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Close Quarters

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"Whose genius idea was this?"

At Marian's sharp question, all eyes went to Robin-- although, none of the gang dared to come right out and say his name.

"It was a good plan," he protested, although with none of the indignant tone that he would usually employ.

Marian's right brow went up.

"It seemed like a good plan," he amended. Then, amended further, "Half-a-plan."

If she could have done so, Marian would likely have elbowed him in the stomach. As it was, they barely had room to breathe. Only Much could move more than his head, being that his arms were stuck straight up in the air. That was little consolation, however, since he could not put them down without elbowing somebody in the face.

"My fingers feel all prickly," he muttered.

"Robin," John grumbled. "Think of a plan to get us out of here."

"I'm working on it!" Robin's glare was lacking the same heat as his protest; he knew full well he had gotten them into this mess. In his defense, it truly had seemed like a good plan to hire former sheriff's guards to dig a pit in the road, a trap intended for the three Black Knights who were scheduled to depart the castle on foot. Whilst some of the former guards were no better than the man they had served, many had been simply trying to feed their families, and were now unemployed due to the outlaws. Robin had felt rather pleased to offer the men temporary employment, especially seeing as how his gang could hardly stand in the middle of the road to Nottingham for hours, digging.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the frequent bouts of incompetence the outlaws witnessed from the guards was not limited to fighting. It also included geography, such as discerning the difference between west and east-- specifically, the difference between, "west of the Great North Road" and "east of the Great North Road."

Also in Robin's defense, he'd expected that at least one of the fifteen men he hired would get it right.

Perhaps, overseeing some of the work would have been beneficial. Pointing out the site he meant would have been even better.

It was true that he could have come up with something more clever than digging a pit in the road to catch the Black Knights, but he'd had very little time since learning of their departure to work out anything complicated. Also, too many of the sheriff's allies were keeping keen watch on the trees these days. It only made sense to take advantage of that distraction by pulling the rug-- or, the road-- out from under them. He had even planned to keep other travellers from falling in, by having his gang hide both ahead of and behind the trap, to stop anyone innocent who might happen along their way. That would have worked, too... had the trap not been in the wrong place, catching the outlaws as they headed toward where they were supposed to be lying in wait.

Considering how quickly he had to set it in motion, it was a good plan, he assured himself. And to the credit of the former guards he'd hired, they had done an excellent job of concealing the hole.

Djaq broke into his ruminations by asking, "Well, how did you intend to get the Black Knights out of here, once we caught them?"

Robin studiously avoided Marian's gaze and chewed on his lip whilst he tried to concoct a reply. The truth was, he had reckoned he would figure that out when he got to it, hence the "half" he had acknowledged a moment earlier in regards to his plan.

"Robin?" prompted Will.

"Now my hands are prickly, too," Much announced in annoyance.

The others were still awaiting Robin's answer, and he opened his mouth in the hopes that something convincing (and, with luck, useful) would come out of it, when another voice reached their ears.

"You have got to be kidding me."

Robin was glad to have the attention off of him for a moment, though he did wish it wasn't diverted to Allan, leaning over the edge and peering at them with what was far too wide a grin on his traitorous face.

He did not make his welcome any warmer when he added, "Like fish in a barrel." Robin was about to call up some snide remark, but before he could do so, Allan glanced in Djaq's direction and said, "Lucky for you lot, I found you before Giz."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Little John demanded.

Rather than replying, Allan turned and disappeared.

Marian met Robin's eyes worriedly. If Allan was fetching Gisborne, they were in serious trouble.

Suddenly, something flew down and landed on Much's head. "Ow! What is that--? A rope!" He let out a laugh as his fingers deduced what the others could see.

"A rope which is probably going to lead us straight to Gisborne," John said darkly.

Allan's head appeared again. "I keep telling you: I'm not all bad."

Dubiously, Marian said, "You're going to pull us up?" Robin had a hard time believing that, as well.

"Nah, I'm not stupid. It's tied to a tree, and I'll be long gone by the time you get up here."

Cynically, Robin asked, "Why are you helping us?"

"And, where did you get a rope?" Will wanted to know.

Allan shook his head. "Look, I'm trying to give you a hand. Take it, or rot down there, for all I care. No skin off my back." With another brief, telltale flicker of his eyes toward Djaq, he moved again, vanishing for good.

"Do we take it?" Marian asked Robin, after a short silence.

"I am," Djaq said firmly. Then, after a hesitation: "Once I am able."

Will attempted to shrug. "If Much can pull himself up, we'll be fine."

"Much can do nothing of the sort," the man in question frowned. "Just because my arms are here doesn't mean I can do anything with them."

They puzzled this over for a few long minutes.

Finally, Marian said, "We could squeeze him out."

Robin did not quite comprehend that. "Come again?"

She nodded in Much's direction. "If we get just a bit lower than he is and press up on him--"

"--we can 'pop' him up," Djaq finished, with a smile.

It took some doing, yet with all the wriggling they could manage (and a suggestive grin from Robin to Marian, who faced one another, which earned him an amused roll of her eyes), they managed to work Much up enough that he could start to squirm his way a little higher. He eventually managed to push his toes off from Little John's leg and wrap a hand around the rope, and he pulled, and they had almost had room to sort themselves out... when he slumped down again.

As one, they exclaimed, "Much!"

"My hands are asleep!" he reminded them, affronted that they had forgotten.

John wiggled some more, and somehow got his fingers beneath where Much's foot was still on his leg. With a visible effort of will, he boosted Much up a precious couple of inches, which proved enough for Much to give climbing another go. With words of encouragement, Much finally got his hips clear of the tangle, which freed the others enough that they could help him the rest of the way. Djaq scaled the rope next, then Will.

As Marian took hold of it, Robin pretended to pout. "Leaving so soon?" (The wriggling had been quite nice, if one ignored the circumstances.)

"Careful, Locksley, or you won't be leaving, at all," she mock-threatened, though the twinkle in her eye and color in her cheeks belied her words.

Little John cleared his throat.

Conscious of their audience, Marian quickly exited the pit.

Robin gestured for John to precede him, but John shook his head. "Go on."

Knowing they were lucky that only Allan had happened upon them thus far, Robin seized the rope rather than argue. Besides, that ensured the gang did not truly leave him behind-- not that he thought they actually would.

Nevertheless, it removed that temptation, which was likely more than a little hard to ignore just then.

When he was on his feet at the top of the pit again, he picked up the rope to help pull John up, and the others followed suit. Once that was done, they pondered the hole in the ground as they caught their breath.

"What now?" Will asked after a time.

"The Black Knights aren't coming this way," Marian reminded them.

Knowing what his answer was going to be and not anticipating their reaction, Robin tipped his head to indicate the mounds of dirt piled just beyond the treeline. "We can't leave this here. Anyone could get trapped in it."

There was a collective groan-- except from Marian, who walked over and grabbed a shovel that was leant against the dirt. Robin beamed encouragingly at her. "That's the spirit!"

"Indeed," she said, smiling sweetly back as she held the shovel out to him. "We will keep watch, as planned, to make sure nobody comes along."

He snorted. "I'm not filling this in by myself."

Wisely, the others made themselves scarce, going to take up watch positions along the road.

"Best get to work," Marian advised. "You wouldn't want anyone falling in, now."

And, going up on tiptoe to plant a kiss on his cheek, she ambled off to her own watch position.

Bemused, Robin looked from the dirt to the pit again, and let out a groan of his own.

It had seemed like such a good plan...