A Tail of Sherwood part ten: The Rescue

Fiction By LoriAnn // 11/17/2011

(Note: OK, folks, my apologies for such a long space between parts here. I don't know if anyone is even still following this story. I finished it at the end of the summer, but lost the notebook it was written in during the first part of the semester and only recently found it. Hopefully, it won't be a several-month wait before the next part. Enjoy!)

 

“It’s hopeless.” I threw my pen down on the map of Nottingham that covered my table. “The only place we could get to them is the executioner’s block itself. And it will be so heavily guarded that—” I shook my head. “It’s hopeless. What am I going to do, Tuck?”
 
The friar looked up from where he bent over Much, checking the splint on the fellow’s broken leg. “Pray, Rob.” He shook his head. “Other than that…I really don’t know. I just don’t know.” Outside, a lone night bird sang.
 
“We might talk to Widow Della’s boys,” Much grunted. He grimaced as Tuck prodded his leg. “Go easy there, churchman.”
 
I rubbed my face and silently raved against the Duke and the Sheriff and my own big mouth. “Marian’s still in there too,” I muttered.
 
“What?”
 
“Nothing.” I stared blearily across the room at Friar Tuck. “What if…what if I offered to trade myself for John and Scarlet?” I asked. “The most wanted outlaw in England for two petty criminals. Sounds like a good deal to me—I think the Sheriff would take it.”
 
“Aye, and have all three of you spiked before you can say ‘foul play,’” Tuck growled. He finished pinning Much’s bandage into place, patted the injured squirrel’s shoulder and joined me at the table. “No, Rob. No—that’s not the answer.”
 
“Then what is?” I slammed my fist against the table hard enough to shake the candle standing in its center. “Shards, Tuck! What is the answer?”
 
He sighed. “I don’t know, Rob. Maybe…” he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Maybe this time there isn’t an answer.”
 
“Tuck!”
 
“Rob, you may just have to resign yourself to the fact that there’s nothing you can do.” He laid his paw on my shoulder. “You’re not all-powerful. And we can’t afford to lose you in some hare-brained scheme.”
 
“Tuck.” I shook off his paw and stood. “I will save them.” I sighed, and looked back down at the map, tracing the outline of Nottingham town with an absent claw. “If I only knew how…”
 
“Rob.”
 
Much’s voice was low, and he was staring out the window into the night. “Someone’s here.”
 
I slipped over to the door, my mind racing. The Sheriff and his posse, perhaps? If they’d forced John and Scarlet to tell what they knew—we shouldn’t have come here.
 
Cautious, not allowing myself to be seen, I peered through a gap between the door and its frame.
 
“Hello in the house!”
 
Thomas—Widow Della’s older son—stood beneath me, his face tilted up. Richard stood beside him, a sack over his shoulder.
 
“It’s the widow’s sons,” I said, relaxing. Pushing the door open, I called down to them, “Come on in, lads. I could use a few extra brains.”
 
“Between the two of us, we might manage one,” Richard replied, climbing up after his brother, who kicked a piece of bark onto his head. “Hey—”
 
Returning to the table, I waited for them to enter, and got right down to business. “Boys, we need to rescue Scarlet and John from the headsman’s axe. How are we going to do it?”
 
“That’s actually why we came,” Thomas said. Richard put down his sack on the table. “We brought some spice-bread—and a plan.”
 
“I’ll hear anything at this point,” I said. “And your mother’s cooking is always welcome, of course.”
 
Richard passed out the bread, and settled down at the table.
 
“Alright,” Thomas said. He pointed at the map. “This is the prison.” He moved his claw an inch to the side. “And this is the executioner’s block. This—” he pointed again “—is the Sheriff’s house. And this—” one last point “—is the house where Chantille is staying.”
 
“No offense meant, Tom,” I interrupted, “But this is all stuff we already know. If you came all the way out here at this ungodly hour of the night just to give me a local geography lesson, I thank you but—”
 
“Hold your jayfeathers there, Rob,” Richard grinned. “We’re just starting with the basics.”
 
I shrugged and took a bit of bread. “Carry on,” I mumbled around the mouthful. “I’m listening.”
 
“It’s fifty steps from the front of the prison to the executioner’s block,” Thomas said, bending over the map and tracing the landmarks as he spoke. “That walk will be lined with guards. Then, of course, there’s the block itself, which will be surrounded. Twenty-eight squirrels in all—the Duke has lent a few of his own men. And as much as I respect your fighting ability, Rob, we can’t take that many.”
 
I nodded. “We’ve been over this a thousand times,” I said. “I just can’t seem to see my way clear.”
 
“You’ve forgotten something, Rob, that’s why.” Richard elbowed his brother. “Told you he would’ve.”
 
“I didn’t argue with you,” Thomas protested. “Though I am a bit surprised, Friar, that you’ve forgotten too.”
 
“I’ve been a bit preoccupied,” Tuck said wryly, casting a glance at Much. “Between setting bones and restraining boneheads, my paws have been a little full.” He leaned forward. “I’m curious though: what have I forgotten?”
 
“The prayer,” Thomas and Richard said in unison. Thomas nudged his younger brother.
 
“Hush,” he ordered. “My idea. I get to tell.”
 
Richard rolled his eyes, but sat back and took another bite of bread.
 
“There’s always a prayer offered on behalf of the condemned right before the execution,” Thomas explained. “To give them one last chance to repent before meeting their Maker.”
 
Understanding began to dawn.
 
And,” Richard continued, warming to his subject, “During that prayer, everyone will be a little less vigilant—even the guards. If we’re lucky, some of them might have actually closed their eyes.”
 
“A perfect opportunity to sweep in and rescue Scarlet and John!” I exclaimed.
 
“It will take preparation and caution,” Tuck said slowly. “Still, I think we might do it—if we can get you near the block somehow, without being recognized, and there will be such a short window of time before the guard realizes what’s happening…We should map out our escape route ahead of time, and—”
 
“Don’t get too carried away, Friar,” Thomas stopped him. “We don’t have the time to make this scheme too complicated.”
 
“When is the execution?” I asked.
 
Richard swallowed his last bite of bread. “Crack o’ dawn. Nothing better than a nice beheading to start the Sheriff’s day.”
 
I winced. “That doesn’t give us much time.”
 
“No, it doesn’t,” agreed Tuck, pushing himself to his feet. “Which is why we need to get moving—now.”
 
“You’re right.” I leaned back and counted off what needed to be done on my fingers. “Tuck, get whatever disguises you can manage. Thomas, help him. Richard and I will work on our escape route.”
 
“What about me?” Much called from the bed. He glared at me, daring me to tell him he’d just have to leave this one to us.
 
I smiled grimly.
 
Pray.”
 
 
 
We entered Nottingham nearly an hour before sunrise, slipping in over the walls, as the gates were still closed and we didn’t need to draw attention to ourselves by demanding entry. That would be slightly counterproductive. Passing through the streets of the city, past dark shops and buildings where only a candle and soft noises betrayed the presence of anyone awake. The only place already in full bustle was the bakery, where preparations were being made for the day’s work.
 
“Right, lads,” I said in a low voice as we reached the square. “You know what to do. Be careful and stick to the plan. I don’t want to lose anyone else.”
 
Tuck, Richard, Thomas and Alan nodded. I stared at them for a long moment, wondering if I was doing the right thing, asking them to risk their lives like this. Maybe I should go in alone…I shook the thought away. One squirrel couldn’t do this—I needed their help.
 
“Disperse,” I ordered, and watched them disappear into the dim streets, heading toward their prearranged hiding places, where they would await my signal. My own hidey-hole was actually atop the jail itself, which had a thatched roof and a tiny attic beneath. I clambered in through a loose place in the thatching—we’d used the hiding place before, figuring that the last place the Sheriff would think to look for outlaws was above the very prison cells he wanted to put them in. It was barely high enough inside to sit up straight, and you had to lie down flat to fit comfortably, but even then space was cramped because at some time since its construction it had become a sort of storage place for some of the jail’s equipment. Two dismantled pillories lay in shambles amid warped crates of long-forgotten supplies. It was dismal and dark—but it was the perfect hiding place.
 
I lay on my stomach and waited for what seemed like eternities, my face close to the gap in the thatching, watching the dim opening grow lighter as the sun grayed the morning skies. Despite my worry, and the urge to jump at every sound, I almost fell asleep, my eyes floating shut of their own accord. I shook myself, and set my jaw…and moments later was about to doze off again. It was torture.
 
Then, just as I thought that I couldn’t handle it anymore and would simply have to climb out and do something, I heard the tramp of regimented feet. Completely awake now, adrenaline beginning to pump through my veins, I pressed my face to the gap and watched the soldiers take their positions around the block. Armor clanked dully, and I saw more than one stifled yawn, but they didn’t speak, even as townsfolk began to gather.
They were drawn, no doubt, by the spectacle of an execution—and two of Robin Hood’s cohorts at that! I gritted my teeth as the excited murmurs of butcher and baker and ale-brewer and housewife met my ears. More and more squirrels appeared, and vied for close positions—soon the square was full, and the sound of low voices filled the morning air, drowning out the sounds of birdsong.
 
Grateful that the loose place in the thatching was on the opposite side of the jail roof from where the people were gathering in the square, I slipped out and pulled my hood over my head as I landed on the ground. As I walked around the corner of the building to join the rest of the crowd, I looked like merely another farmer in town for a show.
 
The sun was almost fully risen. I watched as several of the town worthies—including Marian, I saw with dread—climbed into the Sheriff’s box, which had been repaired since the tourney and now offered front-row seating for the execution. The executioner, his face hidden by a heavy black hood, mounted the platform and stood impassively beside the block, his axe glinting in the morning sun.
 
Suddenly, I heard the rattling of chains—they were marching the prisoners out. I tensed, longing for the feeling of my bow in my paw; but there were too many people around and I couldn’t risk it. Today would be knife work.
 
Little John and Scarlet were led up the three short stairs to the platform the executioner’s block stood upon, soldiers on either hand. The black-hooded executioner, stood ominously beside his block. My friends looked weary, and their fur was matted and clothes rumpled, but they held their head high, and my heart swelled in pride.
 
A herald, looking somewhat sleepy, mounted the platform. He cleared his throat loudly, and held up a parchment scroll.
 
“Hear ye, hear ye,” he called, quieting the crowd that had begun to rumble in excitement when John and Scarlet appeared. The entire town must have been there—there were more than five score squirrels pressing for a view of the proceedings.
 
“Hear ye,” he repeated. “Be it known that these two outlaws, John Greenleaf and William Scarlet, are hereby charged with highway robbery, and wanton hunting of the royal birds. For their crimes, they are to be executed on this day, July the twentieth, in the year of our Lord eleven-hundred and eighty-one.”
 
He stepped back, and the priest, who had until this point been standing at the base of the platform, began to mount the stairs to offer a last prayer for the condemned. I tensed, and slipped my hand inside my ragged farmer’s tunic for my long knife, plotting the quickest route through the crowd.
 
“Wait.”
 
Duke Chantille left the Sheriff’s box and strode onto the executioner’s platform. What was he up to now? I scanned the crowd for any sign of my band and spotted Alan not far away. He met my eyes at the same time, and shrugged.
 
“As representative of His Royal Highness, Prince John,” the Duke said in a stiff voice, “I hereby extend the Royal pardon to these outlaws. Free them at once—they shall not die today.”
 
Confusion whirled through my mind, and I gaped in silent confusion. Royal pardon? What game was the Duke playing at now? The crowd buzzed in excitement and speculation.
 
I looked into the Sheriff’s box and caught Marian’s eye. She blinked, recognizing me, and smiled—a bright, relieved smile—nodding her head almost imperceptibly.
 
She had managed this. However she had done it, my wonderful, brave, resourceful, gallant and beautiful Marian had saved us all.
 
The guards looked confused, but they followed the Duke’s orders and unbound Little John and Scarlet.
 
“Leave town immediately,” Duke Chantille ordered them, in a voice loud enough to be heard across the square. “And, so you may not praise where it is not due or look for compassion where there is none, may I present to you your advocate—Lady Marian Fitzgerald.”
 
John and Scarlet, a bit bemused, bowed in Marian’s direction, then backed away from the Duke and down the stairs from the execution block.
 
“Rob.”
 
Alan’s quiet voice at my elbow caught my attention. “Yes?” I asked from the corner of my mouth.
 
“They’re free. I don’t know how, but…let’s get out of here.”
 
“Indeed.” I cast a final glance at Marian, hoping she would see the wonder and gratitude in my eyes.
 
She smiled—and everything went wrong.
 
The Duke had been watching Marian like a bird of prey ever since John and Scarlet had been unbound. The instant she smiled at me, his eyes snapped around to follow her gaze.
 
He saw me.
 
We locked eyes for half a moment—the space of perhaps three heartbeats.
 
“There!” the Duke shouted, pointing at me. “Robin Hood!”
 
I spun around, drawing my knife—which I had been holding tightly ever since the prisoners had appeared—and shouting, “Trap!” I spotted Richard and Tuck on the other side of the square. “Back to Sherwood!”

Comments

I'm still reading

I had almost forgotten about her deal with him...until now.

Julie | Thu, 11/17/2011

Formerly Kestrel

I am left hanging.

Marian's deal is going to cause a lot of trouble... for me that's a bigger question than "will Robin Hood escape?"

James | Fri, 11/18/2011

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

I was just wondering if you would post

Oh! That's right, she made a deal... *bites fingernails* And all for nothing, it looks like!

Anna | Fri, 11/18/2011

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

Go Robin!

Okay, so I'm a chapter or two behind, but I am still reading this. After all... One: it's Robin Hood. what's not to love? Two: Squirrels. Need I say more? Three: this is written by my sister and I think she might get mad if I wasn't reading it. :D

Kay J Fields | Fri, 11/25/2011

Visit my writing/book review blog at http://transcribingthesedreams.blogspot.com/

 Exciting!!! Run, Robin!

 Exciting!!! Run, Robin!

Sarah | Mon, 11/28/2011

"Sometimes even to live is courage."
-Seneca

Blogging away!
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