Terrouge E-zine Archives
"Robin Hood II: The Prince of Sherwood" - Chapter 20
King John stomped along as if he hated the very ground, each sandaled paw smacking against stone and carpet with an angry thwap!
This was to be his final exit from Castle Nottingham. The Earl's best available carriage waited at the end of the drawbridge, ready to bear the humiliated monarch back to London for his long overdue coronation. A long red carpet had been rolled out, running from the carriage footstool across the span over the moat and into the courtyard. Various nobles and members of the Earl's court lined that red route, ostensibly to see him off in the honor he deserved. But now, as he paced off those accursed steps, his fists clenched and unclenched at his side while his teeth ground together, and his sleepless, bloodshot eyes stared straight ahead, not seeing any of his well-wishers, sincere or otherwise. As for the assembled nobility and staff themselves, nearly every one looked on in nervous apprehension, not sure exactly what this turn of events portended. Those who'd legitimately supported their new king were losing their immediate access to their benefactor, while those more leery of the mercurial ruler were secretly happy to have him out of their day-to-day lives. But the degree of loyalty they held in their individual breasts bore no bearing on the gossip they'd engaged in over the past day and a half...
"They say Robin Hood crawled straight up the side of the high tower into his bedroom, and tortured His Highness for hours... "
"I heard he shot a rope on an arrow right into the royal bedchamber from clear beyond the outer wall, then climbed in... "
"Some say that outlaw's got a magic powder that makes him invisible... "
"Puttin' the whole castle to sleep like that - who'd have imagined?"
"Well, when you can move like a ghost without makin' a sound, who even needs sleeping potions?"
"That fox can walk through walls! There's not a locked door that can keep him out!"
"You know, he can change his appearance just by thinking it! I've seen him do it too!"
"Well, I think he can hypnotize others, just like that Sir Hiss! Makes 'em think and do and say things they'd never do otherwise... "
"If you ask me, Robin Hood was never in the castle at all! That lion dreamed the whole thing, and battered himself in his sleep. He's... unhinged!
Such suppositions flew like dried leaves in an autumn windstorm, and if King John never directly caught anyone speaking such words on the fringes of his presence, the mood in the castle was nevertheless palpable ... and that mood stated unequivocally that Robin Hood had, in some way or another, bested the king in his own stronghold.
The situation was intolerable. There had been a time, back when John had first sat upon the throne during King Richard's absence, when the younger brother had never so much as heard of Sherwood Forest or Robin Hood, and now he longed for nothing more than a retreat into that blissful ignorance, to have this ignominious chapter of his life stricken from both his memories and from history. That would be impossible, of course, so he would do the next best thing: go someplace where all of this would not matter quite so much. London was the capital of England, and it was entirely possible that word of the bandit fox's exploits had not even reached that city. Even if it had, he would surely not be revered as any kind of folk hero there as he was in Nottingham. Just some rural curiosity, far removed from the true halls of power, insignificant and inconsequential in the grander scheme of things. King John had an entire country to rule, whereas Robin Hood only had... had...
He had gotten King John's goat, that's what he'd done. There was no way to pretend none of this had ever happened. Even if the royal court in London could overlook or remain ignorant of these events, they would remain with the king his every waking hour, gnawing at his self-assurance and rankling his elusive peace of mind. John could run away, but he would never be able to fully escape the outlaw who would ridicule and torment him to his dying day.
And so King John seethed as he walked out of Castle Nottingham for the last time, paying no heed to those lining the carpet on either side of him. At least, that was the case until he reached the main gate just before the drawbridge, and found himself facing the Sheriff.
"Um, er... have a nice trip, Yer Majesty!"
John leaned forward until he and the wolf were practically nose to nose. "Upon my return to London, Sheriff, you have one week to send me word that Robin Hood's head is hanging on a pike outside this castle. If I do not receive such confirmation within that time, then it will be your head on a pike outside this castle! Do I make myself clear?"
The Sheriff pawed nervously at his throat, rather unenamored of the notion of having his neck severed in any unnatural manner. "Uh, erm, I'll do my best, Yer Highness!"
"If what you've shown me so far is indicative of your best, Sheriff, then I would say you have a sure date with the chopping block. Get me Robin Hood!" Not waiting for another flustered reply, John stomped across the drawbridge and climbed into his carriage.
Sir Hiss, himself more than happy to be leaving Nottingham after yet another run-in with Robin Hood which had left the fox with the upper paw, awaited his king in the vehicle, coiled upon his favored silken cushion. He held his forked tongue as the monarch threw himself into his own seat, slamming the side door with such force that the entire carriage rocked on its wheels. "Driver! To London, at once!"
"Right away, Your Majesty!"
John settled back into his seat, still glowering at the world. Hiss chanced a few words. "Ssire, you aren't really going to have the Sheriff killed, are you?"
"I suppose not," the sovereign sighed in resignation. "He is a blithering idiot, but he's also loyal, and that must count for something. After the events of two nights ago, I don't know if the same can be said for most of the Earl's household. It could be that Robin Hood's supporters and sympathizers there outnumber those loyal to the crown. The Earl would never admit such a thing, and he'd protect his staff before he'd ferret out any such accomplices in these crimes. It's a miracle I'm still alive, dwelling for so long in that nest of treacherous vipers... "
Hiss shook off any offense he might have taken at the serpentine epithet. "But, you are the king! The Earl musst put things right if you command him to!"
John stared out the window at the passing scenery. "My place is in London now. A king must not lower himself to do the work of his inferiors and servants. It is not up to me to put things right here. I have greater responsibilities now."
"Do you really trusst the Sheriff to do the job?"
"Of course not. Don't be ridiculous. The Sheriff has already proven time and again that he is no match for Robin Hood. So we will just have to find someone who is. Perhaps London will provide us with some suitable candidates for the task. We shall see... "
When word of King John's departure reached the outlaws' lair deep in Sherwood, the mood become ebullient. Alan-a-Dale, who'd had the pleasure of delivering this happy news to his friends, took up his lute and performed a rather rollicking ballad he'd composed for the occasion during his walk through the forest, an upbeat lampoon of a song that spared no opportunity to skewer the weak ruler for his innumerable faults. Little John, always quick with words, added several impromptu verses on the spot - when he wasn't grabbing Bettina for some footloose free-for-all dancing around the glade. Robin and Tuck stood back, clapping their paws and stamping in time to the music and laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. It was like a scene from the good old carefree days, before any tragedy had reached in to darken their lives and sadden their hearts. For this one night, at least, they could be cheered by their victory in chasing the tyrant back to London and unabashedly enjoy each other's spirited company.
When at last they'd tired themselves out with the celebrating, they settled down to sleep away what was left of the night. And, for the first time since returning to the life of an outlaw, Robin dreamed...
He stood in the moonlight by the banks of the clear pond near their camp. Like the earlier waking revelries, this felt like a familiar scene from a previous life, a moment he'd lived before... except that someone very important was missing.
Except that she wasn't.
Marian walked slowly toward him, as beautiful as she had ever been in life. In this dream, Robin's heart caught, torn between unbridled joy and unbearable loss. As she stopped mere paces from him, gazing up into his eyes with the same adoration she'd shown in her final moments of life, she uttered words that cut through the hazy mist of his imagination to bring his attention into sharp focus.
"This isn't a dream, you know. I don't have much time."
"Oh, Marian... " And then they were each other's arms, holding on as if neither would ever let go. "Marian, I have missed you so much... "
"I am here. I will be with you, always. Robin, do you remember my last words to you?"
He closed his eyes and nodded. "Be happy," he said into her shoulder.
"You must, Robin. For your own sake, certainly, but also for mine, and for all who care about you."
"It's so hard sometimes."
"Of course it is. But your are surrounded by friends loyal and true. Let them be your strength, Robin. Cherish them as they cherish you. Take their help when you need it, and give them yours whenever you can. Follow this counsel, and you will find the happiness I wished for you with my last mortal breath. You and I will be reunited some day, and I will wait here for you for as long as it takes. Until that day, I would not see you unhappy for even one moment that you do not need to be. Live happily, Robin - like the good soul and true spirit I so gladly gave my heart to all those years ago."
She pulled away from him, until only their paws were touching. "I must go now... "
"No," he groaned. "Not yet."
"I have already stayed too long. But before I go, Robin, there is something vitally important I must tell you. Something you must remember upon awakening."
"What is it?"
"King John and the Sheriff will never be able to capture or kill you - you are too smart for them. But Sir Guy could succeed where they have failed."
"Beware of Gisbourne, Robin! Of all creatures alive, he is the one who may hold your doom, and send you to me years before we were meant to be together again."
Her paws came out of his, although he could not have said how that came to be, and then she no longer stood before him, although he could not remember how he had come to be alone there by the water's edge. He sat down on the damp bank, and the sudden intrusion of sharp smells and moist ground against his tail and haunches made him realize he was fully awake. Somehow, the vision he'd just experienced had blurred the line between the two worlds.
Little John ambled over to him, an expression of curious concern on his face. "Hey, Rob. Been sleepwalking?"
"In a manner of speaking, I suppose... "
"No. Nothing at all. Marian just visited me... spoke with me."
"Oh?" The big bear settled himself down on the soggy ground alongside his oldest friend, heedless of his fur or clothes.
"It wasn't a dream, either. It was really her."
"And what did she have to say?"
"She said... " A wistful smile lit Robin's face, and he reached out to place a paw on Little John's back. "She said everything is going to be all right."
"Now that sounds like good old sensible Marian. I always knew there was a reason I liked that lass."
For many long moments, the two companions sat in peaceful silence, staring into the calm spring night. Then Robin looked to Little John, his brow furrowed in concentration. There was something he was supposed to remember...
"Does the name... Guy of Gisbourne mean anything to you?"
"Hmmm. Nope, not ringing any bells. Should it?"
Robin returned his gaze to the placid pond. "It's probably not important," he said with a casual shrug, although the intent glimmer in his eye said it probably was.