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Tale of the Fae

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When a man sets out to tell a tale, he wants to entertain with adventure, action and fun. He cares not of lofty goals or higher ends. Yet tales have a way of telling themselves; at least when they are told correctly. Unseen turns and hidden paths reveal themselves with each step. Shadows shift as our eyes adjust, and then there is a flash of light as confusing as the darkness before. In the end we may have told a different story than we set out to, but it is the one that wanted to be told. We care not, so long as there is adventure, action and fun.
The road was familiar even at night. The houses, the neighborhood, the shops and bars were all known. This was home. Wandering home from somewhere, he became lost. The streetlights cast a garish glow that did little to dispell the stark and encroaching shadows. Once again he was alone in the night in a strange place. The breeze chilled his skin as it stroked his face and moaned through the sycamores. Leaves rustled and unseen whispers could be heard. Without warning a horse seemed to bear down on him, rider unseen. It was too close, too sudden; he would be trampled by the mindless beast.
Rhyder sat bolt upright in bed. Another nightmare. His wife beside him, his son in his crib across the room. The feeling of fear and disorientation hung over him, but slowly faded. He drank the water from the table by the bed and drifted back to sleep. Moments later the baby, his son, woke screaming. Rhyder leapt up and picked up his son and held him to him. The crying was unconsolable. When at last he had calmed his boy and gotten him back to sleep, he found that sleep for himself was elusive. With a heavy heart he realised his son had inherited his nightmares.

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Robin Hood 1

The stones of the castle wall had been searingly cold for months. Since October really. September if you thought about it. The fireplace threw off some heat to the room. The braziers helped. The kitchen was warm sometimes. The torches and the candles did little to keep the gloom at bay and nothing in the way of warmth. Nothing though, could dispel the cold of the thick stones that comprised the building proper. The thrushes on the floor didn’t really provide any kind of barrier, and had to be replaced constantly with fresh ones or they just became litter.
Even a stocky and bear of a man as William Brewer wore his heavy boots everywhere except to bed. Like his grandfather, he was known as Big Bill Brewer, and as sheriff, he used his weight to intimidate the subjects in his care. He stoked the fire himself, mindful of the winter’s stockpile. It wasn’t unlimited. Although he was on his way to becoming a baron, he was at this time just a sheriff albeit; High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, it was a position, not a noble title.
Though fortified by a thick wall and built of heavy stone, the fortress wasn’t really a castle in the proper sense, though everyone referred to it as the castle. It kept out the bandits, but not the cold. He had but a few servants and with his wife, who was as formidable as he was, performed many of the household chores himself. Weary from a long day of suffering fools, he put out the last of the candles, took off the boots and climbed into the cold bed, and prayed for sleep as his foul breath came out in chattering plumes.

e i h

High in a sturdy and ancient oak, there was another house of wattle and daub. It was invisible from the outside, though inside it was aglow with homemade candles. This room was much smaller though that had its advantages. For one thing, it was much easier to heat. The simple furnishings were cunningly fashioned in such a way as to fold away at night to make room for a bed. Marian sat in a chair in the corner and watched Robin lay it out. He started with three thick comforters, one from his childhood and two from hers. He laid them out in the meager space, centering them to provide both Marian and he equal cushion. Upon these, he laid several more blankets of varying size and shape, centering each one carefully and smoothing out any wrinkles. There was the course wool blanket made by the Smith wife in the village, there was the blanket won at the fair as a boy. There were nine layers all told, made fresh every night.. At this point, Robin lay down two down pillows, a gift from a family in town when they heard they had none. Finally, Robin lay down a few more blankets to cover them and they lay down to cuddle and keep each other warm. Marian blew out the candle and marveled how she had come to live in a tree in the forest with an outlaw.
The day they came to evict Robin from his childhood home, he was already gone. He had taken everything so Big Bear Brewer would get nothing. He had spirited his meager belongings into the woods, weary of the thieves that populated the forest, but willing to take his chances. Bill had threatened Robin with imprisonment, as well as seizing his property if there was trouble. Robin wanted trouble, but he had been talked into fighting another day. He had planned on watching from a hiding spot, but couldn’t bear it. In his minds eye, he saw the Bear arrive with a handful of deputies. He saw himself loose arrow after arrow into each man’s heart. Then he would be a murderer. His great great grandfather had built that house before the Normans had come, and now one of Brewer’s men lived there.
At first, the taxes had not been much. They were levied, it was claimed, to support the office of the sheriff, who protected the subjects of the realm from outlaws. As far as anyone could tell, the only outlaws sheriff brewer went after were the ones who’s crime was not to pay the ever increasing tax. Tax was supposed to go to paying for services such as roads, or actual law enforcement, but everyone knew Bill sent some to the crown for the privilege of being sheriff, and kept the rest to fill his coffers. The nobles could pay the crown directly and thus escape Bill’s tax with a writ of exemption, but the lump sums required for such a writ was too steep for the commoners. Some of the nobles would complain from time to time, to the realm, at the bequest of the servants who worked for them, that Bills methods were corrupt.. But Bill was wily, and hid his money in “monestaries” he gave to. He would retire to them one day, and find them nicely furnished and waiting for him.

The first night in the woods, there was no tree house, no Marian, no blankets and not much sleep. As a Yeoman, and the son and grandson of a Yeoman, Robin was no stranger to sleeping in the woods. It was just very different when it was not by choice. He built a fire to cook the rabbit he had caught for dinner. there was no biscuits or coffee or beer that night. He set his leanto and his thin bedroll and said to himself; “Here’s your new home Robin. Nice view, but a bit draughty.” The water from Spritescreek had been bracingly cold, and had never tasted better.
Robin found it hard to keep his mind from wondering how he could regain his property, his reputation, and his place in Nottingham. Yet, the forest was alive with sound that kept him from forming any concrete plans. He thought he heard voices and clumsy movement in the trees. Then at one point, it was quiet. A hush fell over the forest. It was louder than the noises that preceded it. Robin quietly pulled the thin cover off him, and silently moved to look out of his tent. He expected to see a murderous brigand. Instead, he saw a stag. Regal and lit by the moon. When he saw Robin, he didn’t dart away, but lowered his great antlered head, revealing a star filled sky with the effect of a cascade of celestial light showering down upon them. Silently Robin approached the deer and placed his hand on the muzzle of the noble beast. It was a singular moment in Robin’s life, as if the forest welcomed him and offered him protection. Once again, the stag bowed and with a lingering look from his shining black eye, he turned and disappeared. Slowly the forest came back to life but without the clumsy ghosts he had heard earlier.
When Robin woke in the morning, he wondered if he had dreamt the incident, but there in the soft dew covered ground, was the unmistakable deer track. From that moment on, whenever doubt or fear entered Robin’s head, any uncertainty about the future; he remembered that night and that provisioned him with such courage as to forge ahead, no matter the odds.

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Faerie Sketches

I’ve been working on a new series of faerie sketches for a children’s book. Some are more finished than others. Most of them are in a little 5×7 sketchbook that my wife gave me as a gift, so the sketches are kind of small. These newer ones are being done with water soluble graphite, watercolor pencils and markers. They are helping me to flesh out the story. I’ve also been writing some poetry for the book, but again, more as sketches or ideas that may or may not end up in the book.

All I can really tell for sure is I probably won’t do the finished pieces in watercolor pencil and marker.

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Marina

Marina is a baby raindrop floating in the clouds. Follow her on her journey through life as she makes friends, becomes part of a community, blossoms into a unique individual and contemplates life in this short, poetic story about life. Beautifully illustrated with aquatint etchings. This is not your typical picture book. Order your copy here.

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Robin Hood #37 The Sheriff, Marian

Sheriff James Brewer was ecstatic. No one had ever seen him so giddy. It was frightening. The sheriff would look wistfully up into the distance and talk longingly of Robin’s summary execution. Then his eyes would refocus and he would engage people around the room on what kind of tortures to subject Robin to first. They would have to start him out slow, they didn’t want to overdue it too quickly, his pain might become to intense to register further torture. He might expire. The sheriff wanted to see Robin weep. He wanted to see Robin lose control of his bowels, of all his bodily functions. He wanted to clear a field big enough for all of Nottinghamshire to gather to witness the humiliation, lest anyone think such behavior might be tolerated. he’d heard of such public tortures in London. Spies or traitors would be disemboweled in front of their families and the countryside would gather and buy souvenirs to mark the occasion.
There would be a public trial where the sheriff, an expert at trials, would explain how Robin had perpetrated these crimes on the people themselves. Which, when you stop to consider that the sheriff was a public servant and the money Robin stole was the public funds, was actually true. The public would be screaming for Robin’s head. Why, the sheriff would find himself in the awkward position of having to protect Robin from the people of Nottingham. He’d seen such things before with his own eyes.
This was call for a celebration. He would feed the entire shire for a day! He would send to his coffers and get enough petty cash to pay for a feast. He could recoup the cost by collecting a tax. It was all over. It had been a long slog, but there had never been any doubt that the side of law and order would win in the end.
He could dismiss that army of rabble. That was actually a relief. They were never quite under his absolute control. They were always going too far, causing trouble, raping killing. The sheriff was of the mind that a little of that went a long way.
And he had won! Now there would be no more opposition. Ever. The peasants of the shire would think twice before they risked life and limb to stand up to the sheriff of Nottingham! To think he had actually feared Robins numbers. It had been all too easy to capture him after all. Robin was foolhardy. That was the problem with most leaders. They were either too weak and timid, or foolhardy. Not Sheriff William Brewer. He had acted wisely on every count. Why he was undefeatable! He would impose new taxes. New tariffs. He would invent new names for new types of taxes. He would retire early and buy a title, it could be done after all. King John was sure to face rebellion at some point, he was such a weakling. He would simply back the winner, and he would have his title. Until then he could live like a king himself in one of his monasteries. This would actually turn out to favor his fortune in the long run.

It began to rain early before dawn the next morning. The clouds had gathered in a cold, biting breeze. Not a blistering wind, but a gentle breeze that curled around you so that you were chilled to the bone before you knew you were cold. The rain began the same way; a gathering mist, swirling and cold, growing heavy and collecting the folds of your clothes until they were damp and clinging to your gooseflesh. Then a slow gentle drizzle, which had grown by the time the sky had lightened, into a steady, unrelenting downpour.

Marian and Tuck went to an inn to dry off and figure out what to do. Marian was disheartened. It seemed to have happened so suddenly. It had been a dangerous game. Somehow treating it as a game had made it doable. If she had ever cause to take the deadly actions they took to seriously, she found she hardly had to nerve to carry them out. Robin’s plan seemed so fraught with holes. How could he have believed it would work. Was he hurt? Undoubtedly.
This was not the first time she found herself surprised to realize how much she had come to care for Robin Hood. He had barged his way into her life with his swashbuckling ways and without asking he had taken a place in her heart. She had witnessed over the course of the last year, how the entire shire seemed to galvanize with hope. Nottinghamshire had been beaten for so long, they had forgotten what is was like to live a life without tyranny. The sheriff had slowly choked the energy out of the shire. At first it had seemed necessary; there had been truly dangerous outlaws in the greenwood, they had been murderers and thieves. The had molested the women and beaten the men and set fire to the towns. It had been quite similar to what was happening now, only less intense. In fact, in retrospect, realizing that the sheriff was behind the current crime wave, Marian wondered if the first crime wave, all those years ago when she was just a girl, had been the sheriff’s doing; to make the populace accept his heavy handedness. Or was the current set of marauders just a grotesque imitation of a genuine crisis? It mattered little either way.
The sheriff had come in with an iron fist and rooted out the bandits. The shire became a place of law and order. There were many hangings in those days. All that work had been costly. The sheriff had had to levy heavy taxes to cover his expenses. Though the crime had died out, the taxes had continued. The sheriff had to maintain vigilance against lawlessness lest the crime return. Yet the taxes went higher still. To pay for upkeep, cover inflation, and etc.. There had been some call for the sheriff to account for his costs, and those who made those calls turned out to be criminals. The calls soon ceased to be made. Then the sheriff claimed that the crown was calling for higher taxes, yet those who traveled abroad could find no trace of other shires increasing their taxes in like fashion. No one dared complain anymore. It was obvious what happened to complainers. People were taxed out of house and home. They just disappeared. No one knew what happened to them.
Then Robin had come from nowhere. At first he was said to be another outlaw from the forest. The sheriff had never truly rid the forest of them. And as the homes in the shire had emptied, the forest seemed to grow thick with outlaws. What choice did they have? But Robin had been different. From the beginning, there were tails of him robbing the rich and giving to the poor. When Marian had challenged Robin to help at the orphanage, she had never expected him to take her up on her offer. Yet he had. He had taught the children to fish and shoot and live off of the land. Robin had taught boys and girls alike. This was unheard of. Girls were supposed to learn to spin and keep a household, not to handle hunting tools. Robin had said that the children of the orphanage were not likely to grow up to be lords and ladies and ought to learn to take care of themselves as best they could. This had impressed Marian as much as anything else. It had been her own assessment of matters as well. She taught girls as well as boys to read and write, and math and history. Father Cedric had not cared for this but it was never his place to say one way or another. Tuck also supported her in her teaching methods.
Then Robin had risked his life to save the orphanage. That had taken some daring. She still had the ribbon from that day. It seemed so long ago, yet whenever she took the ribbon out to look at it, it was still bright yellow. Somehow with all that had happened, she expected it to be faded and frayed. Her arrest and escape. She had not been surprised to see him there ready to rescue her. She had never been one to wait for someone to rescue her. Since then her life in Sherwood Forest seemed Idyllic and tranquil, although at the time, it had seemed anything but, what with the raid on Lincoln’s castle and all. Robin proved himself again to be fearless and selfless. Finally, and most recently, she had risked her own life initially to return to teaching, but ultimately to spy on the sheriff. It had been in an attempt to rescue her once again that had gotten Robin captured. Since Robin had become destitute he had committed himself to rescuing people it seemed. She had learned of the story of Tom and his little girl. Now Robin needed her help, and she wasn’t enough. There was no hope.
She refused to believe that. If Robin had taught her anything, it wasn’t about archery or living in the forest, or swordsmanship. It wasn’t even about helping others. It was that there was always hope. As long as you still breath there’s hope. She would think of something. If she had to dig a tunnel to get Robin out, she would do it. And if she had to do it herself, she would do that too.

 

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Robin Hood: The Dungeon #36

By the time Tuck, Wulfhere and Marian arrived at the castle, the show was over. The ribald rivalry coming from within led little to the imagination as to what had happened. The bawdy songs about the capture of the famous Robin Hood were loud, lewd, drunken and none too clever. Tuck and Marian were furious over the complete absence of the outlaws, but Wulfhere correctly deduced that they had been routed and had to flee or be captured. It was impossible to tell in fact how many had been captured besides Robin. Wulfhere and Tuck had been told to check on Marian at the Orphanage or her nearby apartment and rendevoius at the castle in time for the attack, but they hadn’t planned on just missing her and tracking her through-out the night.

Inside, in the dark, against a cold, stone floor which smelled of urine, Robin awoke to the realization that he was severely beaten. Had they continued to pummel him after they’d beaten him unconscious? He remembered… being descended upon by a vast multitude. He given as good as he’d gotten for as long as he could. They had been expecting him. He knew they would be, but he had played it as a game. He should have been more careful. He had been so cocky. They weren’t going to get Marian a second time. He’d show them. He should have rallied all of Nottinghamshire. They would have come to save Marian, wouldn’t they? Now it was too late. It was all over. Without Robin to rally them, to lead them, they would submit to the sheriff. In fact, now that the sheriff had captured Robin, the sheriff would likely send the mercenaries on their way and leave the people to their meager lives. As for Robin himself, well, he was done for, that was a sure as the daily rise of the sun. Would he face a trial? Would he be tortured? Was he alive because the sheriff thought he could get his money back? Did old Sheriff Brewer really think that Robin had stashed away all the money he’d stolen? Probably not. Robin realized his breathing felt liquidy. He spat. He couldn’t see in the utter darkness, but he could taste the blood. The sheriff was probably planning on what to do with Robin now that he had finally gotten him.
Robin attempted to get to his knees. his legs felt like tenderized meat. Even in the dark, he was dizzy. His head ached. He could feel where it was matted with blood. He tentatively touched a wet patch to the left of his crown and swooned from the odd sensation in his head and the tactual squishiness that met his fingers. He broke his fall with his outstretched hands and realized they were raw and scraped. The sudden pitch in his upper body angle brought about a sudden nausea and he vomited on his hands and knees in the dark.
Sheriff James Brewer was ecstatic. No one had ever seen him so giddy. It was frightening. The sheriff would look wistfully up into the distance and talk longingly of Robin’s summary execution. Then his eyes would refocus and he would engage people around the room on what kind of tortures to subject Robin to first. They would have to start him out slow, they didn’t want to overdue it too quickly, his pain might become to intense to register further torture. He might expire. The sheriff wanted to see Robin weep. He wanted to see Robin lose control of his bowels, of all his bodily functions. He wanted to clear a field big enough for all of Nottinghamshire to gather to witness the humiliation, lest anyone think such behavior might be tolerated. he’d heard of such public tortures in London. Spies or traitors would be disemboweled in front of their families and the countryside would gather and buy souvenirs to mark the occasion.
There would be a public trial where the sheriff, an expert at trials, would explain how Robin had perpetrated these crimes on the people themselves. Which, when you stop to consider that the sheriff was a public servant and the money Robin stole was the public funds, was actually true. The public would be screaming for Robin’s head. Why, the sheriff would find himself in the awkward position of having to protect Robin from the people of Nottingham. He’d seen such things before with his own eyes.

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Robin Hood: The Capture 35

Unable to carry on without getting lost or possibly fall asleep in midstride, Marian waited until she came upon  a dense copse of alders and made a quick and hopefully silent turn to the east, hopefully straitening out her path. She had no idea how far behind her pursuers were, but she new tracking was harder at night, unless you were some kind of hunting animal. After about a quarter mile she found a tree that she could climb quickly. When she got high enough, she waited to see if her hunters would track her here. If they wanted to kill her, they could climb up after her, but she thought she could probably jump down on them, thus taking them with her. If they had bows, it would be harder, but not impossible. She would be a difficult target, straight up a tree in the dark was not an easy shot for anyone.
After a time, two men came by. They had a dog with them. So much for losing them. The hound stopped at the tree, sniffed it, pissed on it, and sniffed it some more. Essentially, the hound had masked her scent with his own piss. Now the dog was confused. it circled the area, and found the scent that had led them here. The dog wanted to go in this direction, and after circling around in the dark, the hunters didn’t seem to realize that they were going back the way they had come. If they were any good at tracking, they would take their bearings when they got to a clearing and could see the stars. At this point, they would realize they had doubled back and come back for her. Marian remembered a stream about a mile south. She climbed down and doubled back to the stream and took of down the shallow stream bed approximately going North by North East. She hoped she wouldn’t slip in the slick stream bed in the dark.

John approached the door to the heavily fortified manor house known throughout Nottingham as the Castle. There actually was a Nottingham Castle, but it belonged to King John, and only visiting royalty or their guests ever stayed there. The sheriff’s house was smaller than Lincoln’s manor house, but was bigger than most of the houses in Nottingham. It was structured like a castle, with heavy stone walls, and crenellated sentry towers, though they formed only a third story.
The heavy wooden door was barred but there were no guards in sight. Unsure how to proceed, John knocked at the door. After a time with no response, John knocked again. He half expected the sheriff to answer the door in his nightshirt. A small window opened at eye level in the door.
“Who goes there?” demanded a tired an angry voice. John couldn’t tell if it was the sheriff or not. John, unsure how to respond stepped back a little hoping that he couldn’t be seen in the dark. “Who the bloody hell is it? You pounded on the door loud enough a minute ago! What in bloody blazes on earth do you want?!”
“It’s Little John, of Sherwood forest!” John said with an air of authority he didn’t feel. “Open up in the name of Robin Hood! We’ve come for the hostage!”
“He says he’s here on behalf of Robin Hood!” said the voice to else someone inside.
“Well, that will mean Robin Hood’s around back waiting for us all to poor out the front!” said the second voice. The little window shut with a little slam on little John, and he could hear footsteps and shouts heading for the back of the house.
“No it doesn’t!” shouted John at the door. “Bloody Hell! They know Robin’s in the back! Get back there!” John yelled to his companions. He took off himself to get around the house. Will blew a horn, signaling trouble.

People storm castle’s but rarely does a castle storm people. The sheriff’s men came rushing out of the castle’s rear and side doors as if it was on fire. Except they had their swords out, their pikes raised, they were armed and armored. They were wildly incoherent. They hadn’t actually thought Robin Hood would come knocking on the sheriff’s door. Robin took one look at the oncoming hoard and turned and ran. He never had a chance. If the sheriff hadn’t repeatedly made it abundantly clear that he wanted Robin Hood taken alive, they would have killed him for sure. As it was they captured him to within an inch of his life. The surprise attack was on the other foot. All the men waiting to come to Robin’s aid rushed in alas too late. A few of them weren’t as lucky as Robin and met their makers that night. Guards on the towers picked off the outlaws easily. The retreat was sounded, and the merry men carried off their wounded and made their way back to Sherwood considerably less merry.
Marian was still some way off from the inn when she heard the hounds. To her credit, she never stopped. Beaten, hungry, bruised, scratched and scared, she stumbled on to the last. Only as they overcame her did she lose her nerve and fall to the ground, sobbing. There, covered in mud, shaking and spent, she gathered the last of her resolve, pulled her two daggers from their sheaths, struggled to her feet to face her pursuers; only to fall once again to her knees upon seeing who it was that had been on her heels all this way.
Tuck and Wulfhere the hermit stared in disbelief at the wraith at their feet. “Saints be praised!” Tuck said. “We thought we’d never find you. Come lass, the Sheriff has a hostage and if it isn’t you, then it’s probably a trap for Robin Hood.

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Robin Hood: The Mole 34

When news reached the sheriff that there was a mole within his inner circle, he flew into a rage. To be sure, he was lately ready to fly into a rage a the drop of a hat, but this particular rage had some seething to sustain it. It wasn’t really a surprise, after all. Robin seemed to be able to handle the mercenaries in stride. He obviously had contacts in every village in the shire, why not among his trusted allies? The shire had revealed itself to be almost completely on Robin’s side anyway. The damage the mercenaries were doing both to the shire and to the sheriff’s reputation, his ability to get anything done; not to mention his coffers was becoming more irreparable every day. Yet, it was hard not to believe that if he just persevered with his current course, success was bound to be imminent. Robin would be dead, and all would be worth it. The shire might never return to normal, but the sheriff was planning on retiring within the decade, and living out his life at one of his well, appointed monasteries. The thing about rebellions was; they had to be crushed. The leader had to be made an example of. There was no other course to take.
Now, as to the business of the mole. Who could it be? They were all such sycophants, it could be any of them. Still, it would be unlike the gentry of Nottinghamshire to side with commoners. Robin Hood held a certain mystique that was attractive to various craven buffoons, but admiring the cut of someone’s jib and giving information to the enemy were two different things. When Cedric had posited the idea to him, the sheriff had to wonder how he himself had not seen it earlier. If a cretin like Cedric could see it, it must have been obvious. Cedric had not been especially helpful in this matter since he had become smitten by the Valkyrie, as she was known behind her back among the gentry of Nottingham. In fact, Cedric hadn’t been useful since arresting Marian. Ah, now that had been a stroke of genius. It had actually drawn Robin Hood right into the town square. …twice. If only there was some way of finding out who the mole was, perhaps that person could be used to draw Robin Hood back into town. The sheriff wouldn’t fail again. Of course, Robin Hood wasn’t fool enough to think he could stage another rescue, was he?
The sun raked through the summer leaves in the late afternoon, casting shadows through the forest that stretched out into the evening. Birdsong filled the air and was carried on the breeze. The messenger wasn’t out of breath, he had strolled in with the day’s news as if he had no more than idle gossip. The sheriff knew there was a mole and was setting a trap. Whoever it was, had not long to live. The gossip as to who it might be was all any could talk about. Robin didn’t see it as idle gossip. He had to get Marian out of there. If the sheriff found her out, he might kill her before he had a chance to think better of himself. In many ways, Marian was hated more than Robin himself, because she was from Nottingham. Robin had lived in Edwinstowe, though he had been born near Barnsdale, and still had kin there.
The townsfolk in Nottingham were better acquainted with Marian, and her work at the orphanage was well respected. The gentry saw her arrest and subsequent flight as a betrayal of trust. Never mind that until her arrest, she had done nothing wrong, and that her escape had been merely to save her innocent life.
Robin knew she was in grave danger. His first instinct was to fly down to Nottingham immediately and spirit her away, but he knew that he needed a plan. He gathered Tuck, Wulfhere, John, Will, and a few other trusted advisers.
The rumor was that after Marian’s escape last spring, the sheriff did not trust the gaol. It was said he had the traitor locked up in “the Castle.”
Marian didn’t know who had started the rumor that the sheriff had found and captured a spy who was feeding information to Robin Hood. She was pretty sure that she was the only spy feeding information to Robin. Cedric had been visiting the orphanage when he told her the news. He even took credit for deducing that there was a spy in the first place. He was clearly quite proud of himself. Hilde had gone more pale than usual and had to excuse herself. She had gone to her room, packed her things and left. Marian’s heart was beating so hard that she could barely think at all. In her room, she cut her hair to the nape of her neck, dyed it with henna and changed into her foresting clothes, which were basically the same breeches and tunic that all the foresters wore. They were dark and earthy and looked nothing like the Danish clothes Hilde wore. She walked out of her door and into the woods a hundred yards away. After about an hour walking steadily north towards Sherwood, she realized that she was being followed. She continued North but veered Eastward toward Derby. That was six hours ago. She had no food or water, but she dare not stop. She reckoned whomever was following her was hoping she would lead them to Robin Hood, and so probably wouldn’t molest her en route, but she couldn’t take that chance. She wanted desperately to get word to Robin that she wasn’t a captive of the sheriff, but she couldn’t see how to do that until she could get somewhere safe. She was thirsty and hungry and had gotten pretty scratched up trying to lose her pursuers in a thicket of thorn bushes. She had her daggers with her, but she doubted she’d be as successful with them this time around. It was going to be dark soon. She hoped whoever was following her would stop for the night, knowing that she would have to make camp also. She wasn’t going to. She was going to make for the inn in Worksop.
Robin, John, Tuck, Will Skarlett and several of the foresters had gathered in a thicket just outside Nottingham. They were making their final preparations for storming the sheriff’s castle. The plan was that John and Will would cause a diversion at the front of the castle and draw as many guards out as possible, and Robin would sneak in the back and rescue Marian. The remaining foresters would wait in the shadows and wait until the last minute before joining in. This would make for a double surprise attack. The only problem was, they didn’t know where in the castle Marian was being held. They didn’t even know the layout of the castle.

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Robin Hood: War 33

Robin looked over and saw that John was being kicked even though he was passed out. Unbeknownst to Gerard, he was the last of the demons standing. He was furious at the turn the night had taken and he wanted to make sure “Little John” never forgot it. A few more kicks give or take a dozen aught to finish him. A shadow passed over him He looked up just in time to see all the remaining outlaws of Sherwood converge on him.
It turned out to have been a much less fatal night than Chaucer had dared hope for. Every one of the demons that did live was a long way from consciousness. Gerard might never wake up. They were summarily loaded onto carts and carried out of town, like rubbish. It was hours before first light, and Robin had a few of the lads take the carts to Nottingham where they could be unloaded in front of the sheriff’s office. Robin wanted to send the sheriff a message. He wanted the sheriff to know that despite his carefully hidden plans, Robin Hood knew what he was up to and was more than up for it.
Chaucer had Robin’s men convalesce at the inn. Although it would take some time for these men to recover, only about six of them had been seriously wounded, including John. There were close to 200 men in the forest, ready to take the fight to the sheriff. The problem was, that number would soon be dwarfed by the sheriff’s mercenary army. Robin needed to rally the entire shire to his side, or act before the bulk of the enemy horde arrived, or both. The mercenaries might be doing Robin’s recruiting for him if what happened in Worksop was any indication.
As the year ripened and the days got warmer, families wandered in to Sherwood from all over the shire. People’s homes were being destroyed. The sheriff had been shaken by the pile of giant wounded at his doorstep and decided not to wait to put his plan into action. He wanted to show the people of the shire the price of lawlessness. He wanted them to beg him to make the attacks stop. His plan was that Robin’s outlaws would be blamed for the acts of the mercenaries who were instructed to pretend like they were themselves the outlaws of Sherwood. The sheriff felt that this would rally the people to the lawful representative of the shire. It would also enrage Robin Hood who it had been demonstrated would try to interject himself into every outbreak of pandemonium, the exhausting his forces and rendering him permanently on defense.
Although everyone knew that the mercenaries weren’t part of Robin’s band of outlaws, the news that it was the sheriff’s men was hard for people to swallow. Rumors began to circulate that Lincoln was gathering an army to take over Nottinghamshire. Other rumors claimed that there was treasure hidden in the shire, probably Robin Hood’s, and that the riff raff converging on the shire were treasure hunters in search of the gold.
The “Merry Men”, as the outlaws were referred to by the people of Nottinghamshire, would help people rebuild. They began an extensive underground network, connecting the various towns with Sherwood. They had to be careful as in addition to the mercenaries, there were deputies in every town reporting directly to the sheriff and anyone or any town caught co-operating with Robin Hood was putting his life in jeopardy. Tuck’s homing pigeons were distributed throughout the shire. Men from Sherwood were assigned to watch over towns where they wouldn’t be recognized. They would watch out for signs of invasion. Sometimes a scout would come and pretend to be a wandering soldier. He would get drunk at the tavern, and try to get a feel for the town’s defenses. If that were the case, and Robin’s man found out in time, he could make haste for Sherwood and bring a band of men to defend the town. Most times, though the mercenaries would just come riding in from where they had been hiding in a neighboring shire and attack a village, raping and pillaging, and then go back to where ever they came from.
In cases like this, the village could only rebuild, and hope it didn’t happen again. In some cases, the deputy of the village would be ignorant of the sheriff’s plan and help Robin fight the invaders. In others, The deputy’s loyalty would lay with the town they served and they would turn against the sheriff. Most deputies, however, had a fear of the sheriff that outweighed their desire to do the right thing. The same was true of many townspeople. Even after their town was attacked, they would stay loyal to the sheriff.
Sherwood itself began to swell with people who would rather live in the woods than in a town that was ruled by a sheriff that would exploit it as soon a destroy it. For the first time, Sherwood village had voluntary citizens.
The sheriff was sick of this game of cat and mouse. He had been trying to get Robin hood to leave himself open to attack by drawing him out to the various villages and towns of the shire. It was obvious to the sheriff, that the peasants of the shire were in cahoots with Robin Hood and so he cared not a fig if the mercenaries burned them all too the ground. Some of the gentry and nobility were beginning to suspect the sheriff was mad, but they dared not oppose him when he was so hell bent on catching Robin Hood. To do so might put even them in jeopardy. For his own part, the sheriff was convinced if he could just get rid of Robin Hood, life would return to normal, and no one need worry about any of this nastiness anymore. He felt he was right on the verge of capturing or killing Robin Hood. Nothing worked, however, and so the sheriff needed to change tactics once again. Instead of a raid on a town or village, the army would assemble en masse, and attack them in Sherwood. The forest lands were protected by the crown, and so the sheriff couldn’t just burn them down, or he would have done so long ago. But he now had enough of an army that he could surround the forest, and they could work their way towards the center, thus ensuring that there was no escape for Robin Hood.

For himself, Robin needed no conjurer to tell him of the coming carnage. It came to him in his dreams. The people of the forest, having built a home for themselves & redeemed themselves from their fall from grace and banishment from civilization, would be chased even into the wilderness by the madman who had placed them there in the first place, and finding them, would slay them all.
In the fever of sleep, Robin loosed every arrow, never missing his mark, and still they came, the invaders; choking the woods in the blood of his countrymen. And they did not stop with the outlaws, no. Onward they came. Punishing the whole of the shire, every man, woman and child. The children, with tomorrow’s bright promise of hope in their eyes, reaped like wheat, their dolls and toys falling to the dust, forgotten: a stuffed bear, a wooden deer, a toy archer.
Robin would awaken screaming silently, bathed in sweat. This coming war would destroy Nottinghamshire, and the sheriff would suffer not a scratch. Robin Hood would go down in history as the rat that caused the death of a generation. Heaven and eternal rest would be barred to him. In the eternal pit he would forever be tormented by the deaths he had facilitated by his rebellion. Robin could not allow it. He would take the fight to the sheriff. But how? The sheriff, now playing the role of general, was always surrounded by an entourage of lackeys waiting to be dispatched. Yet Robin determined to find a way.

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Robin Hood: The Rematch 32

The town of Worksop, in the North of the Shire, at the Inn, a band of surly fellows had been staying for about a fortnight, when the innkeeper began to despair of ever seeing a farthing in payment. He had provided the 12 strong and burly men his best rooms, and after they had run off all the other guests, they took all the rooms. He and his goodwife provided them with breakfast lunch and dinner, and no small amount of drink. They were obviously soldiers awaiting some orders from somewhere. They weren’t under orders from the crown or any of the Nobility, that the innkeepers could tell. They were closed mouthed about their employment, and mind you, that was the only thing they were close mouthed about. They quarreled with everyone, including themselves, and neither the maidens nor the livestock were safe from their attentions. The only thing they failed to make liberal use of in town was soap. England in the twelfth century wasn’t known for its hygiene, but these boys stood out as filthy among even the lowliest swine in the shire.
The innkeeper’s name was Chaucer; no relation. He complained bitterly by day and prayed fervently by night. His best plan, was to burn down his inn and start again somewhere else and hope the demons didn’t follow him. He had no way of knowing but one of the displaced guests had been on their way to Sherwood Forest. Worksop bordered the north of the Forest as Notthingham bound it on the south. When the folk of Sherwood needed a bed, a meal and most importantly, a roof, they often went up to Chaucer’s Inn to get a feel for civilization. It was also a good way to get gossip about the shire without being too conspicuous. Innkeepers love to gossip, especially to regular customers.
The guest in question, one Henry Fitzhume, loved the meals the innkeeper’s wife, Nan, prepared, and was none too happy about being bullied out of his room. The noise had been enough to irritate him and the smell had been enough for him to keep his distance from the boys, (the inn all referred to them as the demons and if the mercenaries had overheard… well, they probably would have approved. But, one night in the tavern of the inn, he had been persuaded to play a round of darts. The demons had of course, cheated at the scorekeeping, but on lean forester could hardly accuse twelve surly, burly demons of cheating and expect to sleep soundly that night, so he had conceded his room as payment, and considered himself lucky.
It was, as has been eluded to, expected of those visiting the inn to bring back gossip to the forest, and when Henry was asked what he learned on his sojourn into civilization, he confessed that he had been so harried by these ruffians, that he had failed to learn a single thing.
“You should have at least spoke to Chaucer in private” said Will Skarlett.
“Aye.” agreed Little John. “We are the outlaws of Sherwood, and we care not for some wayfarers who cheat at darts.” This was the way Little John formed his sentences when he had had a bit of ale.
“Actually,” said Robin, “Mr. Fitzhume has given us some vital information about the sheriff’s plans for Sherwood.”
“He sent the demons to beat me at darts?” answered Fitzhume.
“Aye.” said Robin. “The sheriff is gathering soldiers to root us out of our happy woodland home. These swine are the first to arrive.” Robin had been sitting at the table around which they were all gathered. He stood up. “Perhaps there have been one or two others, but not right on the forest’s edge, and not a nuisance to the foresters themselves. Um, ourselves? Well, regardless. I believe, Mr. Fitzhume, that you must return to the inn for a rematch.”
“Oh. I’d like that. I’d like that very much.” said Mr. Fitzhume.
It was a warm summer evening at the Chaucer Inn. The waning moon streamed into the tavern window giving a blue rim light to the faces of the ever rowdy demons. One, whose name was Ralph had done just that in the  middle of the room. The townsfolk had liked to gather at the inn before the unruly pack of giant, square jawed, ham handed young psychopaths had moved in. But now, they stayed home after dark. Unless there was an emergency.
“Here! Look what I found out for a stroll this fine summer night!” said Gerard, an enthusiastic young lad with a patchy beard and hair cropped by sheep shears. He pulled in behind him a reluctant, though feisty lass whose name he had been unable to ascertain.
“You oaf!” she said. “I’m on my way to deliver a baby! I am a MIDWIFE! How many times do I have to tell you? Do you not know what a midwife is?”
“Oh that wee lad isn’t going anywhere is he?” said Gerard. His mates all cheered agreement.
“Stay and have a drink with us Lassie!” said Ralph. The boys all began to gather around. Things had gotten dull the past few days, and this could be hours of fun for them all before the poor girl’s heart gave out.
The midwife was neither young nor fetching in the eyes of the young mercenaries, yet those weren’t really requirements for their sport. They weren’t courting the girl. The lanterns in the room flickered, casting shadows across the boys faces at hellish angles.
Chaucer decided he could no longer just cower in the kitchen, waiting for them to pass out. He came into the room with a mind to fetch the girl out the back way. “Oh, good! It’s the innkeeper!” said James, the leader of the gang. “Another round, if you please, and bring a glass for the lady.” he said.
Chaucer screwed up all the courage he could muster. “This young lady is on an important errand and hasn’t time to dally with you lads this evening.” he said and took the midwife by the arm to lead her into the kitchen where there was another exit.
“Bosh!” said Ralph, “You just want her for yourself, you dirty old sot!” and he stumbled in between them and the kitchen door.
“Is that true?” said James. “You going to take away our plaything for your own selfish desires?” Chaucer found himself surrounded by the soldiers.
“No.” said the innkeeper. “I’m going to send her on her way. She has a baby to deliver.”
“You are not being very hospitable to your guests.” said Gerard, who was feeling proprietary towards the girl, since he had brought her.
“Now lads,” said the midwife, in a bit of a panic, “I promise I will come back just as soon the I deliver the baby.”
“Will you, now?” said Ralph, reeking of vomit. “We’ll just have a go at you first, just to give you a taste!” he said and grabbed her away from Chaucer roughly by the shoulder. Chaucer stepped forward in anger and Ralph smiled. Chaucer faltered, but stood his ground. James took hold of the midwife, so Ralph could concentrate on Chaucer.
“No!” screamed the midwife.
“It’s all right Jinny!” said Chaucer, “I can take care of this ruffian!” he put his fists in front of him, prepared to give it his best. Ralph simply raised his fist over his shoulder; it was the size of Chaucer’s head. As he brought down his massive fist, the door swung open and blew out the lanterns, blanketing the room in darkness. Only the dim glow of the moon came in through the window.
There was an “Oof!” as Ralph swung at a target that was no longer there. Then, from the dim glow of the coals burning in the fireplace, a flame lit upon a straw faggot, and Henry Fitzhume brought the flame to his pipe and set it blazing.
The sudden change in the room momentarily stunned the group of demons. They stood agog staring at Henry as if he were a ghost. “What are you doing back here?” said James.
“I’ve come for a rematch.” said Henry with calm he did not actually feel. He puffed his pipe and pretended he was in a play. “Jinny, run along, don’t you have a baby to see to?” he said casually, as if Jinny were the one to be scolded for delinquency.
“Aye.” she said, and shook free. Still stunned, James let her go and she walked out the door, her heart pounding.
“Oh, you should not have done that.” said Ralph. “Gerard, go and get her back.” Gerard moved to the door, but when he opened it, a large forester stood in his way.
“Evening.” said the new man. he came in the door and, lighting a straw by his own pipe, he began to light the lanterns through out the room. “Name’s John” he said to no one in particular.
“You lads have come at a bad time.” said James gravely. “We don’t like having out fun spoiled.”
“Is that a fact?” said a man who had come in unnoticed through the kitchen. He too was smoking a pipe and dressed as a forester: all in an earthy green with a hooded cape.
“Who are you?” said Ralph.
“Why we’re the Merry Men, of course.” said another man leading several more into the main entrance.
“Who in blazes are the “Merry Men”?” demanded James.
“We are the outlaws of Sherwood.” said Will Skarlett, appearing, pipe in hand at the kitchen door.
“Well, that’s grand!” said James. “That’s just who we’re here to find! If you’re the outlaws of Sherwood, which one of you is Robin Hood?”
“That would be me.” said Robin coming through the front door, smoking his pipe. The foresters now outnumbered the demons, but the demons were much bigger. Each of them was a giant from the fables, covered in grime, hungry for English blood.
“At them!” ordered James. He plunged at Robin, who sidestepped and pulled his dagger. Robin chose to fight these soldiers indoors as soldiers were used to doing battle outdoors and so would be at a disadvantage. They would also be drunk, but they might be drunk in battle so he wasn’t sure that that would be the advantage it should be.
Some of the soldiers were armed and some had left their swords in their room. They all had daggers at least as that was part of their everyday dress. Robin’s boys all had daggers and some had swords, so on that count it was fairly even. Robin himself had a sword, but left it in its scabbard for now because he thought that there might not be room to fully utilize it in close quarters.
James, having overshot his mark wheeled immediately and hit Robin in the back with a massive blow. Robin fell into a table immediately in front of him and grabbed a lantern as it toppled. He pivoted on his heel and slammed the lantern into James’ skull. The glass broke. The lantern fat splattered onto his face and the flame spread across James’ head.
Chaucer felt guilty for wanting to set his inn on fire because it looked like his wish was about to come true. Robin Hood! Right here in his own inn! He watched with equal parts wonder and horror as Robin Hood and his band of outlaws engaged the demons that had possessed his inn for so long. The biggest one, his name was Little John, Chaucer knew, was not as big as any of these giants. He was fist fighting with Gerard. They were going toe to toe. Gerard threw a punch that would have killed a horse if it had landed, but it didn’t. Little John was spry and bobbed out of the way. He used the momentum he built from straightening up to carry into a punch that caught Gerard on the ear. Gerard looked more irritated than hurt. He swatted John’s arm away and threw a jab that struck John right in the nose, whipping his head back. Chaucer turned away.
He saw Robin Hood had his dagger out, and so did James. James had recovered from having his face burned. He had somehow extinguished his face without setting the inn on fire. It was bloody and red. He swiped at Robin, who leaned back, dodging the cut. Robin brought his blade up, straight at James’ chin, but James pulled away as Robin had.
Chaucer looked for Henry. He had been surprised to see him here, and even more surprised that he was with Robin Hood. He thought that those outlaws were murderous thugs who lived like animals in the forest, but Henry was a well mannered young man; quite the opposite of what he had associated with Robin’s outlaws.
He was still by the fireplace having a swordfight with James’ lieutenant, Edward. Henry was holding his sword with two hands and blocking hammering strikes by Edward. Even among the din, Chaucer could hear the clang of the swords as they sparked together. Edward brought his sword up in preparation for an unstoppable blow, and Henry used the opportunity to swing his own sword from where it had been over his head, sideways into Edward’s ribs. It was a gruesome blow, but as Chaucer looked about him, it was hardly the first or bloodiest blow. There were men on both sides being butchered. Some were dead already, others lay dying as their life’s blood drained out of them.
Little John was down on his knees. Gerard was pummeling him repeatedly on the head. He looked as if he were in for it.
Robin received a cut to his left shoulder. The only acknowledgement he gave was the line of his mouth was set even grimmer than it had been. Robin swiveled his dagger into a stabbing position and swung at his opponent’s chest. James saw it coming and batted it away so ferociously that Robin dropped his dagger. James now stabbed at Robin and Robin caught James’ wrists in both his hands and held fast. Now it was a contest of strength and James was clearly the stronger. Slowly, he brought the dagger down toward Robin’s heart. The two looked each other in the eye, hoping for some clue, some sign of weakening to take advantage of. Suddenly, Robin kneed James in the grion with all the force he could muster. James’ eyes dialated, and then he loosened his grip on his dagger. Robin pushed James’ wrists up enough to allow him to butt James in the head. James dropped his dagger and fell unconscious.