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|Topic Subject:||FATE'S PORTAL: NO ACCESS! - Story Thread|
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posted 02-02-05 15:47 EST (US)
All characters in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-12-2005 @ 00:02 AM).]
All characters in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-12-2005 @ 00:02 AM).]
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Godfrey Stanbridge's face was far redder than the fleeting English sun could possibly have made it. He brought his hand down hard on his hardwood desk causing the pen and ink stand centered before him to vibrate. Mark Clease, the Director of Security, started just a little at this unusual display of pique, but quickly recomposed himself for the questions he knew would follow. Meanwhile, Sir Godfrey, Director of Operations for The Trust, rose from his brown leather executive desk chair and walked to the wall display behind him. Calming somewhat he reached for an ancient feathered arrow, part of his personal collection, and stroked the feathered end enough to bring a soothing feeling to his fingers and his mind.
"When did this occur?" Sir Godfrey asked in a low voice.
"About one week ago, Sir Godfrey."
"Why so long to make the report, Mr. Clease?"
Clease adjusted his posture, not that the seat made him uncomfortable, but he did not feel comfortable with the thoughts he imagined were passing through Godfrey's mind. "The effect was delayed and masked. Cleverly timed to corrupt the controlware after transfer. A time bomb. We did not know the controlware was corrupted until we tried to send a messenger through yesterday."
"You say the controlware was corrupted."
"Can you reboot or repair it?"
"No, Sir Godfrey. Not immediately that is. Lines of code are so badly affected we cannot repair it directly."
"We use object code in IT Operations. What about drawing out the source code and recreating the object code, then uploading the new object code?"
"We've called for that very same thing from Underground." Here Clease hesitated. "There may be a problem."
"The one suspected of corrupting the object code worked in our IT Department. He was involved in creating the archived source code's current revision."
"We think it is most likely corrupted as well. We're checking for that possibility."
Godfrey put the arrow back on its display hooks and turned to stare out of the window. "I see. What portal was used and into what era did transfer occur?"
"12th Century, Sir Godfrey. Major Oak was the portal."
Godfrey frowned. "I know those agents. Good people. Recruited one of them myself. Converted one from recruiting to being a field agent. She was so very happy. What is the risk to them?"
"We aren't sure, Sir Godfrey. We're still trying to sort out the motive and objectives of the suspect. We don't know if he had any associates. All of our personnel here are accounted for. For what it's worth though, our analysts say it's not our agents who are in direct danger."
"No? Then whom?" asked Sir Godfrey, turning about and looking at Clease square in the eyes.
Clease swallowed hard. "From what they've uncovered about Gregory Stone, they say it may be the King of England who is at greatest peril."
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-03-2005 @ 09:23 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-03-2005 @ 09:23 PM).]
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The plump and pompous Earl Louis de Lereux gathered his cloak about him and continued to look about the forest hoping the mad Saxon was engaged elsewhere. Twenty-four men at arms Louis brought with him, all mounted. "Robin, The Hooded Thief" they called him. No man of means was safe from him in Sherwood Forest. And there was no way to avoid passage if one needed to reach Edwinstowe and the Sheriff in good order.
There was a time when the King's tax collectors would come to him and other nobles for their periodic collection of wealth. No, not now. With the mad Saxon loose in the forest, all of the local land holders must go to the King, or more accurately, to the King's harvesters of monies. This way, if the money is stolen it's stolen from the debtors and not the King and so the King will still be owed his sums while the debtors must seek more monies for payment. No, the King's men no longer will set foot in the forest. In that regard, Robin the Hooded Thief has won at least one small battle against the King.
Lereux almost didn't begrudge the Saxon this particular success. The taxes of King Johann the Lackland were as burdensome as the journey to deposit them. Flying around the royal annoyance's head like a stinging gnat, Robin at least kept the King himself away from the area. That, Louis thought to himself, brings some comfort. He smiled to himself in spite of his worries.
All of that thinking and the swaying of the horse lulled the Earl into a semi-awake state that made his eyes close and his breathing become slower and deeper. Suddenly there was a shout, and as if the sky turned from blue into dirty green, a rainfall of dark green, wooven wool garbed men dropped from the overhanging trees, and with little effort and hardly a drop of blood shed subdued all twenty-four men at arms.
The last man to drop from the sky wore the same colors as the others, but there was a look about him, not to mention a different feather in his cap than worn by the others. His expression was one of great confidence with a remarkable sparkle of humor and mischief, as if a good joke was just played on someone somehow.
The late arriving man in green offered the Earl a sweeping bow and introduced himself enthusiastically. "My dear Earl, let me introduce myself. My name is Robin. Perhaps you've heard of me?"
The Earl looked around trying to determine his remaining options. There were none. "Yes, I've heard of you. The Thief of Sherwood."
"Thief? Why Earl, that is most unkind. I am not a thief. I am a restorer. Why, it is my duty to recover from the King what he steals from us all and restore it to those to whom it rightfully belongs."
"What you plan to steal from me belongs to me," answered the Earl, his dislike for Robin quite unmasked.
"Yet you Earl Louis De Lereux are on your way to hand it over to the King making it necessary for me retrieve it for you. Here I am, simply doing you a favor by relieving you of the need to travel farther to Edwinstowe, and saving the time to retrieve it from the King, and you hold it against us. How unkind!" The men around him echoed his words with a loud repetition of "Unkind indeed!" The Earl stewed in his own anger but said nothing.
"So, De Lereux, we will 'borrow' your funds for awhile. Just long enough for you to return to your manor, taken from some unfortunate Saxon earl I suppose, and gather to yourself more tribute to Lackland. That's assuming of course he doesn't take your land from you in the meanwhile based upon some trumped up charge of conspiracy. I really don't understand why you Norman nobles put up with him.
"Because he is the King."
"Is he indeed? And what of Richard?"
"Dead in a foreign land. So says the King."
"So says the King... We have one who says otherwise, who heard Richard's voice from the window of the prison in which he is being held for ransom."
The Earl studied the man before him, the man with tremendous confidence, and a yew wood bow over his shoulder. Could this Saxon thief be telling the truth?
Robin paused then turned around. "Alright, relieve them of their wealth. That only. We do not wish to harm these people, at least not on this day."
"What is so special about this day, Robin of Sherwood?" ventured the Earl with some hesitation.
"Why today, my good Earl, is the eve of my wedding day!"
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-10-2005 @ 09:37 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-10-2005 @ 09:37 PM).]
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"More to report, Mr. Clease?" said Sir Godfrey from his desk as the Director of Security entered the room.
"Yes, Sir Godfrey."
"Very well. Let's have it. Take that chair there if you will. No need to stand up. This isn't the Royal Navy, you know."
"Yes, Sir Godfrey." Clease sat down. "We have managed to gain entry into Gregory Stone's flat. It is best you don't know how. There we have uncovered some hints as to what he's about."
"The Trust is not suspected, is it?"
"No Sir Godfrey. Our agent's cover was intact when the operation ended. To continue..." Clease paused to observe if Godfrey intended to ask any more questions. Apparently not. "We found the usual equipment we'd expect an IT person to have. However, we did find a substantial number of texts, treatises and historical novels about the 12th Century AD. We also found something else."
Godfrey nodded patiently.
"We found quite a number of politically-themed books, articles and propaganda associated with a particular viewpoint that we think may be the key to understanding Stone's self-assigned mission. It appears, after joining The Trust, Stone became increasingly enamored with theories of anarchism. We speculate he may have transported back to the 12th Century AD to commit some act capable of changing the event stream.
Godfrey pursed his lips. "But we are very much of the opinion that the stream always realigns itself to make such a disruption moot."
Clease raised his hand to signal agreement. "So the evidence suggests, but there is still the possibility that the Nexus Corolary may in fact be just as valid."
"Yes, the Nexus Corolary," frowned Godfrey. "The possibility that certain very widely spaced events, perhaps hundreds of years apart do exist such that altering any of those events or nexus points in any way will rechannel the event stream as we currently know it."
"Yes sir," confirmed Clease. "We think Stone's objective is to alter some important event in such a way as to benefit anarchism. This is just a theory, sir. However, my staff thinks there is a very high probability we are looking more at fact than theory."
"What event, Clease?"
"We aren't sure yet, Sir Godfrey. We have theories, but we can only speculate for the moment. With your understanding, I'd prefer to return to your office with something more specific to present. At this time we think as I said before it has something to do with the King of England in the 12th Century."
"Henry or perhaps Richard the First?"
"Maybe. Or his youngest brother, the one we now call John."
"With the software altered, we have one additional problem."
"The Anamorphic Effect. The control was lifted. While we know Stone transported into the 12th Century we don't know when. The dating is too imprecise. He could have assumed any identity and lived well before and into the very event he wishes to affect. He didn't need to transport to the very date. He only needed to ensure it was within his own normal lifetime. Our agents could be engaged with him even now. Robert Lackland could unknowingly have him among his men in Sherwood Forest this very minute."
The room went silent as both men contemplated the implications. Godfrey was left more ill at ease than at any time he could ever remember. He wondered if Lackland was alive or dead. There was simply no way to know.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-10-2005 @ 09:38 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-10-2005 @ 09:38 PM).]
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"Now, De Lereux, I wish to make you an offer."
What possibly could be going on in this man's head wondered the Norman Earl. "An offer? In what position am I to hear or accept an offer. I am a prisoner."
"You are not. You are free to leave... or follow me, alone that is," answered Robin, once Robert Lackland.
"A trick? If not a trick give us our weapons."
Robin smiled broadly. "No, not a trick and no, we shall not return your weapons. Besides, you are safe in this forest under our watchful eyes. Right men?!"
"Right Robin!" came the disjointed chorus from his troop of peasants turned guardians of the forest.
"Then what is your offer?"
"Your men go their way without weapons and do not follow us and you may accompany us to observe the wedding as our guest. Then you will be free to leave peacefully." Robin noticed two of his closest companions becoming ill at ease. One was exceptionally well built, muscular. The other dressed in muted red was more slender and tall, but had a look in his eyes that suggested more than average intelligence. "Easy my friends. I know what I'm about," said Robin.
"We hope so," said the one in red clothing.
"What say you, Louis De Lereux? Oh, and one more thing. We will not bother you on your next passage through Sherwood Forest."
"You swear this?" said De Lereux quite surprised by the man's unexpected offer.
"Yes, provided you do not come at the head of an army like today or one bigger still."
"Let them go, then," Louis said with firmness.
"Done!" said Robin. He waved his arms and the constraints on the 24 mounted soldiers were eased. "You're free to leave, no weapons. Go straight back from where you came!"
His men now free looked at the Earl. "Do what he says. I shall be safe," Louis reassured them, though he himself was not so sure.
"That you shall, Earl!" exclaimed Robin goodnaturedly. "Or I shall give myself up to Lackland as punishment if you aren't well treated." The Earl hesitated a moment, then waved his hand signifying he meant his men to do as they were told. He watched them disappear into the forest on the road back to his desmenes.
"I am in your hands, then, Robin of Sherwood. Shall I be bound, gagged and blindfolded?"
"Not at all, De Lereux. You would not find your way to our camp even if you had the instincts of a tracking dog, which I doubt you do. I promised you safety. I intend you to be comfortable as well." Robin's grin broadened.
"I do not understand. Why are you doing this?"
Robin's grin suddenly disappeared. A serious expression replaced it. "Because Earl Louis De Lereux, I must have Norman eyes see what we Saxons see and report in truth what Sherwood Forest has now become home to, because of what Lackland is doing. So come with us now if you wish to see sights you never expected to see among Saxons... And your own people."
"My own people?"
"Yes, your own people."
In spite of his fear, Louis could not now say no. He cooperatively allowed the men of Sherwood Forest to take him deep into the thickest of the woods and to a place he realized he would never be able to find on his own, not now and especially not later.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-10-2005 @ 09:46 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-10-2005 @ 09:46 PM).]
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"You say my own people," persisted the Earl from his horse, riding next to Robin on his own horse. He had struggled to suppress his surprise when the horses were brought forward. How could they have been so well hidden? Clever bandits, these.
"Norman peasants have joined us as well, De Lereux," Robin said to confirm his meaning. "Disenfranchised peasants, home and lands taken from their noble overlords on trumped up charges of treason or tax evasion. They have no lords and no land but the King's to till. Cruel soldiers of the King drive them mercilessly. They escape and find us in Sherwood. You've heard of some of these cases I imagine."
"A few. I thought them to be kidnappings, or so I was told."
"Ask them yourself when you see them anon."
The agents serving as John and Will looked at each other as they rode behind the duo. Seems Mr. Lackland increasingly has acclimated to this era and its language, they communicated with their glances. That is not always a good thing as assignments do have a termination point and full submergence in any era is not viewed positively by The Trust. They hoped he would remember this aspect of his training.
Try as he might, De Lereux realized in short order that he could not hope to remember the route to Robin's camp. He gave up quite soon after achieving this realization and contented himself with the fact he was not lying somewhere on the leafy forest floor hacked in two by a broadsword or bearing a feathered twig buried in his heart. As he watched the sun progress across the sky above the broken canopy formed by the spreading branches of new and ancient oaks he drew the conclusion he was so deep in the great forest of Sherwood whatever happened to him would be known only to Robin, his men and the creatures of the forest, none of them willing or capable of telling of his fate. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the trees suddenly thinned out and the forest paused and became a meadow. In this meadow stood small animal skin dwellings clustered near a creek with flowing water, and all about the camp were women and children, all eagerly dropping their work instruments or toys or whatever they possessed, running to greet their men upon their return.
Robin dismounted. De Lereux noticed the bandit seemed to be searching for someone with a familiar face. Would it be that young woman walking swiftly towards them? The young woman with the dark hair, the enticingly tinted eyes? The one smiling with dimpled cheeks? The lovely lady who without hesitation thrust herself into Robin's arms and greeted him with a firm, affectionate kiss?
Robin turned to De Lereux. "Earl De Lereux, this is Chester Sherwood, our camp. I present to you Lady Marian, my betrothed. Dismount and be welcome!"
The lovely woman named Marian curtseyed properly, an act belied by the relative poorness of her dress. She was not wearing any finery a true lady might display. Her clothing was not unlike the mens': brown wool breeches, woven wool shirt, common shoes. Yet she executed her curtsey as if she were bred to nobility. The Earl nodded and then labored his bulk off his horse and onto his feet. He ignored to the best of his ability those body areas which hurt from the long ride. A little stretching, walking and he would be able to push the pain aside. A little food... He hadn't thought about it until then, but he was indeed famished. The Earl wondered if Robin's offer of hospitality included subsistence.
As if reading the Earl's mind, Robin announced that the banquet would soon be ready. Could some ale be brought to the Earl to quench their guest's thirst? It could and it was. Within only a short time after arrival, the Earl found himself seated with bandits and peasants at a long wood hewn table replete with food and drink.
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"You feast well for a bandit," observed De Lereux rather casually as he paused between large bites from the thigh of some forest fowl. Some of the men around Robin glanced up, frowns creasing their brow. Robin laughed.
"You are not without courage, De Lereux! Or foolishness!" Robin laughed even more,his good humor painting over the irritation in the minds of the others at the table. "We eat sufficiently for men, and ladies." Here Robin paused, glancing meaningfully towards Marian. "'Tis the nobility that eats too well too often at the expense of the peasant, and not because nobility can afford it, but because nobility simply takes it from them." Robin leaned in towards the Earl to ensure DeLereux did not miss his next words. "Just like Lackland eats well by taking from the Lords of this land."
De Lereux nearly choked on the gulp of ale he took just as Robin said these words. Robin's words were more true than the Earl cared to admit. "You take my appetite away," he sputtered.
"Perhaps because you have fed and drunk well. It could not be my words?" countered Robin. Louis had nothing to say to that which could have helped the situation. He remained silent. "Now follow me, De Lereux, and see what has become of your people and mine."
Robin, John and Will led the Earl around the camp. Now and then a familiar face showed itself, a Norman face, one that he had seen in his own fields or around his manor, faces of those taken by the Sherwood bandits, or so he thought. These were faces mirroring hate, but not at Robin and his companions. No, unmistakeably, the hate was directed at himself, the Earl and Lord of the lands they previously worked and his manor.
Robin was greeted warmly as he inquired if they were well clothed and properly fed. There were children, very young, some nearing maturity, and old men and women, ravished by time and physical ills. They obviously respected Robin. They obviously gave Louis, clothed in his Norman finery, very little respect or even notice, just disdain. Louis was somewhat sobered by this as until now he had considered himself one of the more accomodating lords to his peasants. Yet, of late, he couldn't be so accomodating as Lack..., the King, had demanded so much more from his manor he could not indulge the peasants as he would have liked. He knew of happier times, but these were times when Richard actively occupied the throne and was here in England, not in the East pursuing barbarians. Now he was dead. "I do not remember seeing faces such as these when King Richard was here."
Robin spun on his heels. "Precisely, Earl!"
Louis turned to face his inexplicable captor. "You now call me Earl?"
"Your understanding advances you."
"What I understand, Robin of Sherwood, is that I'm captive here, Johann is on the throne and Richard lays dead on a field in the Holy Land."
"I say Richard lives and is being held captive on the western continent," insisted Robin. "We seek to ransome him and return him to England. Even now we have allies who assist us. A knight of the north heard his voice in a prison in Austria and reported it to us. He and his associates are gathering sums to add to the ransome. We take from the rich of this land for their own good, to bring Richard home and end Johann's tyrrany. We consume only what we need, live humbly and take care of those we can who come to us and who are in greater need than we ourselves. That is all we keep for our use. The banquet you fell upon voraciously will be shared among all of our people in Sherwood. It will sustain them for the days ahead."
"Why do you tell me this? I am a Norman Lord, charged to obey the crown, regardless of whether it be on Lackland's or Richard's head."
"You said 'Lackland'," noted Robin. "That is why. Your people say you have not spoken well of Richard's brother. We now have the sums we need, but must collect it and transport it to Austria. You, we trust, will cautiously advise the Lords who favor Richard of what we are doing."
"Why would they care?"
"Because, Earl De Lereux, when Richard returns to England, the bandits of Sherwood will seek his pardon for what we had to do on his behalf, and we pledge in the name of God to no longer take from the rich as we have."
Louis De Lereux blinked, and not from the broken sunlight bathing Chester Sherwood. Was this man sincere? Could he be trusted. The Earl struggled to find the words appropriate and representative of the tumultuous thoughts raging across his confused mind.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 03-16-2005 @ 04:14 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 03-16-2005 @ 04:14 PM).]
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"You would return what you have already stolen?"
"No," answered Robin emphatically. Then he added in a softer voice, "We could not. It would be in the hands of Austria and not redeemable. Richard would be here, but the monies would stay there."
Louis looked away from Robin and his two associates and scanned the sights of the encampment in all directions. A small army of peasants his mind concluded. The story of Spartacus came to mind, something told to children about the old empire that once held these lands close to itself under the golden insignia of an eagle in a time in the distand past before the coming of William of Normandy. A thought occurred to him, a shrewdly calculated thought. The Earl decided to take a chance.
"You are right, Robin of Sherwood, I have no liking for Johann. Lackland is an abomination. You say Richard lives. I will take the chance that you are right, but what you ask me to do cannot be done without a price."
Burly, tall, gruff John did not like what he thought might be coming from the rotund earl. "The price is your life!" he retorted. Robin raised a hand. "John, let us hear what he has to say before we too casually cast his life to the trees."
John mumbled something but did as Robin requested. Louis swallowed hard, his courage nearly fleeing. "A proposition: I shall advise those lords who I think can be trusted provided you cease raiding my lands and stealing my tax payments."
"Borrowing, diverting or whatever you wish to call it! Let my manor be and I will do as you ask."
"So long as you do as I ask. Remember, the manors have all manner of ears and eyes and at least one pair of each is tied straight to Sherwood Forest."
"I expected as much. I will give you my word on the matter."
"Your word to a bandit?" countered Robin.
De Lereux frowned. "No, as you are purported to be an earl yourself, I give it as if one earl giving it to another."
"Even if I am a Saxon earl?"
"You do me wrong in this way, Robin. I have never been one to differentiate between Saxon and Norman holdings." In fact this was true. De Lereux's holdings were passed to him when the previous Norman lord was executed for alleged treasonous acts. There had never been a Saxon lord of the land on which sat De Lereux's fortified manor, though most of the serfs were Saxon. Robin nodded as if accepting the Earl's statement as fact. "Now, if we are agreed, may I be free to go?"
"We are agreed," said Robin. "But you may not leave until after the wedding, tomorrow. You have the freedom of the camp, but I suggest you stay within its boundaries. Should you enter the forest without an escort from this camp, I cannot guarantee your safety or your finding your way out in your lifetime."
This time it was Earl De Lereux who nodded, knowing full well Robin was right. Aside from simply losing his way, certain faces around him had looks that suggested were he alone in the forest he could easily become their prey. "I understand," said the Earl. "I shall be at your happy occasion." The Earl turned about and began to walk towards the main camp area of Chester Sherwood.
Will stepped forward to stand by Robin in the place where the Earl stood previously. Will paused a moment watching the Earl walk out of range of hearing his words. "I think you may have made a pact with the Devil, Robin," he observed.
"Maybe so," Robin replied. "But I think it more the case of a pact made with a pragmatic man. We shall see, though, just how much weight there is in an earl's pledge to another earl, don't you think?"
"Indubitably," Will quipped. Then he spied Marian approaching from the camp. "Come John," Will said to the big man nearby while throwing a wink towards Robin. "We have things to do and Robin does as well." They strode off, but not without tipping caps at Marian as they passed by her on their way back to the main camp.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 03-22-2005 @ 03:56 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 03-22-2005 @ 03:56 PM).]
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Marian glanced over her shoulders to see if anyone was paying them any attention. It seemed not, so she deftly placed herself in Robin's arms and without any concern for propriety placed her face in such a way as to make it clear she wanted a kiss more than anything else in the world at that moment. Robin obliged her without hesitation.
"In just a few hours," she said somewhat breathlessly, "I won't see you and you won't see me until just before we exchange vows."
"I know," Robin agreed matter-of-factly. "But it won't be much different than when I'm in the forest. I can amuse myself with other thoughts. I do it all of the time." Robin looked all around the camp but not at Marian just to ensure the twinkle in his eyes would not spill the secret of his teasing. "Quite relaxing in a way, I find. Yes, quite so. Very relaxing. I suppose I shall miss it later on."
Marian pushed herself out of his arms and placed her hands on her properly proportioned rounded hips. "Robin Hood!" she exclaimed. "That was uncalled for and very unkind!"
Robin feined a shocked expression. "It was?"
"Of course it was, and I know very well you mean nothing of what you say! Relaxing indeed!"
"I certainly did," Robin protested, the corners of his mouth upturned and struggling to break into a smile.
"You'll have no relaxing when we're finally married, I assure you!" warned Marian, her face a smile-prominent mask of false anger.
"Beginning with tomorrow night, I suspect?" Robin added with a wink. "I shall look forward to the end of relaxation, eagerly."
Marian's face turned cherry red and she lashed out with her right hand to make deliberate but only modest impact on Robin's nearest arm, all the while smiling a great dimpled smile of embarrassment and affection. "Ooooohh!" she exclaimed. "MEN!" But her hand missed because Robin jumped back just in time. He took a few more steps back. She followed immediately, hand upraised more for effect than intent.
Robin fled into a nearby copse of trees and disappeared within them, Marian in close pursuit. It was more than just a few minutes later that both emerged arm-in-arm. There were pieces of leaves low in Marian's luxuriously long hair. The ones who noticed this smiled but said not a word to either of the betrothed except to greet them in passing. They too looked forward to the ceremony to be held the next day.
Something in the camp caught both Robin's and Marian's attention. It seemed music was coming from somewhere, or should they say, someone. They sped their pace to see who it was that played that stringed instrument so expertly.
9 / 32
Amidst a crowd of onlookers sat a tallish, lanky man about Robin's age who was busily plucking on the strings of a lute. His longish hair was dark, the pupils of his eyes were the same. With fingers longer than most he fingered the frets of the lute and plucked at the strings to make a merry little tune that had the youngest among the crowd tapping their toes and the oldsters smiling with delight. The melody was infectious as it made its way through those in the camp who could hear the man play.
John Little caught Robin's arm as he passed by halting him in mid-step. Marian blended into the crowd. "He is a stranger, Robin," cautioned John. "We do not know how he found us."
"A musician it seems," noted Robin. "No weapons?"
"Anyone asked him from whence he came and to where he might be bound?"
John frowned. Archaic English expressions. Adapting too well. "No Robin, he started to play and the crowd gathered immediately."
"They are starved for diversion."
"Probably. I counsel caution, Robin."
"Noted, John. Let's learn what there is to learn of the man." Robin walked towards the musician with John at his side, the big man firmly gripping his quarterstaff. By the time they reached the musician's side, he had finished his tune and saw its end greeted with applause. The man looked up from his instrument and locked eyes expressionlessly with Robin, seeming to look Robin over as if seeking confirmation of something. Then he smiled, an engaging, disarming, friendly smile. "Hello, Sir. Are you the overseer of this encampment?"
"Your name, musician?" answered Robin.
"My name? Oh, of course. Alan of the Dale. Late of the lake region. Travelling musician." He stood up, bowed and tipped his hat, then placed it back on his head. Upon standing, it was obvious that his heighth was indeed greater than all among them, except John Little's.
"Alan A'dale," Robin muttered to himself. "Musician... The legend is true..." He saw Alan looking at him curiously and about to speak.
"Forgive my forwardness, Sir, but are you the one they call Hooded Robin, sometimes Robin Hood, the Bandit of Sherwood; if you will pardon my use of such a derogatory word."
"I am. How did you find this encampment?"
"Find it? Why Sir, I merely fell into it quite by accident. You see, I became quite lost in the forest, foolishly wandering among the trees to follow a bird song I heard while the bird I followed took flight from branch to branch. I no more found my way into this encampment than I could find my way out of it. I apologize for invading your privacy. I should be interested in leaving it and going on my way if you will allow it. You may certainly cover my eyes and lead me out as I have no other desire than to make my way to Edwinstowe and farther south."
Robin studied the man closely. His name was known in tradition in association with the legend of Robin Hood. Nothing untoward was ever recorded about him. Though he would be the only traditional person not covered by an agent of The Trust, this was so because the existence of Alan A'dale seemed more myth than not. Besides, Alan A'dale never factored in the critical events associated with Robin Hood and the kings of England. Robin glanced up at John Little. John's eyes spoke a warning, but not a condemnation of the musician.
"Welcome to the encampment we call Chester Sherwood, Allan of the Dale!" exclaimed Robin heartily offering his hand in greeting. Alan seized it warmly and in a grip far firmer than Robin expected from a simple musician. Robin shrugged it off. "Call me Robin. That's what all others here call me."
"Thank you, Sir, I mean, Robin," said Alan, releasing Robin from his strong grip. "How may I repay you for your hospitality?"
Robin laughed. "Why, Alan, your instrument played at my wedding tomorrow shall be payment enough. Then on your way you will go, escorted for a distance by men of Sherwood, and then on your own to Edwinstowe."
Alan appeared to be delighted. He bowed towards Robin. "Very well, Robin Hood. I shall play my very best. Congratulations on your wedding. Now, may I humbly inquire as to where I might stay?"
"We shall have someone show you. Then you will have supper with us, for night is soon to fall and you must be hungry."
"Indeed I am. Thank you," said Alan. Robin waved and two of his men guided Alan to an empty cloth covered hovel into which the musician disappeared then emerged without instrument. He was then led to a table filled with food where he began to select and place on his hewn wooden plate what suited his immediate taste.
Night passed and Robin's and Marian's wedding day dawned brightly under a cloudless sky.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 03-30-2005 @ 07:31 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 03-30-2005 @ 07:31 PM).]
10 / 32
Robin lay on his straw laden sleeping cot, eyes wide open, breathing rather rapidly, his brow wet with perspiration; and in this way he greeted his wedding day. The last remnants of the terror he felt from the nightmare slowly drained from him, as slowly as the rivulets of perspiration sought the corners of his foreheand and then ran down the creases they could find into and around his ears. He wiped his brow to eliminate the tickling sensation from the running beads of moisture. Will's voice sounded from outside his hovel. "Robin? You there? It's morning, my friend, and you know what that means today in particular!" Will's voice was as cheerful as always. It brought Robin little comfort.
"Yes, I'm here. Come on in."
Will pulled back the heavy hide that covered the doorway and entered the small stick and thatch hut. He was frowning. "Now that did not sound enthusiastic for a man about to wed the bride of his dreams."
"Dreams." Robin too was frowning. Sherwood's bandit sat on the edge of his cot in wool underclothing designed to contain his body heat. "It was a dream, Will. A frightening dream." Robin looked up at Will, Robin's eyes reflecting worry. "It's wrong!"
"Wrong? Frightening? Why Robin, it's just wedding day jitters. What could be wrong? Many a man would be happy to be in your place with the Lady Marian on his arm standing before the Friar."
Robin leaped to his feet. "No Will! This has nothing to do with Marian or getting married! Something is wrong, very wrong."
"With getting married?"
"Will, for mercy's sake, forget about my getting married. I'm talking about The Trust!" spoke Robin somewhat too loudly for Will's way of thinking.
"Robin, shhh! Calm down. Only a few of us here know what you mean by The Trust. Do you want the whole camp to learn something it shouldn't?" Will's eyes caught Robin's and the wildness shining from Robin's eyes slowly faded away. Robin shook his head.
"No Will, of course not. But this has to do with The Trust, and something I remembered. It came in a dream. A frightening dream. I can't recall all of it, but one thing clearly came through."
"What was it? Can you still remember what it was?"
"Yes. Well, no, not exactly. Words said to me by Sir Godfrey in a "Yes, I remember. The power failure... You transported using Major Oak." "Right. Afterwards, he told me there were four agents in Sherwood. You were one, John Little another, Tuck the third and a fourth. He said the fourth was a musician." "But there have been just us three, yourself and Marian. Could Sir Godfrey have meant Marian?" "No. I'm quite sure he said 'already in the field' and that's why I'm sure he did not mean Marian. She did not arrive until later." "Do you still have a copy of our orders?" Will glanced at the doorway to make sure there were none of the encampment's inhabitants anywhere nearby. "Yes. Here." Robin reached into a box and pulled out and unfolded a document with writing on it etched by an ink-dipped quill. The language on the orders was written in modern English, but to a resident of the 12th Century, it would seem to be gibberish, almost a totally foreign language. A simple way to maintain the secret of the message written on the parchment. He scanned the document. The more he tried to read it, the greater grew his shocked expression until Will could not hold back the question now begging to be answered. "What's the matter, Robin? What's wrong?" Robin handed the aged parchment to Will. "I can't read it Will. It's written in a language I've never seen before." Will tried as well. Dumbfounded, he threw the parchment on the cot. "I think one of us needs to transport back and find out what's happened." "Yes, my conclusion as well. But first we see this musician. We must settle why he is here, and this time I will not accept the wandering songbird story he told us yesterday." As he said this Robin reached down and put on his outer wools. To this he added a dagger in a sheath and a short sword. A short walk later and they were outside the hut occupied by the musician. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-04-2005 @ 09:26 PM).]
"Yes, I remember. The power failure... You transported using Major Oak."
"Right. Afterwards, he told me there were four agents in Sherwood. You were one, John Little another, Tuck the third and a fourth. He said the fourth was a musician."
"But there have been just us three, yourself and Marian. Could Sir Godfrey have meant Marian?"
"No. I'm quite sure he said 'already in the field' and that's why I'm sure he did not mean Marian. She did not arrive until later."
"Do you still have a copy of our orders?" Will glanced at the doorway to make sure there were none of the encampment's inhabitants anywhere nearby.
"Yes. Here." Robin reached into a box and pulled out and unfolded a document with writing on it etched by an ink-dipped quill. The language on the orders was written in modern English, but to a resident of the 12th Century, it would seem to be gibberish, almost a totally foreign language. A simple way to maintain the secret of the message written on the parchment. He scanned the document. The more he tried to read it, the greater grew his shocked expression until Will could not hold back the question now begging to be answered.
"What's the matter, Robin? What's wrong?"
Robin handed the aged parchment to Will. "I can't read it Will. It's written in a language I've never seen before."
Will tried as well. Dumbfounded, he threw the parchment on the cot. "I think one of us needs to transport back and find out what's happened."
"Yes, my conclusion as well. But first we see this musician. We must settle why he is here, and this time I will not accept the wandering songbird story he told us yesterday." As he said this Robin reached down and put on his outer wools. To this he added a dagger in a sheath and a short sword. A short walk later and they were outside the hut occupied by the musician.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-04-2005 @ 09:26 PM).]
11 / 32
"Musician!" Robin called out before entering the hovel, "We will have a word with you!"
A voice from within, the musician's, answered back. "Enter!"
Robin and Will entered the structure to find the musician alone and using a soft cloth to wipe his instrument. They studied him carefully to find signs of fear or any other revealing emotion. Instead, Alan of the Dale looked up and smiled. "Greetings foresters. Must keep this instrument in the best of condition if I'm to make a living at this, don't you think? Oh, and Robin, I have the music selected for your celebration. Care to listen?" He immediately turned the lute around and positioned his hand on selected frets ready to pluck or strum some unknown melody. Two notes sounded, but his playing was interrupted almost immediately
"Nay, musician," Robin corrected. "We are here as I said to speak with you."
Alan sighed. "So you said. What words for me do you have?"
Robin placed his hand on his sword. "Computers are our windows."
Will added, "History is our light."
To which Alan replied, "We travel back in time, to see which truth is right."
Robin immediately relaxed his sword hand. Will, tensely on guard, ceased holding his breath and removed his hand from the dagger under his dully crimson woolen cape.
Alan launched a huge grin and rose to his feet to tower by inches over his two visitors. "Well! I'm glad we finally got that over with! I was wondering when you'd think to give me the test."
"Obviously not something we would do in public," affirmed Robin.
"Of course not. How goes the mission?"
"Name the mission," answered Robin somewhat tersely.
Alan blinked conveying his surprise. "The mission to record the events and determine the accuracy of purported historical events leading up to the creation of the Magna Carta. That's what The Trust said was the mission when I transported here a few years ago."
"You preceded us then?" asked Will.
"I assume so. In modern time, yes."
Robin thought for a moment. "Why were you not part of the group of agents who greeted Marian and me?"
"Not supposed to be. I was to maintain my own vigil on events just in case any or all of you ran into, hmmm, trouble. Why is all of this news to you? Didn't you get your orders like I did?" Concern began to sneak into Alan's expression.
"We have orders," confirmed Robin. "We can't decipher them anymore and we cannot remember the content clearly. Where are your orders?"
"Memorized them. Here's the document. Haven't looked at it in years." Alan turned his lute over and with a series of shakes made a small folded piece of parchment fall out. He opened the folds of the parchment and offered it to Robin without looking at the ink marks on the document. Robin only needed to glance once to confirm his suspicions. This document too was marked in ink using a language none of them could understand. He handed it back to Alan with an invitation to read it. Of course Alan could not. All three stood for a moment staring at each other.
"Just how much of your orders do you remember, Alan?" said Robin, waiting in hope it would be more than his own recollections.
"Very clearly. I was to meet... uh. Yes, to meet..." Panic began to erase Alan's formerly ready smile. "I am supposed to... observe events. Then go to Sherwood Forest and meet a... swordsman? No, not a swordsman. Archer! Yes. And others. Name of a bird. Robin, I guess that would be you."
Alan appeared to be struggling. "A big man, strong. Cannot be you. Stronger." Alan said this while indicating Will. "Another, I suppose. Why would a woman be here? Is she an agent? I do not remember anything about a female agent."
"Perhaps not," agreed Robin. "If you were transported years before us, you would not know of her addition to the team."
"No," acknowledged Alan. "I suppose not." Alan paused and appeared to be lost in thought. "Robin, I think there is a problem."
"We agree, that's why we marched right over to here and..."
"No," Alan interrupted, "a serious problem. I don't think the transport system is working. Several days ago I tried to send back a report. You know, the buried relic method?"
"Well, no response. Nothing. Normally I get a transported acknowledgement of receipt. I saw nothing. The portals all seem to be dead in this sector."
"That's most of Western Europe, Alan."
"Yes, I know."
"They have never been down like that before."
"I know that too, Robin. We may be stuck here indefinitely if there's no access to the portals."
"Yes." Robin turned to Will. "Horses, Will. You and John. Check Major Oak. And come back immediately. If what I suspect is true, we have much to talk about."
Will nodded and with a swish of his cape left the hovel to see if the gateway to their former lives was open or not.
12 / 32
Robin stepped outside the hovel, Alan silently following. Even as Will and John grabbed horses saddled for just such an emergency, a rider galloped past the perimeter of the camp and reined in his horse to slow it to a quick trot. He seemed to be unsteady in his saddle, first leaning right and then left, then leaning forward as if to place his face on the neck of his horse. The man saw Robin and pulled on the reins to trot the horse towards Robin. He fell out of the saddle before the horse could do what it was told.
Robin ran to the fallen peasant, a member of his camp, whose duty it was to watch for untoward activity in Sherwood Forest. Robin drew the immediate conclusion that the arrow sticking out of the man's bloodied shoulder accounted for his unsteady horsemanship. "Glenar, what has happened? Who did this to you?" Robin said to him.
"King's men... All over the forest... Heading this way... Only hours from here." Glenar passed out. Robin motioned for some men nearby to take the injured man to someone for care.
"What now Robin?" asked Alan, quiet until this moment.
"We cannot fight the King's men on their terms. We are best when the field and method of fight is determined by us in advance. We abandon this place." His decision made he looked for Will and John to carry out his orders. Of course, he remembered, they are on their way to Major Oak.
"Where will I find him?"
"Look for food on a table. You'll find him there."
"Yes, of course." Alan took off at a dead run for the food serving area he remembered from the night before.
Robin gathered to himself the men he saw in the open area. There were a dozen or so. Instructions were given swiftly, concisely and confidently. The men ran off in various directions to see to Robin's orders. The camp erupted soon afterwards into a frantic flurry of activity as horses and wagons were loaded, and men did what they could to convey their families to safety points in the massive forest well out of the way of the advancing Normans.
Two names now took their places in Robin's mind. The first was Marian and the second was Louis DeLereux. Robin ran to Marian's small hovel. Without ceremony he dashed into the structure startling a partially dressed Marian, who quickly clasped the upper part of her wedding gown to her heretofore relatively uncovered bosom. "Robert Lackland!" she cried out, both startled and beginning to anger. "How dare you do that to me, especially on our wedding day! Why of all the nerve! You... You..."
"Marian! There is no time. Flail me with your words later. We are to be attacked in this location. King's men. There can be no wedding this day. Dress to ride! Now!" He turned to leave the hovel. Then he paused. He turned about once more to gaze at Marian standing there, expressions of shock, anger and disappointment comingling in a face pink with emotion, her dimples appearing and disappearing with the workings of the muscles of her cheeks. "I apologize for the intrusion, Milady. I shall regret missing the day I looked forward to for so long. Deeply." Robin hesitated, glance once more at Marian, and then left to attend to other responsibilities, specifically the portly Norman Earl in his camp.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-11-2005 @ 03:54 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-11-2005 @ 03:54 PM).]
13 / 32
Robin carried himself along at a quick jog on legs now muscular from months of going about Sherwood Forest on foot. "Wish they were back," he mumbled to himself. He knew, however, all of his wishing would do no good for even as the news of the approaching soldiers reached his ears he had seen Will galloping out of the camp, though he had missed John Little's departure. No problem, standard procedure. Long ago he ordered the both of them never to travel as a pair for fear of losing them both in some kind of ambush. On the other hand, when traveling with Robin and 50 or 60 of the men of Sherwood Forest, it didn't matter. A force large enough to defeat Robin's men in this situation would have to be an army, and an army could not stage an ambush in Sherwood, at least not so far.
Breathing only a little rapidly from his run, Robin halted before the hovel of the Earl and called to the man within. "Earl! There is danger!" The Earl was at first silent. "Earl DeLereux, are you in there?"
"Yes, Earl Lackland. Enter please." Remarkably, the Norman Earl's tone was courteous and welcoming. Robin was somewhat surprised. Robin pushed aside the thick animal hide door and walked in. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light within, he saw DeLereux sitting on a crudely hewn and hemp knotted chair. "Welcome to my castle," greeted Louis.
Robin laughed in spite of himself. "Formidable, my dear Earl." Two could find some humor in all of this.
"What is this about danger, Robin?"
"The King's men are advancing on the encampment."
The Earl's brow creased into a frown and his eyes darted back and forth as myriad thoughts materialized to be replaced by the next wave. "You are sure?"
"As sure as I can be."
"Not good, Robin. They will not be kind to any of us." Louis' eyes locked onto Robin's with a determined, forceful energy. "Be assured Robin of Sherwood I did not bring them to you. I could not have done so."
"I assumed it from the start. Do I still have your word?"
"Based upon what I've seen and learned, yes, with all of my heart, Earl Robin; but it will not go well for our plan if I am caught here in freedom."
"Escape with us, then!" Robin suggested emphatically.
"No. Better that I not be found with you as part of any plan of escape." The Norman pondered a moment while Robin patiently waited. He was surprised when the Norman exclaimed, "Tie me up! Now! Bind my feet and my hands to this chair. No gag. I must be able to speak when the soldiers enter. Understand?"
Robin now saw what the Earl intended, but there were no bindings in the hovel. Robin stuck his head out of the door and called to a nearby man of Sherwood, "Get some bindings! Bring them here, hurry!"
A few moments later, the man entered the hovel with hemp cord. Robin gave him these instructions, "Bind him to the chair, firmly, but not overly tight as to harm him. No gag. No other harm. Clear enough?" The man nodded and set to work. When it was done he turned to see if Robin approved. "Well done. Now get ye and family to safety," directed Robin, slipping into the vernacular of the times.
"Aye, Robin. Take care. We need ye."
Robin smiled and accepted the man's caution humbly. A second later they were alone. Turning to the now bound earl he gave him a quick check to make sure the bindings were indeed not harmfully tight. "I wish you well, Earl DeLereux."
"As I wish to you." Another thought passed visibly across the Earl's face. "And I offer my regret to you and your lady that your wedding day must be postponed."
Robin smiled. "Yes, postponed." He approved of the Earl's careful choice of words. "Thank you." Robin turned about and exited the hovel. As Robin passed by the next hovel, a man hidden behind the wall of the next hovel and invisible to Robin, brought a long, heavy, wooden object down hard on Robin's head. One minute the encampment was before Robin's eyes. The next minute his world exploded into a brilliant flash of light and then darkness closed in all about.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-13-2005 @ 04:12 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-13-2005 @ 04:12 PM).]
14 / 32
Without ceremony, Mark Clease threw open the door to Godfrey Stanbridge's starkly plain, barely furnished enclosed workspace. "Citizen Stanbridge, I have news."
Godfrey had been concentrating on a treatise published underground by a socially rebellious group, the self-named Cititzens for Economic Truth. They called themselves Cethians for short. Godfrey knew he should not be reading such seditious material as its mere possession was enough, if reported to the Guiding Circle, to have his service designation altered by dictated common consent. He quickly closed the pamphlet and slid it into the open desk drawer at his right hand.
Clease followed the movement of Godfrey's hand with interest, but without comment. Mark made a mental note to investigate what Citizen Stanbridge thought should be hidden from his view. That's how it was in this equal and balanced society brought about by the reform movements of the early 20th Century. It was a time when first the monarchies fell and then every repressively structured capitalistic democracy, including the cruel fundamentalist theocracies that replaced the democracies in many places around the world. Now the world basked in an aura of equality where each man and woman of working age, regardless of national membership, filled a labor function deemed most appropriate by their local Guiding Circle. Members of the Circle made these decisions for those who worked because workers simply did not have the time to make them for themselves, and labor to fulfill the needs of the many must be allocated just so to achieve harmony and balance, and only the Circle had the vision to know what "just so" should be.
"What news, Citizen?" answered Stanbridge.
"We are making progress on the code audit. We've already found quite a number of altered phrases. This man was quite clever with syntax, inventive. He would have done well in our Innovative Code Development empowerment group."
"What type of damage so far?"
"None, Godfrey. It seems he merely disabled the portals for an indefinite period. He seems a model citizen. Why, just his library alone of material on anarchy commends him."
"Then why did he disable the portals and jump backwards in time?"
"An excursion, we think. Simple enthusiasm for the past. We can find in history no significant events to assign to his presence. Nothing. Even if his history studies and other home texts focussed on the Plantagenant Kings, there is nothing we know of that could be the results of his intervention. So far as we can tell, Richard Lion Heart was killed in battle and John remains assassinated just as before."
"Assassinated..." Godfrey repeated, his voice trailing off. "Didn't the nobles rise up against him?"
"Yes. We presume it was a noble that assassinated him, or arranged for his death."
"Because John was a capitalist with no land or wealth. It all belonged to Richard. He tried to seize it from the nobles on concocted charges of theft or treason. Such is the greed of capitalists that they would not part with their lands in such a manner, the land having more value than people. They knew nothing of anarchy and the need for the people to individually determine their own fate all of this intended for the benefit of the collective."
Godfrey lifted his eyes from the top of his etched, unpolished desk to look at Clease. "Just as we determine our fate individually today?"
Clease's eyes opened wide as he quickly comprehended the implication in Godfrey's words. "Somebody must guide us."
"The Guiding Circle, I presume?"
"Yes, of course. It can be no other."
"Such a burden it is that they carry." Godfrey's face twitched into a barely suppressed sarcastic smirk. "Having to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, without their permission. All for the sake of equality and balance."
Mark stared at Godfrey. "Citizen, do you know what you are saying?"
"Hmmm? Yes. I mean, no." Godfrey's voice trailed off as if some rogue thought had just stolen his voice. Suddenly he sat up straighter in his unpadded, unoiled wood desk chair. "Clease, did you ever have the instinctive feeling that something is terribly wrong?"
Clease sat back in his chair. blinked and thought for a short minute before answering. "Yes. And frankly, as I listen to you, I think this is one of those moments." Clease began that instant to debate vigorously but silently whether to report Citizen Stanbridge to the Circle or not. He decided the object placed by Godfrey in the right hand desk drawer might be precisely the telling evidence he needed to make up his mind. He vowed to return later that day and see to its capture.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-14-2005 @ 06:12 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-14-2005 @ 06:12 PM).]
15 / 32
The first of Robin's senses to awaken was his sense of smell. Horse! The distinct scent of horse filled his nostrils. Close by too. In fact, close because his nose was buried in the mane of one of those beasts. Hearing followed closely and he could hear the iron shod hooves of the horse hit what sounded like a mix of earth and dried leaves. Then sight, taste and feeling joined in.
Robin sat up in his saddle. That's how he knew about feeling. His head pounded with pain radiating from the place where he knew instinctively would be found a sizable lump, marking by that contusion the place where someone laid something across his skull. He tried to move his hands at the same time swivelling his head around to try to understand where he was. It was Sherwood Forest still, but like a lost Norman, he could not by the forest markings know precisely where. He looked up at the sky and noted the sun on his right. It was late in the day. "South" he muttered to himself.
The man on a horse to which Robin's horse was tied by a moderately lengthed tether heard Robin's muttering and turned about in his saddle. Alan of the Dale! "Alan!" called Robin. "What happened?!" He spoke more loudly than his pounding head could stand, and the resulting wave of pain caused him to lift hands to head only to discover that his hands were bound to his Norman saddle. Robin discovered as well that he was bound by the waist the same way, so that no matter how he might try, he could not do anything other than sit upright or lean forward as he did before awakening. "What's the purpose in binding me this way, Alan?" irritated at the circumstances and heightened so by his headache.
"Robin! You've rejoined the world at last," cried out Alan somewhat goodnaturedly for the circumstances. "Sorry about the bindings. Couldn't think of a better way to keep you from falling out of the saddle while we made good our escape."
"Yes, from the Normans. Don't you remember? Maybe the knock on the head was a little worse than I thought. Concussion maybe? Dizzy Robin? Seeing anything strange?"
"No," replied Robin grumpily. "Cut these off."
"Sure, but first let me find some shelter. Don't want to do this out in the open."
"Shelter. Right." Robin was still somewhat dazed. He was struggling to remember. The hovel. The Earl. He walked outside. A few steps later the world exploded and... Somebody struck him on the head.
Alan pulled his horse off the narrow path and into a dense grouping of trees. "This will work." The musician slid down off his horse and pulled out a knife Robin didn't know he had. Instinctively Robin tensed. Alan noticed this right away. "Easy Robin," Alan reassured him, his everpresent friendly smile serving to calm the bound bandit well. "I'll have you free in no time."
Good to his word, Alan cut all of Robin's bindings and then assisted him out of the saddle and onto shakey legs. "Thank you," said Robin. "Have you any water?"
"Yes I do. Thought of it at the last minute after getting you up and onto the horse. Here." Alan handed Robin a sheepskin filled with water to quench his thirst. Robin's throbbing head seemed only slightly better after a few gulps from the skin. "What happened to me? How did you find me?"
"By accident," answered Alan as he took the resealed skin from Robin. "And from a distance. Saw you whacked on the head by a big, strapping fellow."
"A quarterstaff, it looked like. Big thick one."
"Only one man I know uses a quarterstaff."
"Who's that, Robin?"
"One of the agents?"
"Yes. But it can't be. I sent him with Scarlett to investigate the Major Oak portal."
"Saw him leave, did you?" Alan asked, his brow suggesting he was sorting through something in his mind.
"Yes. I mean, no, not actually. You saw the man. Was it John Little?"
"Maybe. Then again, Robin, I've only met you and that Will Scarlett person. Oh, and Tuck. Never had the chance to meet John Little."
"He was there when we found you playing your instrument in the camp that first day."
"Hmmm. The big fellow by your side. Didn't know that was John Little. Could have been him. It was a goodly distance. Something startled him and he didn't, shall we say, finish the job. Normans maybe. They showed up pretty soon afterwards. I got you out of the camp in the nick of time."
Robin stared at Alan as something began to claw its way into his still fuzzed recollection. "Marian! Is she safe? Do you know if she's safe?"
Alan's expression shifted from Robin's face to the ground at his feet. His everpresent smile faded away. Robin felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Alan nodded. "I saw her. She's alive."
"But is she safe?"
It alarmed Robin that Alan would not look him square in the eyes. "Alan! Is... She... Safe?!"
"She's alive. In the company of a Saxon."
"Good, a Saxon."
"No, not good Robin. The Saxon is the Sheriff of Nottingham."
The sinking feeling in Robin's stomach found the bottom of all that is and stayed there.
16 / 32
Alan waited a courteous period of time maintaining his silence as Robin's mind worked the situation over thoroughly. "Ahem." Alan cleared his throat and pointedly looked up at the sky noting the angle of the sun relative to the dense forest's treetops. "Not much travel time left Robin."
Distracted by Alan's throat clearing and words, Robin looked at the musician with unfocussed eyes. "Hmmm?"
Alan thought it best to repeat himself. "I think we must find a place for the night."
Robin instinctively looked up. "Uh, yes, I suppose you're right. Settle in for the night." Robin started to pull his thoughts away from Marian's fate and deal with the here and now. "Away from the path. No fire, unfortunately. Musn't draw attention to ourselves."
"Right," added Alan to affirm his agreement.
"Follow me," said Robin reaching for the reins of his horse. "I think I know where we are. There is a rise and overhang that will shelter us a short distance from here. Then tomorrow we rise early and head out."
"Tomorrow, right. Which direction?"
As he put his heels gently into his horse's side, Robin looked back as if to question why such an inquiry could possibly be made. "To the south, of course. Where else?"
"I suppose Nottingham?"
"Don't you think they'll be expecting you?"
"Of course they'll be expecting Robin Hood; but not a musician and his fool."
"Robin, I do not play the fool very well."
"Not surprising, Alan a'Dale, nor will you have to. You play the instrument; I'll play the fool."
A few days travel in this manner and Alan and Robin found themselves soon enough looking upon the beginnings of the village of Nottingham, and at its entrance stood three burly sentrys. All three were wearing Norman mail and armed to the teeth with pike, sword and mace. These were the King's men, not men of the Sheriff. This was something Robin had not counted on.
17 / 32
Robin thought for a moment and twisted in his saddle to speak to Alan. "Slight change in plan. You play the instrument, I sing and play the fool."
"This one. Heard of it?" Robin hummed a few bars and sang a few lyrics.
Alan listened with a frown, then the frown disappeared and his congenial smile returned. "Yes! Yes indeed! I know that tune!" He reached behind himself and pulled out his lute and began to strum and pick. "Very fine. There will be more than one amused by this, I think. So as you say, I play and you sing; but as for playing the fool..."
"Just follow my lead," affirmed Robin. "I have played the fool before." Robin kept to himself what he really implied by that statement.
A short ride on their horses and the two men were among a thin stream of farmers and merchants passing into Nottingham from the shire to sell their goods. To Robin's dismay, the King's men numbered the three they saw, plus two more in much lighter armor, who were attending to horses no doubt placed there for purposes of fast pursuit. It appeared the Sheriff was taking no chances.
"Halt!" cried out one of the sentries making it very clear he meant Alan and Robin. He walked up to them, the other two mailed sentries behind him, both blocking access to the village. The sentry stared closely at the faces of the two men. Nodding towards Alan he said, "You I've seen before, musician. The other I haven't. Who are you stranger?"
Robin gave the sentry an odd look and pointed at himself. "Me?"
"Yes, you. Who are you?"
"Fool, can't you see that?" Robin replied.
The sentry's eyes seemed to open a bit wider and his face colored somewhat. Traffic into the village slowed to a crawl as curious onlookers stopped and stared.
"You called me a fool?"
"I did not."
"I distinctly heard you call me a fool."
"Not you, the fool."
The sentry's face turned redder. "There, again you called me the fool!" His hand went to his sword. The other two sentries tensed and moved hands to their hips as well.
Robin decided enough was enough. These men were too ill-tempered to handle the joke. "I am the fool, Captain. A fool who sings."
The sentry eyed him warily. "So you say. I am not a Captain, but he might be interested in you."
"Nay, I simply sing and play. Shall I show you?"
"Get off the horse then," ordered the sentry.
"Very well." Robin began to dismount. Alan had already positioned his lute to pick out the prearranged tune. It would take awhile, for as Robin dismounted he feigned trapping his ankle in his horse's stirrups and made an elaborate display of twisting, turning and trying precariously to extract his trapped ankle. Children were giggling, adults were trying to suppress laughter out of respect for two strangers; but as Robin maneuvered himself ever so much more oddly, they as well could not contain their laughter. Finally, throwing his hands up in the air, Robin slid himself under the belly of the horse (which surprisingly remained calm through all of this) and emerged on the opposite side of the horse, his ankle free at last. Then Robin looked around with a wondering expression conveying the image of a man who had no idea where in the world he was. All traffic had stopped now and the crowd grew as others from inside the gate or newly arrived gathered around the two men, one now standin on the soil of the road.
"Clever," noted the sentry who could not tell if he was being entertained or mocked. "Sing now, if you can."
Robin began to walk around the horse's rear haunches, but at the last minute glancing at the horse's rear and backing away, much to the amusement of the coarser elements in the crowd, he reversed direction and walked around the horse's front. "As you wish, Sir Knight."
"I am not a knight," countered the sentry, his irritation growing again.
"Tsk, tsk. Not a knight and not a Captain, not a lot if I may say. Standing guard in front of villages isn't much to call a day - A poem Sir Sentry." Many in the crowd snickered.
The sentry's face hardened. "Sing."
Robin raised a hand and nodded to Alan. When he dropped his hand, the musician began to pluck the notes to Robin's song:
The Dragon of Perth was aloft one fine day,
A loo le’ de lowry
The wood near the field was home to a laddie,
A loo le’ de lowry
The Dragon did hear the wood gathering laddie
A loo le’ de lowry
This song that I sing ye and warning that I give ye
A loo le’ de lowry
At the conclusion to his song, Robin made an exaggerated bow as applause rang out from the crowd. Even the sentry found the song appealing, though he wasn't sure of its meaning. "Who be this 'Dragon' in the song, singer?" the sentry asked just to see if his hunch was right.
"Why, the Sheriff of course!" exclaimed Robin, knowing full well this was not at all who he meant by the dragon. "And we all know the lassie here do we not?!"
The sentry began to laugh in spite of himself. "Yes, the Lady Marian, once betrothed to the Robber of Sherwood and now here, with the Sheriff and betrothed to him. A lovely twist of fate."
"Yes," said Robin under his breath, "a lovely twist of fate."
The sentry looked at him oddly and then waived him on with a dismissive expression. "Get on with you, the both of you. Enter Nottingham." Robin wasted no time in offering a sweeping bow. He got back in his saddle and both he and Alan entered Nottingham side-by-side.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-19-2005 @ 04:28 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-19-2005 @ 04:28 PM).]
18 / 32
"When I am ready, and certainly not in your presence!" she shot back, her arms crossed in front of her breast in an obvious display of determined obstinance.
"I will not have you wither away before our wedding day and certainly not before our wedding night! Eat, I say!"
Marian's jaw set harder. "I told you, there will be no such occasions and I will eat when I'm good and ready. If you are so concerned with my health, it would be wise if you leave me alone and allow me to do what I say."
The Sheriff's face turned redder. "Then have your way "I shall die as a choice before that will ever happen." The Sheriff turned and spoke through clenched teeth. "No, Lady Marian, you will not die before then, and certainly not before your wedding night. Afterwards, you may die at your's or my convenience whenever you choose." So saying, he opened the door and slammed it behind himself, the echo of its closure reverberating around the room holding the utensil-less table and the meal laid before Marian. Not until after the door closed so loudly did Marian's expression change, beginning with the quivering of her lower lip. Tears welled up in her eyes and her facial muscles compressed with the first onslaught of her cry. Bringing hands to her face, she sobbed out her heart into her palms. "Robin... Where are you? Why haven't you come to take me from here... from ___________________________________________________________ Three brothers of the Abbey of Tintern approached the sentries at the entrance to Nottingham but did not pull back the hoods of their robes. "Where may we find the village church, good sir?" asked the one who stood more slender than the shorter man but less tall than the other, all three with hands folded and hidden in their robes. The sentry eyed all three, then shrugged. "Down the main road and near the Granary, to the right." "We thank you, brother in Christ." The soldier grunted and began once more to look over the people seeking entrance into Nottingham. ___________________________________________________________ Citizen Cleese rifled through the papers in the right drawer of Godfrey's much-worse-the-wear desk. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that in this time of the night nobody could possibly see him in Godfrey's office. The area, inside and out, seemed to still be bereft of people. That was good, concluded Cleese. No need to have to explain what he was doing there, eventhough as a Citizen dutiful to the Circle, he could go where he wanted and do what he wanted, that is, up to a point. Cleese paused when he put hands on a staple bound set of papers made into something of a crudely bound booklet. He looked at the title page. THE HUMAN NEED FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY was the title printed there. So it was clear. Citizen Stanbridge was a revolutionary or at minimum a sympathizer. The one piece of confusion in Cleese's mind was how Godfrey could have survived in his position by masking this inclination from the Circle for so long. How could he, Cleese, Security Agent for the Guiding Circle have been fooled so thoroughly all of this time, until today. Carefully, Cleese placed the incriminating document back into the drawer of Godfrey's desk after photographing the item and then photographing its place in the desk, and lastly, photographing the room from just the right angle to show that the document was in the desk in Godfrey's workspace. Job done, he closed the door, swiftly left Godfrey's workspace and the building housing it and walked just as quickly to the small, two-person transport he parked earlier in the darkest, most shaded place near the building's entrance that he could find. He hurried to his living compartment to decide what he would do next. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-21-2005 @ 04:11 PM).]
"I shall die as a choice before that will ever happen."
The Sheriff turned and spoke through clenched teeth. "No, Lady Marian, you will not die before then, and certainly not before your wedding night. Afterwards, you may die at your's or my convenience whenever you choose." So saying, he opened the door and slammed it behind himself, the echo of its closure reverberating around the room holding the utensil-less table and the meal laid before Marian.
Not until after the door closed so loudly did Marian's expression change, beginning with the quivering of her lower lip. Tears welled up in her eyes and her facial muscles compressed with the first onslaught of her cry. Bringing hands to her face, she sobbed out her heart into her palms. "Robin... Where are you? Why haven't you come to take me from here... from ___________________________________________________________ Three brothers of the Abbey of Tintern approached the sentries at the entrance to Nottingham but did not pull back the hoods of their robes. "Where may we find the village church, good sir?" asked the one who stood more slender than the shorter man but less tall than the other, all three with hands folded and hidden in their robes. The sentry eyed all three, then shrugged. "Down the main road and near the Granary, to the right." "We thank you, brother in Christ." The soldier grunted and began once more to look over the people seeking entrance into Nottingham. ___________________________________________________________ Citizen Cleese rifled through the papers in the right drawer of Godfrey's much-worse-the-wear desk. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that in this time of the night nobody could possibly see him in Godfrey's office. The area, inside and out, seemed to still be bereft of people. That was good, concluded Cleese. No need to have to explain what he was doing there, eventhough as a Citizen dutiful to the Circle, he could go where he wanted and do what he wanted, that is, up to a point. Cleese paused when he put hands on a staple bound set of papers made into something of a crudely bound booklet. He looked at the title page. THE HUMAN NEED FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY was the title printed there. So it was clear. Citizen Stanbridge was a revolutionary or at minimum a sympathizer. The one piece of confusion in Cleese's mind was how Godfrey could have survived in his position by masking this inclination from the Circle for so long. How could he, Cleese, Security Agent for the Guiding Circle have been fooled so thoroughly all of this time, until today. Carefully, Cleese placed the incriminating document back into the drawer of Godfrey's desk after photographing the item and then photographing its place in the desk, and lastly, photographing the room from just the right angle to show that the document was in the desk in Godfrey's workspace. Job done, he closed the door, swiftly left Godfrey's workspace and the building housing it and walked just as quickly to the small, two-person transport he parked earlier in the darkest, most shaded place near the building's entrance that he could find. He hurried to his living compartment to decide what he would do next. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-21-2005 @ 04:11 PM).]
Three brothers of the Abbey of Tintern approached the sentries at the entrance to Nottingham but did not pull back the hoods of their robes. "Where may we find the village church, good sir?" asked the one who stood more slender than the shorter man but less tall than the other, all three with hands folded and hidden in their robes.
The sentry eyed all three, then shrugged. "Down the main road and near the Granary, to the right."
"We thank you, brother in Christ."
The soldier grunted and began once more to look over the people seeking entrance into Nottingham.
Citizen Cleese rifled through the papers in the right drawer of Godfrey's much-worse-the-wear desk. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that in this time of the night nobody could possibly see him in Godfrey's office. The area, inside and out, seemed to still be bereft of people. That was good, concluded Cleese. No need to have to explain what he was doing there, eventhough as a Citizen dutiful to the Circle, he could go where he wanted and do what he wanted, that is, up to a point.
Cleese paused when he put hands on a staple bound set of papers made into something of a crudely bound booklet. He looked at the title page. THE HUMAN NEED FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY was the title printed there. So it was clear. Citizen Stanbridge was a revolutionary or at minimum a sympathizer. The one piece of confusion in Cleese's mind was how Godfrey could have survived in his position by masking this inclination from the Circle for so long. How could he, Cleese, Security Agent for the Guiding Circle have been fooled so thoroughly all of this time, until today.
Carefully, Cleese placed the incriminating document back into the drawer of Godfrey's desk after photographing the item and then photographing its place in the desk, and lastly, photographing the room from just the right angle to show that the document was in the desk in Godfrey's workspace. Job done, he closed the door, swiftly left Godfrey's workspace and the building housing it and walked just as quickly to the small, two-person transport he parked earlier in the darkest, most shaded place near the building's entrance that he could find. He hurried to his living compartment to decide what he would do next.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 04-21-2005 @ 04:11 PM).]
19 / 32
"Here, have an apple," said the merchant to the guard at the Nottingham Gate, handing the guard a gold and red fruit "You look like you could enjoy something fresh from the orchard." The merchant looked around conspiratorially and glanced at his associate sitting on the oxcart's bench. "But let's just keep it between us as this is intended for the Sheriff's wedding feast." The merchant winked at the guard who took the fruit and quickly hid it under his arm. The guard motioned for the merchants to pass. They did so.
Something wasn't right about his workspace concluded Godfrey virtually the minute he entered the workroom that following morning. He looked around, sat in his constantly complaining wooden chair and touched nearly everything on the surface of his marred, stained desk. Then he reached for the right drawer and that phantom sense kicked in with gusto.
Archery is dependent upon a keen eye. Archery trains eyes to be keenly sighted and the bearer of the bow to take many details into consideration: wind, movement of objects, ripples in the grass, anything that might indicate aid or obstruction to an arrow's flight. He noted immediately that the papers in his right drawer were not exactly in the same position as when he left them last evening. Beads of sweat formed immediately on his forehead as the implications multiplied given what he knew he had placed in that drawer.
The combox buzzed. He turned the switch to TALK. "Hello, Citizen Stanbridge here." He released the switch and it snapped back to the LISTEN position. He would have to switch back and forth as he conversed. It was Cleese.
"You're there, I presume, for a little while?"
"Yes," confirmed Stanbridge. "Why?"
"News. Be there shortly."
"I said I would be there shortly. Stay there, please."
Stanbridge swallowed a little harder than usual. "Yes. As you request."
"Good. Soon then."
Ten minutes later Cleese entered Stanbridge's workroom without ceremony and stood by the threadworn apholstered chair. Cleese's hand was inside his dresscoat grasping something that pressed outward against the coat's material in a place where firearms were carried by agents of the Guiding Circle. Stanbridge quickly eyed the room and his placement. No, there was no escape. He could not move fast enough to obtain a weapon in defense or to run from the aim of Cleese's firearm. Tense, near panic, Godfrey Stanbridge struggled to control his fear at least outwardly.
Cleese pulled his hand from his coat. Stanbridge could do nothing else but stare speechless at the object in the security agent's hand.
20 / 32
That day and the next Robin spent saying little and listening greatly to all that was being discussed around the town. Great excitement was brewing as rumors abounded that Prince John would be attending the Sheriff's wedding in person. Villagers of Nottingham gasped in disbelief. The Prince, the man who might very well be King if rumors of Richard's demise were true, would be there? In Nottingham? To see a Sheriff wed? Remarkable! That Saxon Sheriff must be more influential than originally thought!
Robin laughed at that as he drank his ale brought to him from a keg in the village tavern. He knew from his messengers that the loyal northerner who discovered Richard's whereabouts in Austria was even now actively engaged in securing Richard's release. Sufficient months had passed that even now Richard could be well on his way to England, or on the broad island and heading south from some port or landing. That delusional Prince who would be a King had best be sure he looks to his own welfare because his reign will be short indeed. Robin chuckled again.
"What's so funny, Robin?" asked Alan, who seemed inexplicably tense and was fidgeting in his chair, his eyes darting towards the doors.
It mattered not to Robin that Alan used his real name. There were many a Robin so named in England as Robert was quite common among them and Robin was the traditional nickname used by friends or permitted acquaintences. What was another Robin in England? Of little consequence unless associated with Sherwood in the same address.
Robin slid his tankard of ale back and forth and listened to the brew slosh in its dark depths. "They think the Sheriff influential and that the King is coming to Nottingham for the wedding." He lowered his voice and leaned towards Alan saying in what nearly was a whisper, "The Sheriff has no such influence; that is not a king who comes; and there will be no wedding between the Sheriff and his intended."
"What do you plan to do?"
Before Robin could answer Alan's question the front and back access doors to the tavern burst inwards and a dozen or more soldiers, swords drawn or crossbows elevated, entered the tavern. Their captain, his voice booming loud enough to be heard through the thick flooring and walls by anyone in the rooms upstairs or by anyone passing by on the road, bellowed out a demand. "There is a man in this room we want!" he shouted. "His name is Robin of Sherwood. We know he is here!" His eyes scanned the faces of everyone in the tavern.
The captain studied Alan's face and then he studied Robin's face. With a motion of his hand he directed his men to encircle those who were seated in the tavern. Robin quickly assessed the situation and correctly reasoned that there was no escape other than through combat. There were far too many soldiers to fight especially as swordplay was not his forte'. He rejected the idea as having too poor a possible outcome.
The captain pointed at Robin. "You! At that table! What is your business in Nottingham!"
Robin wondered why the captain focussed on him first. "A fool who sings," he replied.
Alan answered for himself. "A musician who plays the lute."
Robin could not understand why the soldiers were increasingly narrowing their enclosing ring about them. He placed his hand on the sword at his side, but when he saw the soldiers tense, he withdrew his hand immediately. No, he concluded, there was absolutely no escape.
The captain nodded. "I see. Did the Sheriff ever hear you play?"
"Yes, once," answered Alan.
The captain started to laugh. "Very well, he shall hear you again. Seize them!" The soldiers lunged forward, except for the two who stayed by the doors. Robin and Alan were overmatched and impossibly trapped. As Robin assessed earlier, there was no escape. Strong hands grasped them, disarmed them and bound them, then pushed, pulled them from the tavern and out into the street. The captain stood before Robin and looked him square in the eyes. "Well, Robin of Sherwood. This time, unlike the nobleman you tied to a chair in Sherwood, it is you who is bound and helpless. I had the honor of setting the Earl free, and the pleasure not long afterwards, of capturing your Lady of Sherwood. Most gratifying was the reward I received from the Sheriff, this rank of Captain bestowed upon me by virtue of his speaking with the King. Remember this face well, Robin Hood. You will see it again at your execution when I lead you to the gallows."
Robin said nothing though his mind seethed with anger at all that the captain had said. Instead, he made it a point to do as the captain ordered and etched the soldier's face into his memory. He was spun about roughly and pulled at the end of a tether towards the gaol. He could not see Alan, but knew that the musician was also bound and being pulled behind him in the same direction as was Robin. Alan's voice protesting his treatment was heard briefly. A loud slap ended his protests as quickly as they began.
Within the gaol, Alan was taken down one corridor and Robin the other. Robin could no longer see or hear Alan after that. Within the small chamber into which he was bodily thrown, Robin heard nothing at all except what little noise penetrated the stone walls, the steady drip of water leaking somewhere into the corridor and what turned out to be his own unsteady breathing.
21 / 32
"You know what these are, Stanbridge?" Cleese turned the sheets of paper around so that Godfrey could see the markings on the uppermost sheet.
"I see the Great Seal of the Guiding Circle. Orders?"
"Yes, for your arrest. I've had them for awhile and you under observation."
Stanbridge's throat constricted and his stomach knotted. "For what?"
"Conspiracy to commit treason against the Guiding Circle."
"I have done no such thing!" protested Godfrey. "Why I've been a faithful servant to..." Cleese interrupted him immediately.
"Save me the sob story, Stanbridge. The proof is in your right drawer. Oh, and don't bother to destroy it. I have all the photos I need. Besides, this is your lucky day."
"Yes, the portals are up and working at last and I'm not going to arrest you."
Stanbridge sat stiffly, an expression of noncomprehension painted on his face. "I really don't understand."
Cleese laughed and placed himself casually on Stanbridge's apholstered chair. "That's because I haven't told you my plan."
A small amount in the way of cautious relief trickled into Godfrey's thoughts. "Please tell me. I cannot abide not knowing what complications are woven into this whole day's events."
Cleese's good humor seemed genuine, or the agent was an exceptional actor. "Fine. Let's begin at the beginning. You and I are going for a little journey. Where you ask? To the 12th Century, that's where. Just the two of us. Now here's what I have in mind to do...
Hours later, following a ride in Stanbridge's vehicle, the two men dropped down from the branch of a very young Major Oak. Their first task was to see what events had transpired in Sherwood Forest and then to try to blend into the event timeline already occupied by Robin and company, and finally, to locate the missing technician who corrupted the system code.
Nagging at the back of Godfrey Stanbridge's mind was the continuing question of whether Cleese truly intended to do what he said he would do. For all Stanbridge knew, he might be part of a master plan to ensure the status quo of the nexus and thus destroy for all time the possibility of a democratic society ever forming. For now, however, he had no choice, a very troubling state of affairs in many ways, he concluded.
They both pressed on and into Sherwood Forest as quietly as possible.
22 / 32
The door to Robin's chamber opened and a tall, slender man of the cloth entered wearing a brown hooded robe that hid his face from view. Behind the visitor the door closed and Robin heard the lock turn. The visitor peered out of the hole in the door to see if the gaoler had returned to his dimly lit table in the forechamber. He had. The robed visitor descended into Robin's chamber.
"What do you want with me, Brother?" Robin asked as he watched the man pick his way down the short flight of stone etched steps.
"Only your salvation, that is all," answered the man in a familiar voice. Robin dared to hope.
The "monk" looked around once more and then threw back his hood to reveal...
"Will!" cried Robin almost too loudly.
Will put his index finger to his lips to signal that Robin should be more quiet. He quickly threw his hood back over his head and turned to see if anyone had poked his face in the hole in the door, especially the gaoler. No, no eavesdroppers.
"Quiet Robin or you'll wake the dead!" Will hoarsely whispered with emphasis. "We've come to get you out."
"We've? Who else besides you?"
"Why John Little, of course."
"Will, do not trust him."
"Do not trust John? But why, Robin?"
Robin pursed his lips. "Because, Will, John nearly turned me over to the Normans."
"He what?! Impossible!"
"He whacked me on the head with his quarterstaff and left me for dead, or worse, for the Normans."
"Quite impossible, Robin," said Will without hesitation.
"Why are you so sure? He is the only one of Sherwood's men who uses a quarterstaff. You know that."
"Yes, so far as we know," agreed Will. "But as you might be aware he has more than one staff. Anyone could have used it in his place in all of what I understand to be a rather chaotic situation."
Robin frowned. It hadn't been chaotic until someone with a quarterstaff tried to crack his skull open. Will continued, "Besides, John Little couldn't have done it because he was with me all of that time."
"Yes, he was. Of course I know we aren't supposed to travel in pairs. Well, we didn't. But John was very close behind me all the same. We arrived at Major Oak to find that indeed the portal wasn't operating. We tried the "Artifact Signal", you know, when we send an artifact ahead in time to signal our presence and receive a note in reply? Nothing happened. Didn't work. The portal was dead. We headed back to Chester Sherwood only to run into some of the men fleeing and learned what had happened. We've been trailing you ever since disguised as monks."
"John and you?"
"Yes, and Tuck. We're ready to spring you from this place. Are you ready for fresh air and freedom?" Will smiled fully expecting Robin to eagerly agree. The smile faded as Will read the odd expressions crossing Robin's face to mean something different.
"No, Will. I've been thinking about what I would do should an attempt be made to free me. Frankly, I must stay here so that the Sheriff remains attentive to the wedding and not to me. Otherwise, should I escape, he will become quite alarmed and may harm Marian. Do we have Sherwood men in the village?
"Yes, many. More entering all of the time in various disguises. Tuck is north trying to get Earl Louie's assistance and to locate King Richard."
"Good, let the men continue to enter and for Tuck to search. We shan't count on the Norman Earl, however."
Will nodded. "I take it you have some kind of plan."
"I do," Robin confirmed. "Here it is..."
Robin described his plan, all the while Will nodded in agreement or if puzzled asked a question to clarify what Robin was thinking. Finally, the plan fully revealed, Robin stopped and looked at Will expecting the man's calm appraisal.
"A fair plan, Robin. Could work if all goes well. But there is a problem."
"Since it wasn't John who whacked your skull with a staff, it was someone else. There is still the matter of the traitor who is among us."
"Yes," agreed Robin. "The traitor. Unfortunately, I cannot speak any longer with Alan as he is in his own gaol somewhere. He never saw who struck me. He found me lying on the ground, he said, and conveyed me south. We were heading in that direction when I regained consciousness."
"I see. Well, I won't look for him as I think I've just about overstayed my welcome for the moment." His words were prophetic as both heard the footsteps of the gaoler as he approached the chamber door. Crudely formed keys turned the rusted iron lock and the door creaked open.
"Leave now," came the gaoler's terse directive.
Will checked to make sure his hood was in place. He made the sign of the cross over Robin's head. Then he turned and walked up the short flight of steps and out the door. As the gaol door slammed shut and the key once again did its job, Robin wondered with far less confidence than he portrayed if his plan had the least chance of working. He knew it might be his death if it failed. He knew it would certainly be Marian's death unless it succeeded.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-09-2005 @ 03:47 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-09-2005 @ 03:47 PM).]
23 / 32
Left alone, Robin picked up a loose piece of stonework fallen from somewhere in the walls that enclosed him. He began to draw disjointed objects in the dirt on the floor of his chamber. They related to his thoughts, but had no sequence visually suggesting what he had been thinking.
Robin knew his best chance of escape was on the day of the wedding when all were distracted by the event or on the day of his execution when he would be removed to the gallows. On the day of his execution he would be led from this place and in the open, at least for awhile. There, his men could gain access to him and uncover an opportunity to set him free, or so he explained to Will. As he said to Will, "You must remain flexible and see which opportunity presents itself first." To that, Will agreed.
On impulse Robin leaped to his feet and ran up the short flight of stairs. He pressed his face to the open hole in his door and at the top of his lungs called out Alan's name. He repeated it until the gaoler and a sentry came running with a club. Robin barely pulled his face back in time before the club slammed its unsmooth head into the door where his face had been moments before.
"SILENCE IN THERE! OR THIS CLUB WILL FIND YOUR HEAD!"
"Where is Alan of the Dale?!" demanded Robin, backing away from the door and down the stairs. "He does not answer me at all!"
The gaoler laughed. "Not that it should matter to you but he has gone before the Sheriff. He is no longer in this gaol."
"What has happened to him?"
"He never came back. Just as you will never come back once Robin lowered his eyes. "It does." "Good. Then be silent or it will go far worse for you in here than it will when you are executed if you understand my meaning." The gaoler started to laugh. His guffaws became hearty. Robin listened to them as the gaoler's hearty guffaws slowly faded with his return to the gaoler's chambers. The sound of trumpets braying loud enough to penetrate his chamber's walls signaled without question that Johannes, self-proclaimed King of England, had arrived in Nottingham. ___________________________________________________________ Little about "John" impressed those around him. He was slightly built. His elongated bony cheeks and darting eyes gave one the impression of an unfed, unhealthy, untrustworthy cat than of a man who calls himself a king. His clothes were elegant enough, but seemed much too large for the man within them. This was not a man to whom one would offer his hand, not without counting fingers and rings on yours first. A body of soldiers, about 50 in number, accompanied John. Behind them came the usual array of supply carts bearing John's tent and other accoutrements. People lined the road leading to the Sheriff's desmenes. A few smiled and waved. Most merely watched the parade of men, horses and carts in silence. All of them knew how much smaller was the content of their coin sacks due to the man on a horse riding before them. They were not of a mind to welcome Lackland and made this all too clear to him with their silence. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-10-2005 @ 11:27 AM).]
Robin lowered his eyes. "It does."
"Good. Then be silent or it will go far worse for you in here than it will when you are executed if you understand my meaning." The gaoler started to laugh. His guffaws became hearty. Robin listened to them as the gaoler's hearty guffaws slowly faded with his return to the gaoler's chambers.
The sound of trumpets braying loud enough to penetrate his chamber's walls signaled without question that Johannes, self-proclaimed King of England, had arrived in Nottingham.
Little about "John" impressed those around him. He was slightly built. His elongated bony cheeks and darting eyes gave one the impression of an unfed, unhealthy, untrustworthy cat than of a man who calls himself a king. His clothes were elegant enough, but seemed much too large for the man within them. This was not a man to whom one would offer his hand, not without counting fingers and rings on yours first.
A body of soldiers, about 50 in number, accompanied John. Behind them came the usual array of supply carts bearing John's tent and other accoutrements. People lined the road leading to the Sheriff's desmenes. A few smiled and waved. Most merely watched the parade of men, horses and carts in silence. All of them knew how much smaller was the content of their coin sacks due to the man on a horse riding before them. They were not of a mind to welcome Lackland and made this all too clear to him with their silence.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 05-10-2005 @ 11:27 AM).]
24 / 32
The Sheriff of Nottingham's residence was a plain stone structure immediately abutting the gaol. Sparsely furnished and otherwise appointed, it offered itself in stark contrast to the more brightly decorated manners of Norman nobility. On the other hand, it was the largest and most secure structure in Nottingham, and this was John's primary concern. He could put up with modest accomodations if there was no other choice, only as long as he could have little fear of waking up in the middle of the night to a knife at his throat. Besides, he was here to observe the hanging of that despicable bandit of Sherwood. Anything else was a mere diversion. And that applied to the Sheriff's wedding to the Sherwood wench. John would tolerate the proceedings if only because it was a necessary prelude to the banquet he would be attending.
"So he is still safely in gaol you say?" queried John, tapping the back of his hand to his mouth to stifle a late afternoon yawn.
"Yes, your Majesty," confirmed the Sheriff.
"Hasn't faded into the wall and disappeared as reported he does with the trees in the forest?"
"No, your Majesty."
"You have checked recently?"
"Yes, your Majesty. He was there when we last checked today."
John yawned without covering up his mouth. "I shall rest well then. Even better when I see him dangling from a gallows."
"That shall be our entertainment on the morrow, your Majesty, after the wedding."
"Sheriff, you have an odd sense of what should be entertainment during a wedding feast. Inventive, but odd." John was impressed with the man's morbidity. Someone he could use extensively in coming months, he concluded, once the bandit is dead. "And has our illustrious ally been amply rewarded?"
"Most assuredly, my Liege. I cannot expect such help unless I keep my word on a promised reward. I thank you for the grant of land for transfer, your Majesty."
John nodded, something of a devious grin materializing very briefly and then disappearing. No effort required to give a reward one will recover soon enough. Call me Lackland will they. He would get it back one way or another: taxes, treason, it didn't matter. Once land became John's, it always shall be John's. "Well earned, Sheriff, by our ally."
"In fact, your Majesty, if you please, you will meet our ally at the wedding ceremony and banquet. I have arranged for him to attend in a place of honor, beneath your's of course."
"Of course. I shall look forward to it. See that I'm not disappointed on the morrow."
"My word and life on it, your Majesty," reassured the Sheriff, offering a deep bow for emphasis.
"Yes, your life on it." John turned to a servant standing wide-eyed near steps leading up to John's designated chambers. "Guide me to my quarters," he ordered. The servant did as he was instructed, then he ran off to tell Will and John Little what he had just learned.
25 / 32
A few days' later, there was no joy in Marian's chamber as she was being dressed in her wedding gown by sad-faced servants, most of whom had no fondness for the Sheriff and great sympathy for the doomed bride.
Marian was not the only woman in the Sheriff's abode who knew the man's penchant for cruelty and exploitation. "That or the gaol" they each heard him say, the more comely among them hearing it more than once. With eyes unwilling to look into Marian's too directly, the servants eventually led her out of her chamber and to an antechamber of the Hall in which both the ceremony and the banquet would be held.
A trumpet sounded and she was directed by a servant to enter the Hall, with a more gaily dressed servant following behind her and holding her gown's train. Simple it was, but not the simple wedding in Sherwood that Marian had wanted or once anticipated.
Waiting before her at a makeshift altar was the short, rotund priest and her soon-to-be husband, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Beyond them on a high-backed chair resting on a dais was John, self-proclaimed King of England. Marian averted her eyes to ensure the contents of her stomach remained somewhat in place, though the muscles of it were knotted in multiple places.
Now standing at the Sheriff's side, she made sure her intentions were clear. "Marry me if you must, but I shall not be a wife to you," Marian whispered tensely through unsmiling lips.
The expression on the Sheriff's face remained stoic, but his response was viciously whispered. "Be the wife I expect and demand or your precious Robin will die the moment you are not." The Sheriff nodded to someone near another antechamber. He made sure Marian noticed and that her eyes followed his voice to the now open door. Her sharp intake of breath confirmed that Marian could clearly see that the man brought through the door, his hands bound behind him, was Robin, an armed guard with sword drawn at either side. The entire Hall became totally silent.
John's high-pitched voice broke the silence. "Come now priest, please proceed with the vows. We have much to celebrate here today and it shall begin with your joining of these two... lovers." John's lip twitched as he struggled to constrain the irony in his own words and voice. "Then to the entertainment."
The priest, his face hidden by the seemingly oversized, elaborately stitched hooded altar garment, nodded his understanding. "All ye present," he began. "We have gathered this day in this place to bear witness to the exchange of vows between this man and this woman, who have committed to becoming husband and wife in the eyes of God."
"I have not," whispered Marian. The priest paused to stare at Marian, his voice seemingly familiar, but his face too hidden to be seen.
"Rest assured, Lady Marian, God knows your condition, as do others," said the priest. Marian blinked. What could he mean by that?
"Get on with it, priest. The King is impatient," growled the Sheriff.
"Not just the King," observed the priest. "Milady, place your hand in his." Revolted, but seeing no other option, Marian complied. "Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband..."
The words drifted by Marian as if they were clouds floating overhead in a patchy blue sky. Some thought she looked at the Sheriff as she responded. Others, closer to the couple, noted that Marian's eyes were more radically angled, their dark pupils seemingly centered on the man before the antechamber standing there with bound hands, muscles on his face tight with anger. Her words in response to the priest's entreaties seemed directed afar and not to the man holding her hand.
"...by the authority vested in me," a major pause interrupted this flow of words. The priest raised his head to give Marian and Marian alone a clear view of his face. Marian's eyes opened wide. Her mind flooded with conflicting thoughts: first recognition, then shock and finally understanding. Lowering his head, the priest continued, "I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Marian turned her face and permitted what followed by imagining it to be the lips of another. When the Sheriff finished and polite applause rang out, she looked him straight in the eyes with more confidence than before, "That will be your last." The Sheriff blinked, then snorted derisively, "The next will be one you never forget."
Marian did not break off her stare. "Perhaps you are more right than you know." For once, the Sheriff had no response. What could she mean? He decided then and there to go forward with his plan sooner rather than later. No chances would be taken. The Sheriff turned meaningfully and raised his hand to signal that silence should prevail among the myriad familiar and unfamiliar guests in the Hall.
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