Terrouge E-zine Archives
Robin Hood II: The Prince of Sherwood - Chapter Forty-Two
Back at the outlaw camp, dozens of overjoyed creatures gathered around the central clearing to behold the elaborate unveiling and inventory of this most monumental haul. The ladyfolk in particular "oooed" and "aaahed" over the wealth of fine fabrics - most even richer than what Robin and Little John had recovered from Robin's old chateau - but all eyes went wide in amazement at the quantity of gold that quickly piled up upon the summer grass.
Otto the blacksmith hound plucked a single coin from the impressive pile and held it up to the light for inspection. "By all my… No wonder us peasants are so poor - the nobles and church were keeping it all to themselves!"
"Well, Robin sure gave the Archbishop a lesson in sharing today!" Little John said with a guffaw.
"Yeah," Otto agreed, gazing at the perfect gold disc in his paw, "but what're we gonna do with riches like this? Those of us who've moved out here can't eat gold, or wear it, or make shelter out of it, an' if we give it to our friends who are still living in town, Gisbourne 'n' the Sheriff'll just come along and take it right back from them again."
Robin deftly snatched the coin from Otto's grasp. "Ah, but you're thinking locally, my friend! Of course Gisbourne will be keeping a close eye on things in Nottingham. But there are other towns and villages within a day or two of Sherwood where he doesn't have eyes and ears, and they have shops of their own where this money will be just as welcome. We'll send out teams of buyers with lists of what we need, have them stick to the forest paths until they're safely beyond Gisbourne's jurisdiction, and he'll be none the wiser!"
"Leave it to Rob," Alan-a-Dale said. "He's got it all figured out!"
"Well, I'd certainly like to think so," the fox concurred, flipping the coin back to Otto. "And speaking of figuring things out, I've some long-overdue figuring to get to now. Little John, Will, Alan, Tuck, would you please join me over on our conference hillock? Tina, Kluck, you may wish to join us too. And you as well, Skippy, since you're captain of our scouting patrols!"
"Aye, Robin sir!" The young rabbit snapped off a salute, and joined the others as they made for the meeting spot.
The simple difficulty in just getting to the encampment's meeting spot on the edge of the glade underscored the need for this council. The entire way, Robin and his selected companions had to weave and push their way among bodies, politely elbowing a path through the constant activity that always seemed to hold sway over their crowded hideout these days.
Seated upon an array of stumps and one long fallen tree trunk, the gathering got to their discussion right away, with Robin kicking it off.
"As you've all surely noticed, things around here lately are moving from crowded to ridiculous, what with all the new refugees we've had to take in. We're up to nearly a hundred now, and more are joining our band almost every day. Gisbourne's reign of terror is driving the peasantry out of Nottingham in droves, and most of them have no place to go but here. Our humble camp was never meant to accommodate these kinds of numbers, but we can only expect more. The question now is, what do we do about it?"
"We can't turn them away," Friar Tuck insisted. "We simply can't, no matter how many come seeking our help."
"I've never turned away anyone before, and I'm not about to start now," Robin reassured the friar. "But that still doesn't solve our dilemma, now does it?" From his slightly elevated vantage, he surveyed his beloved home, or at least as much of it as he could see between the bustling bodies. The camp was much changed from how he had known it in years past; all around the edges of the glade, and anywhere else room could be found, hovels had been dug out and roofed over with mud-and-fabric-draped logs. In a few places, tented shelters had been erected atop the raft-like roofs, creating a double-decker living arrangement to economize living space. And yet still there were some of their band who were forced to sleep under the stars due to lack of adequate shelters, or to double up with another family when it rained. They were barely making due as it was, and the situation was only destined to get worse. Something had to be done, and everyone knew it. They simply weren't sure what.
"There may be nothing else for it but to start building shelters outside the camp," Robin said. "This may risk giving away our position, but I'm afraid I can't see any other solution."
"We could always have the moles dig us more burrows," Little John suggested. "If some of our new extended family didn't mind living underground."
"That wouldn't be a problem at all," Skippy said. "Us rabbits don't mind it at all, and neither would a lot of the others, I'm sure."
"We'd need a lot more lamps," Will Scarlet weighed in, "and the oil for them too. Although, after that pile of gold we took in today, we could buy ten years' worth of lamp oil and have shillings to spare!"
Robin shook his head. "We've already imposed upon our mole friends for enough digging already. Besides, if we start putting burrows under the main camp, I'm worried that some day we'll find the entire glade caving in under our feet!"
"Good point," Little John agreed, not the least bit self-conscious that he might prove to be the prime culprit in such a disaster. "We sure do have a lot more feet here than we ever did before. But I really don't know if building more shelters outside the camp is such a good idea, Rob. Even if they're sunk down low, there's still a much better chance of Gisbourne stumbling across them. And if he finds them, he's almost sure to find us."
"Don't forget about us!" Skippy reminded the senior outlaws. "We can see Sir Guy and the Sheriff coming long before they get near us, and run back here to warn you!"
Robin favored Skippy with a fatherly smile of encouragement. "Yes, you've done a splendid job for us so far, you and all your brothers and sisters. But all the warning in the world doesn't do us any good if he still discovers our location, unless we're ready to give him the fight of our lives."
"It'd be that, all right an' sure enough," Kluck put in, "although, with all the new able-bodied fighters we've got nowadays, I'd not bet against us bein' able to hold our own against Gisbourne."
"We're forgetting one simple alternative," Will announced.
His cousin looked to him. "And what might that be?"
"Expand the camp. Push out its boundaries so that it's got enough room to fit us all comfortably again."
"There's just one problem with that," Robin reminded his fellow fox. "We're hemmed in on all sides by natural boundaries."
"Well, Cuz, there're natural boundaries, and then there are natural boundaries." Will picked up a stick from the ground and began tracing in the dirt while the others leaned toward him to see what he was drawing. "You see, we've got the wide stream protecting our west borders - Gisbourne would need a small flotilla of boats to launch an attack against us that way, even if he knew about our camp here - and the south border is likewise protected by the low cliff and the waterfall. Now, there's no way we can move a stream or a cliff or a waterfall, but look here on our north and east borders… " Will scratched out an arc of curlicues to complete the crude portrait of their home. "The only thing there hiding us away from the rest of Sherwood Forest is the thorn hedgerows. And those we can move!"
"Move the thorn hedges?" Little John repeated, trying on the idea for size.
"That's plain daft, Billy boy!" Kluck declared.
"Our esteemed seamstress does have a point, Will," said Robin. "Those hedges have been around a lot longer than any of us have. They're twice the height of the tallest outlaw among us, thick as a small cottage, dense enough to totally shield us from outside eyes, and absolutely treacherous with thorns. Or are you forgetting that time you were fooling around and fell into them? While we were getting you out of that thicket, you lost enough blood to dye another entire outfit of yours red!"
"And me and Rob donated more than a few drops of our own during our rescue of you," Little John added.
"No need to remind me of that youthful indiscretion, guys. I'm older and wiser than I was then. Just as handsome, too, since thank goodness none of my scars from that incident were bad enough to show through my fur. But you're forgetting all the extra musclepower and expertise we have at our disposal these days. What would have been an impossible job for just three or four of us in the old times should be quite manageable now. Why, I'll bet just the mole family could probably get most of the hedge moved on their own." Will wiped out the hedge drawings on his dirt diagram and redrew them farther out from the center of the camp. "Pushing them outward by just a few dozen paces all along their front will nearly double the size of our encampment. Problem solved!"
Robin sat rubbing his chin fur as he often did while pondering an outrageous notion of his own or someone else's, a not-quite-smile playing upon his lips. "That's one audacious suggestion, Will. But, as you say, it would solve our overcrowding dilemma very nicely!"
"You're not seriously considering it, Rob, are you?" Little John asked.
"Why not? It's certainly worth looking into. My biggest worry would be injuries to all the workers we'd need to pull it off."
"Well, if you're really gonna plunge ahead with this foolishness, " Kluck volunteered, "Ah might be able t' help with that. 'Tween all the heavy fabrics you stole back from your own home an' what your pilfered from the Archbishop t'day, I oughta be able to fashion some work gloves an' smocks that'll give laborers some protection from those nasty thorns."
"Wonderful, Kluck! Maybe Will's right: If we all pitch in, we might be able to get this done after all." Robin threw his glance toward the formidable thorn wall that had always concealed them so well. "Another concern we have to keep in mind is whether the hedges will survive such a major upheaval. If we disrupt their roots so badly that they don't make it through the transplanting process, they'll never bud again, and we'll lose the cover they provide us."
"Not to worry, Cuz. I already gave that some thought, and it doesn't really matter whether they're alive or not. For one thing, as you yourself pointed out, they're so thick that they'd be tough to see through, even just as bare branches. But don't forget, even now a lot of their greenery comes not from the hedges themselves but from ivy and other vines that grow through it, and we can always plant plenty more of those. We could make the thorn wall like a giant armed trellis, and decorate it any way we want!"
"Not to mention," Little John said, "it's always bare in the winter anyway, and that's never been a problem before."
"The Sheriff's never had the constitution to come out hunting us in the cold and the snow," said Robin. "But I'd not put such ruthlessness past Gisbourne."
"You really think he'll stick around that long?"
"I'd like to think not. But if he does, expanding our camp in the way Will suggests might be the best thing we could do to meet such a threat." Robin slapped his knee decisively. "Okay, we'll do it! Let's start figuring out who here in camp will be best suited to which parts of this project, and we'll assign jobs accordingly. Will, you get to be project boss!"
"Me? I would've thought you'd want that position for yourself."
Robin flashed the gray fox a grin. "Why shouldn't you get the glory for this? It was your idea, after all!"
"Yeah," Little John tagged on with a smirk, "and if it turns into a disaster, we'll know who to blame!"