in his plan. The fact irked Robin slightly, particularly as he was much less confident in his own, but he had to give the man credit. He was more insightful (and luckier) than the sheriff and while Robin hoped both he and his constant foe would have a little luck today, Robin’s first priority would always be Marian. Her safety was paramount and if the cost was his neck, he would pay it willingly.

“This will be your horse.” Sir Dunstan’s words shook Robin from his thoughts. The man motioned towards the mount that had been prepared for him. Robin inclined his head slightly before striding towards the horse and smoothly mounting the beast. He felt the tension rise as the men around realized that he was now at a significant advantage to them, but he simply grasped the reins loosely and looked calmly towards Sir Dunstan.

Their eyes locked and a small smirk spread over Sir Dunstan’s face as Robin once again confirmed his suspicions that he would do nothing that might endanger Marian’s life regardless of the risk to himself. Less expected was the nod of respect that Sir Dunstan bestowed on the outlaw. Robin fought to keep his expression neutral and hoped the surprise did not show in his eyes. Sir Dunstan held his gaze for only a moment longer before signalling for his own horse and turning to mount his steed.

“Come on now, outlaw.”

A rough voice drew Robin’s attention. One of the men approached holding the rough noose that they’d quickly constructed. “Bend over so we can fit you for your leash.” He waived the noose tauntingly and Robin had to keep from rolling his eyes. Apparently they’d regained their courage in the moment of calm. But as he’d no choice in the matter, Robin simply firmed his grip on the reins for balance and began to lower himself as gracefully as he could.

“There’ll be no need for you to inconvenience yourself.”

Robin looked up and was surprised when Sir Dunstan motioned him to rise. The man steered his horse towards Robin and motioned tersely for the rope, obviously displeased with the situation. He snatched the rope from his man’s hands and rode up beside Robin. He held up the noose but made no motion to place the noose over the outlaw’s head until Robin nodded and inclined his head towards the knight. Robin raised his head after he felt rope slip over his head. He met Sir Dunstan’s eyes again and this time he did not hide the askance from his expression.

“Under normal circumstances I would have allowed you to ride with your hands in front.” Dunstan smiled slightly, seemingly ignoring Robin’s silent question. “But should a quick hanging be necessary, your hands bound behind would be far more expedient.” Robin raised an eyebrow at the knight’s words but said nothing. Then, slow and deliberate, he placed his hands behind his back.

He watched from his periphery as Sir Dunstan motioned for more rope to be brought to him and as the knight circled round to bind his hands. He worked efficiently, ensuring the binding was secure but not overly tight.

“I am a friend to Prince John,” he said as he worked. His tone was casual but his voice low so as to keep his words between them. “Which means his enemies are mine. However, I have never believed in withholding respect earned, be it to friend or foe. Courage, honour, these are virtues worthy of admiration, and it is clear you possess them in abundance.” He met Robin’s eyes as he finished and Robin could tell that he believed what he said.

“And to you,” replied Robin, as Sir Dunstan began to pull away. “Though I cannot approve of threatening a lady, I believe that you are a true knight and that you will keep your oath. And for that you have my respect and gratitude.”

Sir Dunstan acknowledged the complement with a nod. “I understand that you are formerly the Lord of Loxley.”

“I am.”

“Well then, my lord, aside from these precautions, it is my wish that you are to be treated as prisoner of high standing. Please feel free to direct any requests, within reason, to my squire. I hope also that you will join me for dinner tonight.”

Robin nodded both his thanks and acquiescence. Sir Dunstan looked at his squire who bowed in acknowledgement of his master’s orders. The knight scanned his men who all nodded their acknowledgement, though some did so begrudgingly. It was clear those men hoped to have some sport with their famed prisoner, but Dunstan cared not for their discontent. He sought to fulfill his oath and bring the outlaw to justice. He would not have a spectacle made of a man who, outside of his crimes, seemed a credit to his noble birth. At least not while the prisoner was under his purview.

“Master squire, the prisoner is in your care. Keep alert, men, and your courage up. We ride for London, where glory and riches await.”

The men let out a cheer and the squire took charge of leading Robin’s horse. Robin straighten himself, attempting to retain as much dignity as his current situation would allow. Sir Dunstan met his eyes once more and gave a small nod before turning to take the lead.

As they began to move, Robin hoped that he would get the chance to free himself and take Sir Dunstan. He could not contemplate escape until he had retrieved the kerchief at the very least. Without it the knight would have no evidence against Marian, though he could still make trouble for them. However, Robin would prefer not to have to put Sir Dunstan down. Though the man was currently loyal to John, Robin thought that there might be a chance that they could turn him to Richard.

The man was vicious and cunning, but he was a true knight with honour, too much to be worthy of a man like John. If he could turn him, they would win a valuable ally for Richard. If they could not, Robin would have to decide whether he could risk allowing him to live. If not, Robin would give him the chance of a clean death, as Richard had granted the Earl of Huntingdon.

But he was getting ahead of himself. He was still a prisoner and much would have to work in his favour for him to even contemplate turning the tables on Sir Dunstan. His fate was in the hands of fortune and providence, now, as well as Marian’s and, very ironically, the Lord Sheriff.

Round one to you, Sir Dunstan. But Sherwood awaits and I have my own wildcard to come into play. I hope soon, though, that we may face each other on more even terms.