Terrouge E-zine Archives
Robin Hood II: The Prince of Sherwood - Chapter 45
It seemed that Robin Hood was growing careless.
At least this was the first thought that struck Gisbourne’s troops, who caught the flash of reddish fur and green outfit flitting among the trees at the forest’s edge. A mixed detachment of soldiers and mercenaries had been dispatched to a farm on the northern outskirts of Nottingham to collect its early harvest for the castle keep. The peasant farmer’s commandeered cart now stood almost fully loaded with the confiscated produce, which was how the guards’ wandering attention had been caught by the glimpse of their target fugitive.
For better or worse, at least one of the mercenaries had noticed the same thing. "Hey, there goes Robin Hood!"
The two hirelings - a one-eyed crow who favored a crossbow as his weapon of choice and a grizzled terrier who fancied himself a champion swordsbeast - immediately set out after the fleeing fox, who gave no indication he’d been spotted, but a gruff cry from one of the uniformed wolves gave them pause.
"Where d’ya think YE’RE goin’?"
"After th’ outlaw whose bounty will make us rich!" the crow snapped back. "Ain’tcher comin’?"
"Our orders was t’ grab these crops an’ get ’em back to th’ castle."
"We ain’t under any such orders," retorted the dog. "An’ wouldn’t Sir Guy think nabbin’ Robin Hood was more important than a cartload o’ veggies? Are y’ daft, or what?"
"Aw, let’s leave ’em behind!" The crow dismissed the troops with one wave of a feathery black wing as he jogged off. "They probably ain’t eligible fer collectin’ the reward anyways, bein’ in the Sheriff’s service, so they got no stake in it."
"Suits me fine," agreed the terrier. "Leaves all that gold t’ you an’ me, mate."
"You?" The crow caressed the stock of his crossbow. "Not if’n one of my bolts finds that thief’s skull ’fore yer blade does - then that reward’s all mine!"
Jabbering between them, the two mercenaries hastened across the field toward where they’d glimpsed their quarry … then shifted their course when they saw the green-garbed fox sprint from the cover of the woods in a beeline toward the nearest cluster of houses. The outlaw still gave no sign that he realized he’d been sighted.
This proved too much for the duty-minded wolf soldiers. "Well, he does look t’ be headed fer town," one said. "No sense in us standin’ here guardin’ all this when Robin Hood’s makin’ tracks away from us … "
"An’ we ain’t REALLY uneligible fer that reward, are we?" another wondered.
"Naw, we gotta be entitled to it. Either that, or we’ll get a big fat promotion that’ll set us up easy fer life!"
"So why’re we standin’ here jawin’? We ain’t gonna let those two rabble grab all th’ glory fer themselves, are we?"
This seemed to decide the matter. Abandoning their heavily-laden cart, the uniformed guards chased after the crow and terrier, hardly content to let mere mercenaries have an uncontested crack at capturing the famous Robin Hood.
All of which left the peasant farmers - a husband and wife pair of beavers - standing alone by the annexed fruits of their labor. But they were not to be alone for long.
Once the coast was clear, with soldiers and mercenaries both well out of sight, a large contingent of creatures came forward from the forest toward the farmers. At their head strode a familiar red-furred figured garbed in Lincoln green.
"My, Robin, sir," said the beaver husband, "you sure did double back here quickly. Those guards must be halfway through town chasing after you. How’d you ever manage that?"
"Oh, I’m just full of tricks, and I’ve still got a few left to teach those bullies." Robin looked to the heavily-laden cart. "My, they certainly weren’t going to leave you with anything, were they?"
"It was all meant for Sir Guy’s larders in the castle," said the beaver wife.
"Not anymore it’s not," Little John chuckled, grabbing ahold of the handles and turning the cart toward the woods while others from Robin’s band stood at the alert with strung bows and half-drawn swords.
"Have you decided to join us, friends?" Robin inquired of the beaver couple.
"Don’t reckon we’d be able to stay now even if we wanted to," the husband replied. "Gisbourne will know we helped you, and we’re likely to end up behind bars, or worse."
"Our home is no kind of home anymore, thanks to that brute," added his wife. "We’d much rather dwell in Sherwood Forest with you, good Sir Robin."
"You and half of Nottingham," said Friar Tuck with a mix of levity and wistfulness as he gestured for the beaver couple to accompany them.
"We’ll make your stay with us as pleasant as we can," Robin told his newest recruits. "You’ll certainly not want for company and companionship, that I can guarantee you!"
As the rest of the party escorted the two beavers into the forest depths, Robin lingered at the fringes of the woods, gazing toward town with an anxious glimmer in his eye. Friar Tuck tarried at his side. "Worried about Will?"
The fox nodded. "This is his first time trying this masquerade of his. I hope he doesn’t get carried away."
"Will? Get carried away? When has that ever happened?"
This elicited a smirk from the outlaw. "We’d better get to the rendezvous point. Those guards might double back this way once they realize it was all a decoy."
"If they ever do," Tuck said with a grin.
A good portion of the day had worn on before Will made his reappearance, casually ambling along the road leading north out of Nottingham as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
If he seemed unconcerned with attracting the attention of the soldiers and mercenaries, it may have been because he was a much-changed fox. With the berry dye rinsed out of his pelt, his fur was now back to its natural gray hue. He’d shucked the pointed cap and green shoes, and now sported a fancy tunic of royal blue with puffy white sleeves. An ornate walking stick completed the picture of an affluent noble out for a stroll in the country, although his prideful stride and puffed-out chest contributed in no small way to his latest masquerade.
Spotting their compatriot from the cover of the roadside greenery, Robin and Tuck attracted Will’s attention with a series of whistled trills and warbles - part of a clandestine signaling system the outlaws had worked out for communicating when there might be enemies about. Glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one was likely to be watching him, Will broke from the road for the trees, joining his fellows in a trice.
"That certainly took long enough," Robin greeted his cousin. "Run into any trouble?"
"Only the trouble that was after me. Had to give those goons the slip and then lay low for awhile - mostly waiting for my fur to dry out. We were right about one thing: they’d left Otto’s smithy pretty much untouched. No guards, and all the tools and fixtures still in place. I took a nice long soak in his cooling barrel to wash out the red from my fur, then risked a small fire in the forge to speed up the drying. But no one came by, so it’s all good."
"You do look positively royal in that blouse," Robin admitted, giving Will a thorough once-over.
"Yeah, that was a great idea of Klucky’s, sewing a blue lining inside the green shirt to make it a reversible, with the silk sleeves tucked up inside. If I’d had to make a real quick change, I could’ve gotten it done in a few eyeblinks. Still would’ve been red, though, which might’ve raised some awkward questions."
"Purple, you mean," Robin playfully corrected.
"Purple, red - either way, it might still be enough to land me in the hangman’s noose. Glad I was able to slip in a bath. Making myself gray again was the perfect finishing touch. Even if any of the guards did see me on my way out of Nottingham, I doubt they could have made the connection between me and the red fox they were hunting."
"Perhaps. But if you’re going to make a habit of playing me, you can’t count on such laxity from Gisbourne’s troops every time. There won’t always be such a convenient opportunity for a bath."
"Well, that’s the great thing about Nottingham, isn’t it?" Will said with a grin. "Lots of wonderful hiding places where a small fox can go to ground and stay hidden until the heat dies down. And we’ve got lots of villagers staying with us now who can tell us where every single bolt hole can be found!"
"And something tells me you won’t be satisfied until you’ve tried out each and every one of them, will you?"
"Well, let’s face it, Cuz, we DO have an awful lot of folks to look after nowadays." Will ostentatiously swung about his swagger stick, which had been hidden in his quiver. "And a lot of what we can use is just sitting there in Nottingham, ripe for the plucking. Be kind of a shame if we just left it for Gisbourne and all the greedy nobles, wouldn’t it?"
"Well, when you put it that way … "
"Oh, and before I forget … " Will reached into his shirt and pulled out the feathered cap he’d worn as part of his Robin Hood disguise. "I may’ve had to leave the shoes and weapons behind, but at least I was able to bring this back. Here y’go!"
Robin took the proffered piece of headwear. "Why, thank you, Will. That’s a big help, since I sure do seem to misplace a lot of these."