Terrouge E-zine Archives
"Robin Hood II: The Prince of Sherwood" - Chapter 15
Bettina and Robin arrived at the castle gate shortly before sunrise, just as they had two days earlier. The guards greeted the reappearance of Simon with derisive sniggers, remembering the dimwitted otter's previous visit and always quick to denigrate those less fortunate than themselves. Robin wheeled before him the borrowed cart, lined with a blanket upon which sat the jug. One of the guards stopped them, pointing toward the unmarked vessel. "Hey, there, what's that?"
"Just some spices Miss Florence requested us t' bring fer a special recipe she's aiming to treat the king to tonight," Bettina replied. "Or wouldja have His Majesty denied a dinner worthy fer England's ruler?"
"Uh... no, no. Be along with you, then!" With no small amount of bad grace, the guards ushered the two otters on into the castle courtyard, never suspecting that one of them wasn't an otter at all ... or that a sword, longbow and quiver of arrows lay in the bed of the barrow, hidden beneath the blanket.
When Little John and Friar Tuck awoke to find Robin gone, neither of them gave it any undue attention at first, assuming he'd left for another of his routine morning runs through the nearby woods. If he'd stayed up all night, it made sense that he might get in a quick jog to tire himself out so he could more easily sleep away the first half of the day. So they turned to the task of preparing a breakfast for themselves, making sure to fix enough for Robin if he returned with an appetite.
But the archer fox did not return during the morning meal, or during the cleanup that followed. With the first pangs of concern making themselves felt in his ample gut, Little John decided to look into the matter further. It only took him a very short while of searching around the glade to decide that he didn't like what he was finding.
"That otter get-up of his isn't here," he told Tuck. "Neither are his sword, arrows or bow, for that matter. He usually takes his weapons with him on his jogs in case he runs into any of the Sheriff's guards, but he'd have no reason to take a disguise with him too."
Friar Tuck, meanwhile, had uncovered worries of his own over by the small cauldron where Robin had brewed his sleeping tonic. Having gone through any number of vessels, uncorking and uncapping them to sniff at their contents, he looked up at the furrow-browed bear to announce, "That potion Robin prepared has been poured out of its pot, but it's not here in any of these casks or bottles that I can find! It's just plain gone!"
"I should have known it," Little John said, as much to himself as the badger cleric. "It didn't make sense that Rob would suddenly become so interested in herbalism out of the blue like that, unless he was planning to do something with it right away. He took his weapons, his disguise, and that sleepy stuff with him, and he could have snuck away at any time during the night after we nodded off. He could be all the way to Nottingham by now - and there's no telling what mischief he could cause with what he's got with him."
Florence was more surprised to see Robin back at the castle than Bettina had been to find the disguised fox at her door earlier that morning. The otter laundress had told her squirrel friend all about Robin's overwhelming urge to assault King John during their providential meeting in the kitchens, and based on that, Florence didn't think she'd be seeing the outlaw around the castle again anytime soon.
Impressing upon her the importance of going somewhere they could talk freely, without divulging the nature of their mission, Robin and Bettina convinced Florence to excuse herself from her breakfast preparation duties so she could escort them to her small private chamber. Robin brought along his sword, bow and quiver, all still wrapped in the blanket to hide the weaponry. The jug of narcotic potion he left behind in the kitchens, stashed in a corner cupboard where Florence had assured him none of the other staff would touch it.
Once they were safely ensconced in the squirrel cook's bedchamber with the door locked, Robin wasted no time in explaining his purpose to Florence. Her eyes went wide at this revelation, and left her momentarily speechless as Robin knelt to slide his bundled weaponry under her bed. Standing once more, he looked his trusted old cook in the eye. "Can I count on your help with this, Flo?"
"Robin, sir, you don't know what you're asking!"
The fox's hard gaze stabbed straight through his otter mask and make-up. "I know exactly what I'm asking, Flo."
"But, the Earl's been so good to me over the years! To help you do this would betray every kindness he's ever shown me!"
"I won't try to mislead you, Flo - if you do as I ask, you and Bettina will become outlaws every bit as much as I am now. You'll have no choice but to flee to Sherwood Forest and live the rest of your lives there, hiding from retribution. No more palace life, and no more of the freedoms that a law-abiding citizen of England takes for granted. As for the Earl, I'm sorry this has to happen under his roof, but I have no choice."
Florence studied her former employer for many long moments. "You're going to do this no matter what I decide, aren't you?"
Robin merely nodded, but that simple motion held the resolve of granite.
"Then... yes, I will help you. Not because it is the right thing to do, but out of loyalty to you, and to the memory of Marian, who deserved so much better than she got. You do realize, don't you, that if you go through with this, then by this time tomorrow England will be without a king?"
"Mebbe havin' no king t'all would be better than what we got now," Bettina said. "Besides, seems there's never any shortage o' royal successors lined up t' take over when one of 'em dies off. England won't be without a king or queen fer long, you can mark my words!"
"Oh, for the fair days of Eleanor of Aquitaine!" Florence lamented. "Very well. If I am going to help you, let's make sure we do it right. Robin, the guards these days stand watch in two rotations, one day and one night. The only way you'll knock them all out with that potion of yours is if you do it during the changing of the guard this evening. For half of them it will be dinner, and for the other half it'll be breakfast, but they'll all be eating at around the same time, so we should be able to pull it off. I... I think I can come up with a recipe that will mask the taste of the herbs you used. The Earl and the other nobles will be laid low by this too, but we'll need to prepare something special for King John. He's been using tasters lately, and if he sees the one testing his food for him go down in a swoon, that will warn him that something's afoot."
"It may not matter," said Robin. "If we can knock out enough of his guards and the castle staff by then, he won't have anyone to come to his aid. That's all I'm really looking for."
"Still, it's best not to take that chance. The king heaped such praise upon the dish I made the last time you were here, I can cook up a special serving of that again just for him, without raising any awkward questions. We'll give him and his taster a meal without any of the potion in it, so that we won't tip our hand before we're ready. Maybe I can even make up enough for the Earl and the other nobles. It's the guards and soldiers we want out of the way. The rest don't really matter... "
Robin grinned through his otter facade. "Now we're using our heads! See, I knew there was a reason I wanted you in on this, Flo!"
The squirrel wasn't so quick to share in his forced amusement. "Let's see if we can get out of this with our heads still attached to our shoulders, and I'll be happy with that."