Terrouge E-zine Archives
"Robin Hood II: The Prince of Sherwood" - Chapter 14
Robin slept straight through to the early afternoon, and woke to the news that Alan-a-Dale had departed for Nottingham to do some more minstrelling and, of course, to more thoroughly spy out the situation there. As the only one of their present quartet who could move freely without raising any suspicions, he wanted to pull his weight with gathering any information from the townsfolk that might be useful.
After helping himself to a leftover bowl of vegetable stew, Robin excused himself from Little John and Tuck's company and wandered off into the woods. His two friends assumed it was for another of his exerting runs, until they saw that he was taking a large bushel with him.
"Going foraging, Rob?" the bear inquired casually.
"Something like that," he replied with a breezy air.
"Want some help?"
"No, thanks. I'd rather be alone with my thoughts, if it's all the same."
"Sure. We'll see you when you get back."
Little John and Friar Tuck saw him off without further comment. Robin seemed more introspective than morose or disturbed, and it was impossible to tell just how forced his lighthearted manner and smile may have been. But he clearly wanted some solitary time, and neither was about to intrude on that.
It was nearly sundown when Robin returned, the late afternoon sun's rays slanting through the trees like a thousand natural spotlights. His collecting basket was full to the brim, and his two campmates gathered around it to see what might be finding its way into the dinner pot.
An expression of puzzlement quickly crossed Little John's face as he rummaged through the bushel's contents. "Hey, none of these are edible herbs or vegetables - "
"More like medicinal roots and leaves," the Friar put in.
Robin nodded. "Marian was the medical miracle worker of our household. A regular healer vixen, she could be at times. And I'd like to think I picked up a thing or three from her in this regard during two years of marriage. Figured I'd try my skill at one or two of her recipes."
Little John wrinkled his nose at this thought. "No offense, but if your results turn out like most medicines I've had run-ins with over the years, I'll pass. I'd rather suffer through an upset stomach or a head cold on my own than have to drink down those foul potions."
Friar Tuck nudged his oversized friend in the belly. "I always thought ale and mead were your choices of tonic, sick or well!"
"Heh heh. So true, Friar, so true. And look at where it's gotten me!"
"When you two are through being the comic relief around here," Robin said with an entertained smile, "why don't you get a start on dinner while I get my own witch's brew brewing. After how late I slept, I'll be working on it well into the night, and I'll want to be well fortified for the effort."
And so, as Tuck and Little John planned the evening's menu and whipped up a true pot luck supper, Robin retreated to one edge of the camp with his own small cauldron simmering over a separate modest cookfire, sorting through his day's harvest from the wilds of Sherwood Forest. With dinner well along, the other two took a few moments away from their labors to check in on what Robin was doing.
Now that all the herbs and roots were laid out and more easily identifiable, Friar Tuck - who knew a thing or two himself about such matters - raised an eyebrow in surprise. "A sleeping potion, Robin?"
The archer fox nodded as he stirred the simmering concoction. "If I'm doing this right, yes."
"I didn't think you were having any trouble sleeping, Rob," Little John commented.
"Well, just between we three and the trees, I wasn't planning on it being for any of us. I figured a sleeping potion might come in quite handy in any number of circumstances."
"I suppose it would!" Tuck agreed. "But, um, it looks to me like you're cooking up enough to put all of Nottingham asleep!"
"Oh, I thought I'd make up a big batch that'd last us awhile. There's no telling what wonderful uses we might be able to put this to!"
"I'm not so sure about that," said Tuck. "Such mixtures don't always store well. They can lose their potency if they're not used fairly quickly. "
Robin gave a shrug. "Nothing lost, then. Everything we need to make more can be found in a day's stroll through nearby Sherwood. But first, let's see if it even works."
Little John gave a chuckle. "Planning to test it on anyone in particular?"
Robin gave one of his famous sly grins. "Was that an offer to volunteer?"
"Not in this lifetime, buddy." The bear turned back toward their simmering dinner. "You stick with your cooking, and I'll stick to mine!"
Robin didn't even try to sleep. It wasn't merely that he'd only been up and about since early afternoon; a sense of purpose was driving him on now, and although he didn't actively think about it, the notion lingered unbidden at the back of his mind that he may have slept his last.
After Little John and Friar Tuck turned in for the night, Robin continued to putter about with his sleeping potion, so their slumbering ears found nothing unusual in the soft sounds of his activities out by the camp's edge - certainly nothing worth waking up over. Robin used a bark funnel to pour the finished concoction into a large ceramic jug, then corked it and set it aside. Wasting no time as the hour wore on toward midnight, he quietly gathered up his otter costume, stowing it into a travel sack. Then, making sure his sword was sheathed at his waist, his quiver was full and his bow was strung, he took up the jug in one paw and the sack in the other and made for the waterfall entrance.
He stopped at the opening to the small cave, gazing back at Tuck and Little John, who lay snoring softly in the moonlight a few paces apart from each other. A sad expression came over the fox's face, and he murmured, "Farewell, my old friends."
Then he spun and made a determined bound through the cave and down the natural staircase, hopping across the stones in the stream to emerge from behind the waterfall and set off the narrow path leading into the heart of Sherwood Forest ... and all the way to Nottingham. Taking up the pilfered wheelbarrow that he'd "borrowed" from the castle, Robin tossed his weapons, costume and jug into the primitive conveyance and began pushing it along the trail, refusing to look back a second time.
Bettina was awakened earlier than usual by a soft but insistent knocking on her door. Rousing herself from her bed, she went to see who might be disturbing her rest at this ungodly hour. She was only mildly surprised to find Robin, already fully dressed in his Simon outfit, standing out in the hallway.
"Come in, come in," she urged, ushering him inside and then shutting the door so they could speak freely. Nevertheless, nervous habit made her keep her voice low, as if the Sheriff might have guards outside with their ears pressed against the walls. "Robin, what are you doing here?"
"Simple Simon is going to be making another appearance at Castle Nottingham. But first, how are things for you and Florence there? Was there any trouble yesterday over the missing flour? Or that scene in the kitchen?"
Bettina shook her head. "No, no, not at all. King John's got his mind on so many other things - namely, catching you as soon as he can so he can return to London - that one mangy and insolent otter's been all but forgot by him by now. If he even bothered mentioning that incident to the Earl at all, we've not heard about it. And as fer the flour, well, Flo was right on th' money 'bout that - neither the Earl nor Mr. Bannister seems to've caught that theft yet. But, still 'n' all, it's chancy fer you t' go back there, Robin sir. It ain't worth th' risk - not even fer another hundred pounds of whatever you're plannin' t' make off with this time."
"I'm not going there to steal anything today," Robin somberly informed her. "After coming face to face with King John the other day, I realized this will never be over for me until he and I have it out once and for all."
Bettina's eyes widened. "You can't mean ... You'll never be able to pull it off! The king is surrounded by guards at all times! He even has them stand watch outside his bedroom at night while he sleeps, an' he bars 'n' braces the door from inside. And even if you do get to him, you'll never make it out alive!"
Robin hefted the jug he carried. "I've got enough sleeping potion in here to render every soldier and guard in the castle dead to the world ... which is exactly what I plan to do. When King John and I face off, I don't mean for anyone else to come between us!"
The otter laundress started to speak, seeking to dissuade her former lord from such a rash course of action, but she could tell from the cold gleam in Robin's eyes that the fox had made up his mind and would not be swayed. If he'd already gone to the trouble of brewing so much sleeping tonic and journeying through Sherwood in the dead of night to arrive here at this hour, then this was no impetuous, spur-of-the-moment jaunt.
"Where are Little John, and Tuck and Alan?"
"I'm doing this alone." He turned an imploring gaze on her. "Or at least as alone as I can. But I won't be able to do it all by myself, not even with this disguise. Bettina, I have to ask you for a favor ... and it will be the biggest favor anyone's ever asked of you."