A Tail of Sherwood, part eight: The Capture

Fiction By LoriAnn // 6/26/2011

 

I gaped at old Lord Fitzgerald in astonishment. Marriage? Marian was no prize, to be given or taken in some contest. She was an honorably young woman who deserved better than this. It was positively medieval!
 
She certainly deserved better than that preening Duke, who now strutted, like a proud cockrobin, down the shooting line.
 
I glanced at my companions. “We had planned to win today at any rate, lads,” I said in a low voice. The crowd was still cheering loud enough to mask my words. “But now there is no question. We must beat the Duke.”
 
Little John and Much nodded in agreement.
 
“Correction,” Alan said, a too-familiar idealistic gleam in his eye. “You must win. I don’t believe my lady Marian would be pleased with anything less than the most wanted outlaw in England for her groom”
 
I twanged my bowstring and smiled a fleeting smile. Too much was riding on my skill here for my comfort.
 
“Agreed.” I turned back to his grace, the Duke. “Come now, yer grace,” I shouted, affecting a country burr. “We’re a-waitin’!”
 
He looked at me with a disdain that might as well have dripped from his face. “After you, my good squirrel,” he said, gesturing. “After you.”
 
I grinned cheekily at him. “Ye’ll always be after me, me Lord Pigeon-Face.”
 
The crowd roared in appreciation, but I saw the rage boil behind the Duke’s expression. Any other time, he could have my head at a moment’s notice for such insolence. But this was an open contest, and his paws were tied.
 
Scarlet nudged me as we passed the seething Duke. “Um, Rob? I wonder—was that the best idea? He looks a bit—”
 
“Angry?” I nodded. “I know. And angry squirrels make mistakes.”
 
My men smiled in understanding. Understanding…and glee. This would be downright enjoyable.
 
Much shot first. A decent shot, but an unlucky breeze set him slightly off course. His arrow hit just outside the center circle. A kill shot, to be sure, but not a winning one.
 
I patted his shoulder as he walked away, to join with the rest of our group waiting in the audience. “Good show, Much,” I told him. “There’ll be an extra mug of cider for you this eve.”
 
“If we survive to this eve,” he grunted—the Much equivalent of a wry laugh. “Good luck with Duke Popinjay.” He pushed his way through the crowd and disappeared into the mass of teaming squirrels. He would meet up with Tuck and the Widow Della’s sons and keep a watch on the Sheriff’s squirrels through the rest of the tourney. When it was all over, they would ensure us a safe escape from Nottingham.
 
Alan shot next. “For the honor of the lady!” he cried before he shot. His arrow landed safely within the bull’s eye, though not quite dead-center. The crowd cheered, and he made an elegant leg in the direction of Marian’s booth, deliberately flicking Duke Chantille in the face with his tail as he did.
 
Little John and Scarlet both also hit the bull’s eye, though John’s was the closest to the center. Both of them earned hearty cheers from the crowd—especially Little John, who wore a patch over one eye. I had feared it would handicap him too much, but I was glad to be proven wrong.
 
At last, it was my turn. The Duke gave me a mocking bow as I stepped forward. I smiled inwardly. He knew I was the only one who really threatened him.
 
“I do not fear you, beggar,” he said in an undertone.
 
“Perhaps ye should fear me, Master Feather-Cap,” I said gaily, loud enough for everyone to hear. I tweaked the offending feather, like an uncle teasing a young nephew.
 
The Duke glowered, but he also raised his voice. “Perhaps you ought to fear me.” There was a burning hatred in his eyes. No one, I was sure, had dared to speak to him like that in many years—if ever.
 
“I doubt it.” I winked broadly at him, and the audience laughed. They were entirely on my side, waiting to see how I might mock the pretentious nobleman next. “What are you going to do, outlaw me?”
 
I regretted the words the instant they left my lips. I saw his eyes narrow on my face, concealed though it was—slightly—in the shadow of my crooked hood.
 
I pushed past him before he could draw any conclusions, furious with myself. The odds that he would connect me with the raid we had made on his entourage were slim. I had worn my masked hood that day—he had never seen my face. But he had heard my voice…and if he connected me with Robin Hood, outlaw of Sherwood, I and my men were all in danger.
 
Drawing a long, straight shaft from my quiver, I examined the jay-feather for flaws before laying it on the string. I planted my feet on the shooting line and smoothly drew the bow, sighting down the arrow.
 
Zing.
 
Brushing my cheek gently as it passed, my arrow flew straight and true. Dead center. I stepped back and motioned to Duke Chantille.
 
“The green is yers, yer grace,” I drawled, thickening my accent and affecting the slightest nasel twang. “Let us ‘umble country folk see what an eddicated gennleman can do with it.”
 
He stared at me, suspicion in his penetrating gaze. “Good shot,” he said slowly, stepping past me to make his own shot. “A very good shot indeed.”
 
I had no fear for my place in the final round. The judge would mark all the shots and choose the two best to proceed. It would either be me against the Duke, or—if he were to have an unlucky shot—me against Little John. The only way he could make a shot equal to mine was to actually split my arrow. And as good as the Duke claimed to be, I knew he wasn’t that good.
 
Sure enough, his carefully aimed shaft pierced the target just beside my own. I saw him grimace, but whether in victory or disgust, I couldn’t tell.
 
The judge hurried to examine the target. “Beggar Flynn and Duke Chantille!” he proclaimed. My men turned to look at me, awaiting orders.
 
“Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice,” I warned them. “In fact—head for the gates now. The Duke is suspicious. If he should realize who we are, we must be able to be gone before he can summon the Sheriff’s squirrels. If you hear me sound my horn—” my hand went to the hunting horn concealed beneath my tunic “—then get out of Nottingham as fast as your legs will carry you. I’ll follow after, but you are not to wait for me or attempt to find me, under any circumstances. That’s an order.”
 
They nodded doubtfully, but I spotted mutiny in the glance Scarlet gave John.
 
“An order, lads.” They looked down, guilty.
 
“Aye, Rob,” agreed Scarlet at length. John nodded, and I clapped them on the shoulders.
 
“All’s well, then.”
 
The crowd cheered as my men moved off the green, and I stepped forward to stand beside Duke Chantille.
 
“May the best squirrel win?” I asked him. He smiled at me—a slow, cold smile like a snake.
 
“No worries about that, my hooded friend. And once I have outshot you, I will have the Sheriff on you before you can say “Robin Hood.” By this time tomorrow, your head will be on a spike above the city gates.” He left me standing there and went to meet the judge, who was walking toward us.
 
He knew! The slimy, miserable offspring of a half-rat was more clever than I had given him account for. Cursing my own loose tongue, I shook myself and joined the Duke and the judge.
 
“We will cast lots to determine who shoots first,” the judge said. He was a stooped, skinny old squirrel with a voice like a trumpet. “As is tradition. Your Grace, you call first.”
He held out the collection of twelve flat disks, white on one side and black on the other. “What do you call?”
 
“Seven of twelve,” the Duke growled. “Black.”
 
The judge turned to me. I took a breath to calm my racing heart and said, “Nine of twelve. White.”
 
The judge nodded and cast the disks upon the ground. Eight white faces and four black winked up at us from the dust, and I felt a rush of relief. Closest caller won the right to chose who shot first in the next round.
 
I bowed gallantly to the Duke. “I concede the first shot to you, your grace.” I swept my paw over the field in the direction of the target.
 
Duke Chantille grimly drew an arrow from the quiver that hung at his side, and fitted it to his bowstring. He squinted at the target.
 
We stood at the foot of the Sheriff’s box, with Marian and her father behind and a bit to our right. Before us stretched the town green where—under normal circumstances—the townswomen would let their children run, or spread their linen to dry on the clean grass. Today, it was clear. And at the end of this long, flat green, stood our target, so small that if I held my paw before my face, it was smaller than my smallest claw.
 
The crowd grew very, very quiet, and it seemed that even the wind stilled in that long moment, as Duke Chantille raised his bow, drew it, and sighted along the arrow’s shaft.
He breathed out. His fingers loosened, and—straight as a rule-drawn line—the arrow leaped from his bow.
 
My eyes, accustomed to the quick, darting flight of the birds I hunted, followed the path of the arrow as it arced down the green, and—thup­­—came to a sudden, quivering stop in the very center of the target’s bull’s eye.
 
The stands burst into riotous noise; an equal mix of cheers and boos. The Duke relaxed and gave a sure, smug smile to the crowd, bowing extravagantly. My eyes found Marian, sitting still and somehow smaller than usual, beside her father. The hair on her ear tufts and her tail was standing on end, and there was no mistaking the tension in her bearing. Determination steeled my limbs.
 
“Don’t calculate your winnings to early, my Lord Popinjay,” I said, loud enough for him to hear me above the noise. He paused, mid-bow. I didn’t bother to disguise my voice this time—he knew who I was. Time to prove that the rumors about Robin Hood’s abilities were true.
 
“What could you possibly to do to beat me now?” the Duke rounded on me with a vicious grin on his face. “You are done, Robin Hood—know that now! Soon you shall wear a new hood—that of a condemned squirrel. I will have that shameless wench for myself, to do with as I please.”
 
I grabbed the front of his doublet in one paw, my teeth gritted in anger.
 
A shocked hush flew through the crowd, and I saw the Sheriff motion to his squirrels. Up close like this, I realized that—for all his pompous blustering—I was nearly a paw taller than the Duke. I lifted him to his toes, still using only one paw, and shoved him away. He stumbled away, fear suddenly shining in his face.
 
“No one,” I declared, in a voice that rang out over the silenced green, “No one will tarnish the honor of Maid Marian while Robin Hood lives!”
 
Swifter than thought, I drew and fired my last arrow. So powerful was my draw, so accurate my aim that it sprang from my bow with a sound like an angry wasp. Straight and true it buzzed, directly to the heart of the target. The Duke’s arrow shattered, struck through the center by my bolt, which passed almost entirely through the target.
 
Not daring to wait and savor the amazement and applause of the crowd, I slung my bow over my shoulder and darted away through the people. Leaping up onto Marian’s box, I grasped her paw and kissed it gallantly.
 
“I’ll come back for you. I promise,” I whispered.
 
Her eyes grew wide, and she yanked me down into the box, just as the Sheriff’s squirrels loosed several bolts from their crossbows. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. They thudded into the wooden supports holding the box’s canopy. Another second and they would have thudded into my back.
 
“Thank you, dear heart,” I gasped, picking myself up. Ignoring her father, who was watching the chaos with a rather bemused expression, I hugged her quickly. “Wait for me. I’ll return for you.”
 
Then, as the Sheriff’s squirrels reached the box, I leaped out and away, landing with a roll on the dusty street behind the stands. I darted around the corner of a blacksmith’s shop and drew my horn from its hiding place.
 
Tu-lu! Tu-lu! The sounding of my horn brought the Sheriff’s squirrels after me, but I was already gone, bounding away over the tops of Nottingham’s buildings.
 
I spotted Little John, Scarlet and Much as I neared the wall. They stood atop the parapet, waiting for me.
 
“Our work here is done, lads!” I called, leaping toward them. “Let’s return to the merry green—”
 
I never finished.
 
At that moment, six guards burst from the gatehouse and surrounded my friends.
 
“No!” I shouted, launching myself from a rooftop, but too late. Before I could reach them, the guards had subdued John and Scarlet, dragging them into the guardhouse, and Much—to my horror—had fallen over the wall!
 
“Much!” I shouted finally reaching the wall and leaping over. He lay at the bottom, looking stunned and holding his leg. I dropped to his side, cursing myself and my oh-so-clever schemes.
 
Friar Tuck barreled around the corner of the wall, and grabbed my arm. “Get him into the woods!” he ordered. I hefted Much onto my shoulders and carried him into the trees, casting glances behind me every few minutes, hoping against hope to see my friends. Something hot touched my nose, and I realized I was crying. Furious, I tried to get a grip on my emotions—this day had been going so well! We’d defeated the Duke at a tourney held in his honor! We’d mocked him to his face! By rights, I had won Marian as my bride, and we’d managed to flaunt the Sheriff’s price on our heads—until the last moment. And now…Little John and Scarlet were in danger of losing their lives, and it was my fault.
 
I carried Much deep enough into the woods that the Sheriff’s squirrels wouldn’t find us.
“I have to go back!” I told the Friar, laying Much—unconscious—on the ground and dashing away the betraying moisture from my face. “They have Scarlet and John.”
 
Tuck looked horrified. He clutched at my sleeve. “You go back now and they’ll have you too! We have to plan—we have to think, Robin!”
 
I clenched my fists. “There’s no time, Tuck! The Sheriff will execute them without a trial—you know that!”
 
“Yes, yes, I know.” Tuck released me and knelt beside Much. “But you’re no good to anyone dead, and won’t execute them right away. We have at least a day—probably more—to think of something.”
 
I sank to the ground and leaned against a tree trunk, holding my head in my hands.
We had succeeded in humiliating Duke Chantille, but at what cost? Were John and Scarlet to die for my game?
 
What had I done?

Comments

Ah, Robin

You, Robin, didn't do anything. The Sheriff did.

Julie | Mon, 06/27/2011

Formerly Kestrel

@Kestrel: He does have a bit

@Kestrel: He does have a bit of a Doctor complex, doesn't he? Soon he'll be telling them, "I'm sorry; I'm so sorry."

But in all seriousness... Rob is always too cocky for his own good. So, by heaven, go get your friends and your bride and get the heck out again!

Anna | Tue, 06/28/2011

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

He can't have a Doctor

He can't have a Doctor complex if I've never watched Dr. Who! LOL.

Just wait for the next chapter...it gets even better. :)

LoriAnn | Tue, 06/28/2011

@LoriAnn

It's  Doctor Who for the show, and "the Doctor" for the main character. Never Dr. Who.

--Pardon my geek correction

Julie | Wed, 06/29/2011

Formerly Kestrel

AAAHHH!

LoriAnn, this chapter was fantastic! But, by George, you had better get the next one posted mui pronto or you're going to have one very unhappy little friend--who knows where you live.

Mary | Thu, 06/30/2011

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Brother: Your character should drive a motorcycle.
Me: He can't. He's in the wilderness.
Brother: Then make it a four-wheel-drive motorcycle!

Maybe I'll put it off so

Maybe I'll put it off so you'll be forced to visit me...LOL. Just kidding.

Mostly.

I have the next three chapters written, but they're in a notebook, so it's a matter of typing them up. Hopefully I'll be able to get that done this weekend or so, but it's the Fourth and I'm going home, so...we'll see. Glad you liked it though.

LoriAnn | Thu, 06/30/2011

See, LoriAnn, the thing with

See, LoriAnn, the thing with Doctor Who fans is that once we've watched it, we find comparisons everywhere--right, Kestrel & Anna? ;)

Robin was always cocky, and that's one of the things everyone loves about him. But I like how you actually make him seem real (as real as a squirrel can, anyway) by making him regret his actions. That's something the legends never did.

BTW, I totally recommend a new Robin Hood series I found--BBC started it in 06. It's my new favorite Robin Hood because of the banter between the sheriff and him--although it really tries to reinforce Robin's almost super-hero status. ;)

Heather | Thu, 06/30/2011

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Reply to Heather

And if we can't, we simply say "wibbly-wobbly, time-whimy, space-wacey."

That covers everything.

Julie | Thu, 06/30/2011

Formerly Kestrel

 Robin didn't do anything but

 Robin didn't do anything but act arrogant, insult a government official and, of course, break the law.

Leinad K. Romethe (not verified) | Sat, 02/04/2012