Terrouge E-zine Archives
"Robin Hood II: The Prince of Sherwood" - Chapter 18
When Robin had made it to within a story or so of the lawns, he simply gave up his painstaking inch-by-inch downward climb and pushed off from the stone wall, landing nimbly on the soft spring grass. His paws - all four of them - were raw from the effort, but he ignored that minor discomfort to focus on more pressing concerns. Somehow he had made it out of this confrontation alive, and he wanted to try to keep it that way. He wasn't sure how he felt about the fact that King John also still lived, but he would sort that out in his mind after he'd addressed the matter of his immediate survival.
No guards seemed to be about, so Robin rushed to the bushes to retrieve his bow and quiver, then made for the small wall gate adjacent to this part of the castle grounds. Unfortunately, he found it solidly locked upon reaching it. Marian and Skippy had both told him the story of how, two years earlier, the rabbit and some of his playmates had stolen through the iron bars to retrieve a wayward toy arrow, but those gaps that would allow a young child to pass between them would do Robin no good now. Grimacing in the dark, he turned and raced off for the kitchens. There was still a chance he might need his Simon disguise to get out of here after all, and he wanted to have it with him just in case.
He made it to the kitchens without running into anyone else. The door stood cracked, a narrow wedge of light from within spilling out into the courtyard. As he approached, the door was thrown wide, and he saw Bettina framed by the lamplight, beckoning him inside. He needed no second bidding, and sprinted through the open portal, which his otter friend promptly shut behind him.
Once inside, an unexpected and unsettling sight greeted him. Florence lay upon the sawdust-coated stone floor, seemingly unconscious. "What happened to Flo?" Robin asked in alarm.
"She decided to swig a few sips of your sleep potion that were left over from making the casserole," Bettina explained.
"Why on earth did she do that?"
"Whyever do you think? To make it look like she t'weren't in on the plot. When she's discovered here, it'll look like she was laid low by the same mischief that put out ev'ryone else. She's hoping she'll be able t' direct suspicion away from herself an' remain here as part of the Earl's staff."
"That's too risky. You both should have fled right away, as I told you to. King John and the Sheriff will be suspicious of everyone who had anything to do with preparing tonight's meal."
"King John? He... lives still?"
Robin nodded, re-wrapping his weapons in their concealing blanket. "And my guess is he'll soon have any guard who's still awake scouring this castle from top to bottom looking for me. I've got to get out of here right away - and you're coming with me!" He looked to Florence. "I wish I could bring her too, but she's rather taken that decision out of my hands. We'll be lucky to make it out of here ourselves. Carrying an unconscious squirrel with us would pretty much quash our chances to zero. Um, where's my disguise?"
Bettina pointed over her shoulder. "I stashed it in that cupboard over there. Didn't know if'n you'd need it again."
"If the guards get themselves organized, I'll never get out of this castle as Robin Hood. But as Simon, and with you at my side, our chances will be much, much better."
Robin hastily re-applied his costume, starting with the false rudder, then pulling on the pants and coat and slipping on the fake webbed feet. He had to keep his fingers unencumbered to apply the otter snout and cowl, so he saved the gloves for last. Barely had he finished with this task, however, than King John burst into the kitchen, sword still in his grasp. Visible welts were already rising through his fur in several places, and at least two red hairline streaks showed where Robin's blade had not quite landed flat-on. He was alone; if any guards remained awake within the castle itself, he apparently had not attracted their attention. Robin quickly put his arms behind his back to hide his red-furred, unwebbed paws and adopted the innocent, scatterbrained expression he'd long perfected for the character of Simon.
The lion stopped and stood glaring at the two otters. "What are you two doing here? Explain yourselves!"
Bettina went into her act, with theatrical gestures and exaggerated expressions. "Yer Majesty, there's some evil magic goin' on that's makin' ev'ry one o' us fall unner its spell! Just lookit poor Flo 'ere! Only a few o' us ain't succumbed - a few o' th' staff, a couple o' th' guards... "
"Guards, you say? Where? Where are they?"
"Um... they said they was goin' 'round to th' grounds outside yer window, Sire."
A maniacal grin lit the tyrant's face. "Yes! Maybe they got there in time! Maybe they were able to catch him before he could escape!" Giving not a second thought to the two lowly staffers standing bewildered and lost in the kitchens, John rushed out through the same door that Robin had used to enter a short time before.
"That was close!" Bettina exhaled.
"I'll say. Quick thinking on your part, Tina - I'd say you're going to fit right into my merry band. Good thing I'd gotten my sword and bow and quiver wrapped before he charged in here - that might have given things away, even with my disguise." Robin pulled on the web-fingered gloves, the finishing touch to his metamorphosis, and grabbed up his bundled weapons. "Now let's see if we need to act our way out of here, or if the sentries who are still awake had the courtesy to leave the main gate unguarded for us!"
Only a single solitary sentry patrolled the walltop above the main gate. If he wondered where any of his missing comrades were this night, he didn't show it. And if he'd heard King John's tortured screams through the high tower window a few minutes earlier as Robin doled out the corrupt ruler's punishment, he did not seem concerned.
But even a lone guard was one guard more than Robin had hoped to encounter. And on top of that, the drawbridge had been raised for the night, and would need to be lowered before Robin and Bettina could leave the premises. The raised bridge might have worked in their favor overall - with that security measure in place, the few remaining conscious soldiers would be less likely to worry or wonder about a lack of sentries to guard that entrance - but now it was a definite impediment to the outlaws' escape. With no rope or ladder to help them scale the high walls, Robin knew they were left with no choice but to convince the sentry here to lower the drawbridge for them. It was time to perform again.
Thinking quickly, Robin whispered into Tina's ear the strategy they would adopt, then stood back and lapsed into simpleton mode again to let his female companion do all the talking.
The pair stopped at the base of the gate, attracting the attention of the lookout above. "Hey, there," he called down to them, "'oo goes there?"
"It's Bettina th' laundress, an' me brother Simon! We need th' bridge lowered so's we c'n leave!"
"Why ya leavin' so late? It's past midnight!"
"Hadta make a special meal fer th' king," Tina replied. "Took extra time cleanin' up all th' dishes!"
The guard seemed to mull this over for a few moments, then strode over to the stone wallsteps and descended to the courtyard. Giving the otter duo a once-over, he said, "Did I hear a commotion goin' on a little bit ago? What was that all about?"
"Just th' king havin' a nightmare," Bettina answered. "He seemed t' think Robin Hood had gotten inta th' castle an' thrashed 'im to within an inch o' his life."
Robin shot Tina a warning glance at such an audacious half-truth, but it turned out she knew the temperament of Castle Nottingham these days better than he gave her credit for. The guard sniggered, "Yeah, he been havin' that one a lot! Um, wotcha got in that there bundle? Ain't makin' off with royal treasure, are ya?"
"Do ye think we'd be walking straight out th' main gate if'n we were thieves?" Bettina chastised, taking Robin's weapons from him and unrolling the blanket to reveal its contents. "Just a few things we're takin' to town fer fixin' at th' Earl's request. We got a sword fer sharpenin', a bow fer restringin' and a quiver o' arrows fer refletchin'. Make an inventory of 'em if'n you want, but don't take too long about it - th' Earl wants 'em back by tomorrow morn. We're gonna have t' rouse th' tinker outta his sleep even as it is."
"Hmm. You got a requersition fer signin' alla this out?"
"No, I don't. An' I ain't goin' back inside t' wake th' Earl fer one now. If'n it's a problem, I'll just leave these here with you, an' you can tell the Earl yerself why his errands weren't run like 'ee wanted."
The guard rubbed his chin, stuck on the horns of this dilemma. At length he relented. "Okay, okay... one sword, one bow an' a buncha arrows - I guess I c'n remember that. Not like it's anything all that valuable. Lemme get that bridge fer you... then you best be off quicklike, an' take that idiot brother with you!"
"Thank you, sir." The two stood by while the sentry went to the winch and lowered the drawbridge, grumbling all the while about how hard it was for just one set of paws to manage such a task. "Simon, don't just stand there like a dolt!" Bettina chastised her "brother." "Go help him!"
"Oh, ah, um... sure, sure, sure!" Ducking his head, Robin jogged over to the winch and lent his assistance to the task, greatly speeding things up. The unknowing guard remained blissfully unaware of the irony that England's most wanted outlaw was helping the sentry help him escape from right under the king's nose.
The drawbridge hit the lip of ground on the other side of the moat with a dull thud. The guard said to Robin/Simon, "Wish you were gonna be here to help raise 'er again, 'cos I sure don't look forward t' doin' it on my own. You 'appen to know where all the other guards who're s'posed to be out 'ere've got to?"
Robin gave a vacant shrug. "A-nope, nope nope nope!"
"Aw, be off wit' ye, ya addlebrained moron!"
"Okie dokies!" Robin scampered back to Bettina, taking the bundled weapons from her as they crossed the drawbridge together. Within moments they were across the span and disappearing into the streets of Nottinghamshire.
And a few moments after that, the lowly guard got the surprise of his life when no lesser a personage than King John himself came thundering across the courtyard, jabbering almost incoherently and waving his sword about.
"What is that drawbridge doing open?! Has anyone left the castle just now?"
For several heartbeats the guard could only stare at the monarch's battered and bruised appearance, evident even out here in the moonlight. "Um, er... just that otter laundress an' her stupid brother, Yer Majesty!"
John stared at the guard, his mental gears working to keep up with the events of this night. An otter brother and sister? That would be the pair he just saw in the kitchens mere minutes earlier, the ones who'd sent him on a wild goose chase all the way around to the other side of the castle. But, why would they have sought escape at this hour, in the midst of a crisis? Unless...
"Did they have anything with them? Like a cart that could have hidden someone?"
"Um, no, Yer Highness. All they had were some weapons the Earl wanted fixed in th' village... "
"Weapons?" John's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What kind of weapons?"
"Um, lessee... there t'were a sword, a longbow, an' a quiver of arrows... "
John's jaw worked wordlessly as he digested this news, staring through the open gate and across the lowered drawbridge into the dark collection of cottages and shops. "No... No, it can't be... it can't be... "
"Do you want me t' go after 'em, Sire?"
By way of reply, John shook his clenched fists over his head and let out a roar of fury that could be heard halfway across Nottingham.