A Tail of Sherwood, part six: The Town

Fiction By LoriAnn // 2/21/2011

 

That night, I lay in my hammock and stared at the thin birch-bark ceiling that separated me from the clear, starlit sky above. She’s just like I remember, I thought, slightly embarrassed that Marian would take up so much of even my private thoughts. Actually…she may be even better.
 
She certainly wasn’t the wild, windblown waif that had wandered the greenwood with me as a child. Her deft fingers had turned out the best-fletched arrows of any of my gang, earning her the nickname “arrow girl” from Scarlet. All the boys harbored a soft spot for her, I thought. Even Much, as determinedly cantankerous as he was, would tame his temper for her.
 
I drifted off to sleep with fond memories of sunny afternoons and rainy evenings spent in the company of my childhood friend wandering through my mind. The next morning, I awoke early—before the songbirds had even begun their sleepy warm-ups.
 
Little John was already waiting for me when I reached the base of my tree.
 
“Good morning,” I said, tilting my head to pop the stiff joints in my neck.
 
“You’re up early,” he said, his voice a full octave below mine. “Eager to show up that puffed-up duke?”
 
I nodded and reached for my cloak, where it had been draped over a branch. “Indeed.”
 
“And more eager, I’ll wager,” he added knowingly, “To show off in front of a certain lady?”
 
I felt my face go hot. “Am I that obvious?”
 
Little John cracked a smile—a rarity, this early in the day. “Robin, a blind beetle with a sack over its head would be hard-pressed to not notice.”
 
“Oh.”
 
We began walking toward the Den, where the others were to meet us before we went to Nottingham. “The costumes are done,” Little John told me as we walked. “Tuck finished the last one just before we all turned in last night.”
 
“Good. And there’s been no sign of the Sheriff posting extra guards or anything of the sort?”
 
“Not that we’ve spotted.” He shrugged. “You know Dudley, though—he’s nearly as sneaky as you are.”
 
This I acknowledged with a nod. Much as I loathed to admit it, Sheriff Dudley was a devious man—in an underhanded, shifty way that I would never consent to fall to. I lived by my wits, sure, but the Sheriff was tricky for the pure sake of advancing his own power and authority.
 
“So we’ll have to be watching for anything unexpected,” I said. “Maybe recruit some of the others in town to come in and work lookout?”
 
“I could probably get Widow Della’s two sons to come in and keep an eye out,” John suggested. “They’ll be there anyway, and you know they’ll want to be involved in anything like this.”
 
I grinned. Widow Della’s boys, Richard and Thomas, were both a bit older than myself, but as mischievous as I had ever been as a small boy. The two were never apart, and if there was any sort of commotion in town, you could know that the two brothers had to be behind it somewhere. “That sounds like a good idea,” I agreed.
 
We walked toward the Den along a faint path, worn over time by Friar Tuck’s arrivals and departures. “They’re waiting already, then?” I asked, as we came into sight of the clearing.
 
“We sure are, sleepyhead.” Scarlet’s voice came from above me. I resisted the urge to look up and acted as though hearing my friends’ voices from the tree branches over my head was an everyday occurrence.
 
“Some of us don’t take long naps in the sun during the day, Scarlet,” I said.
 
He dropped lithely to the ground in front of us. “Don’t you talk about John that way,” he chided. “He’s bigger than you—he might beat you up.”
 
Little John growled and made a half-hearted grab for Scarlet. “I might beat you up, jay-feather,” he said, as Scarlet easily avoided his reach. “If I could ever catch you.”
 
“Alright, you two,” I interrupted them. “We’ve got work to do, in case you’ve forgotten.”
 
“Right. Work.” Scarlet bounded across the small clearing to Friar Tuck and took a bundle of cloth from a pile beside the older squirrel. “Speaking of which,” he continued, returning to me, “Here’s your outfit.”
 
I unfolded the bundle of homespun cloth and nodded with satisfaction. “Perfect.”
 
Tuck looked pleased. He clapped his paws and nudged the rest of the pile with his foot. “Now for the rest of you,” he ordered. “Get dressed.”
 
 
 
A bare twenty minutes later, five nondescript beggars and moderately-poor-off farmers—along with one shambling monk—emerged from the morning shadows of Sherwood forest and started off down the road toward Nottingham. I was dressed as a farmer, who might be expected to have a decent bow, and carried a small satchel with bread and cheese in my free hand. We were to split up upon nearing the town gates and come in by ones and twos, mingling with the rest of the late-coming crowds so as not to draw attention to ourselves.
 
All went according to plan, and we regrouped outside The Sheriff’s Sword—all except for Tuck, who was assigned to keep an eye on our targets. And I didn’t mean the painted hay bales we’d be shooting at. “All ready?” I asked, pulling my yellow hood straight. “The hem on this thing is squint.”
 
Alan shrugged and readjusted the handle of the satchel that hung over his shoulder. “It was one of the last ones done, sir. It doesn’t look bad—Marian won’t mind.”
 
I flushed, and raised my voice to be heard over the crowd. “That’s not what I was worried about—”
 
“Rob!” Thomas, the eldest of Widow Della’s two sons, came up behind me and clapped my shoulder. “Tuck met us at the gate. He says you’ve a bit of fun planned for the tourney?”
 
I clasped his arm and greeted his brother Richard, who joined us with an equally wide grin spread across his equally freckled face. The two boys were tall and tow-headed, brown and spotted from hours in the sun, their shoulders already broad and strong. Their bright blue eyes sparkled in the early morning sun, and I felt their excitement.
 
“We do indeed, my lads,” I said. Wanting to get out of the bustle of the crowd for a few minutes, I nudged my head in the direction of the tavern door. “Buy you a cider while we go over it?”
 
“We’ll go ahead and stake out places on the green,” Little John said, clapping Scarlet’s shoulder. Much and Alan nodded, and the four of them left me with Thomas and Richard.
We entered the dimness of The Sheriff’s Sword and found ourselves a secluded corner booth. The serving boy brought us our mugs, and I leaned forward, clasping my mug in my hands.
 
“Alright, here it is,” I said in a low voice. “Little John, Alan, Much, Scarlet and I kid ourselves that we’re the best archers England has seen in many a long year. And I believe we’d at least be right in saying that we’re better than anyone else in this area of the country.”
 
Richard snorted into his cider. “Well I could have told you that already. This whole contest is a contest in name only—it’s really just to make Chantille look good.”
 
I held up a hand. “I know, I know. So here’s our plan. We’re going to take over the contest. We figure that between the five of us, we can easily knock out the competition, until it comes down to just us and the old duke himself. You can know that they won’t decide against him at any point during the contest, so at the end it should be us against him.”
 
Thomas was nodding. “Sounds like a plan, Rob,” he said, taking a slow drink of his cider. “One problem: you haven’t actually ever tested this theory of yours—I’ll agree with Rich that you’re better than anyone around here, but have you ever gone up against someone of the Duke’s training? Or what about the contest itself—how do you know that you won’t get edgy in front of the crowd and muff a shot out of nerves?”
 
I sat back. “Good points,” I said. I ticked off my answers on my fingers. “The Duke’s known to be better with a crossbow, though, and I’m of fair certainty that any one of us could best him. He doesn’t shoot for his livelihood as we do, after all. Second,” I quirked an eyebrow at Thomas. “Honestly, Tom—do you really think I’d muff a shot of nerves?”
 
He grinned and raised his mug in a short salute. “Alright, alright. My mind is at ease, Rob—I just wanted to make sure you’d thought this out.”
 
“Well, if you’re reassured,” I grinned, “Let’s get out there—the tourney starts at noon.”
 
And Marian’s probably already out watching, I added to myself.
 
But I didn’t say that out loud.

Comments

Yeah more

Oh, exciting. But of course something will go wrong. It's almost guranteed

 

Julie | Mon, 02/21/2011

Formerly Kestrel

Pft. Of course it's

Pft. Of course it's guarenteed. There would be no story if it didn't!

LoriAnn | Mon, 02/21/2011

They seemed more like people

They seemed more like people this time.  LoriAnn... the only complaint (as with most chapters) is that it is too short!

Bridget | Wed, 02/23/2011

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya

Now I have "The Phony King of

Now I have "The Phony King of England" stuck in my head.

Anna | Wed, 02/23/2011

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

Ha!

Me too, Anna. 'Ooh-de-lally, Oo-de-lally, golly what a day!'

Keep it coming, LoriAnn. Iknow something awful is bound to happen any second now, but that's okay--just as long as you don't do anything too terrible to these wonderful characters!

Mary | Fri, 02/25/2011

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
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!