Robin and Tuck made the hermit’s cave before nightfall. They found it much as it had been when Robin left it last with Wulfhere in the winter. The cave was situated facing south and its entrance was covered by bushes. In the late afternoon light, Robin had nearly missed it. They tethered the horses in an enclosed thicket nearby that Wulfhere had shown the boys on their first visit. The whole layout was well planned and well concealed and Wulfhere contended that it had been used by druids in Roman days. Many in Sherwood said that Wulfhere was a druid. And one from Roman days as far as that went. Wulfhere would laugh good-naturedly at that and Robin suspected he took it as a compliment.
There was a place to build a fire where the smoke would escape though the roof of the cave. There was storage space that was still filled with dry goods safe from weather and vermin. There was space enough for thirty or forty men. Robin could well imagine the original Britons had used it to hide and fortify themselves against the Romans.
Tuck had sent quick note to Sherwood during a short rest earlier that said, “Sheriff coming! Hide!” Now that he had time, he explained in more detail (as much a note would allow and still fit around the ankle of a pigeon.) Robin began a plan to harry the sheriff further. He didn’t want to give the sheriff time to think of a strategy to come at them. Meanwhile, now that the sheriff had a face to put to his adversary, he would be doubly careful. If Robin wanted to bankrupt the sheriff by robbing all of his shipments, it would be much harder now. Robin realized he was at war; and he was at War with the law of the land. He was at war with England herself.
The sheriff had tracked Robin to St. Anne’s. It didn’t take a genius to see that though the hoof prints disappeared at the edge of the woods, that Robin was headed for the orphanage. He had been trying to assess Robin’s motive. At first the sheriff believed it was simply revenge for being driven out of his home. He had finally had a vague recollection of Robin of Sherwood. A Yeoman who basically tended the forest. The sheriff had indeed targeted such worthless foresters out of their homes. They collected a living from the king, but did no work and were basically self supporting. What kind of a society could thrive on peasants who didn’t live in fear of starvation due to lack of work?
William Brewer could see now that Robin was working with the orphanage. But why? was he besotted by the girl. He must be. Why else had he risked his neck for her today? Well, he wouldn’t release the girl so quickly. Clearly she was useful leverage against the outlaw. Had Robin perpetrated these crimes himself? Probably not. They required too much planning and execution. The first one had seen the murder of three experienced soldiers. Robin was barely a grown man. It was unlikely that he had dispatched the couriers unaided. Was he paying the others? What was he doing with the money? What kind of robbers stole all that money and continued to live in the forest? Had Robin really given the money back to the orphanage? That was insane in the sheriff’s opinion. Why would you risk your neck for nothing? No woman was worth that. Was he one of these fools who believed in honor? Did they really exist? The sheriff doubted it.
Incarceration for the purpose of penal attribution was not a common practice in those days. Criminals were generally fined, subjected to a form of physical punishment like whipping or having ones hands cut off, or they were executed. Imprisonment was utilized for those awaiting a trial, but prisons were not full of felons carrying out a sentence.
Marian had not actually formally been charged with a crime. The sheriff had used her to draw out Robin Hood, and though it had worked, Robin Hood remained at large and therefore, Marian would remain locked up. Her cell was indeed in the sheriff’s keep. Though the famous castle was at the southwest corner of town, the sheriff’s was right on the market place. The stockade, as it was known, was an annex in the rear, away from the market place. Marians cell had a small window on the north side that let in a square of sun. There was little else in the way of light. The door to her cell had a small, barred window that gave a view of the hallway which led to the gaoler’s room. The door to that room also had a small barred window, and if the outer room was occupied, some of the light from the lantern within that room spilled into the hall, and subsequently into Marian’s cell.
After several tries, Marian could stand upon her water bucket and jump, and thus catch the bars to the window set deep into the thick stone. Then, she could pull herself up and see out into the ally behind the gaol. There was not much to see. Even if there had been no bars, the window was too small for Marian’s slight frame to climb through, and if she could, the drop to the street outside was much farther than the floor of her cell inside. She would survive it, but probably not without injury, thus making escape impossible. As she was the only prisoner presently, there was no full time guard on duty. One of the sheriff’s men brought her a meal once a day near dusk. It was not awful. It was whatever was leftover from the sheriff’s dinner. There were no utensils provided with the meal.
Marian recited bardic legends to herself to keep herself sane. She had been taught them by her grandfather. He taught her the old ways. Customs before the Normans had come. Before the Saxons had come. They were the ancient tales of Druids and secret, sacred ways of the fey; of the dark haired people who had been on the island before the Romans. Her grandfather told her she was descended from the ancients, when women led armies against the Romans, and were held in high esteem as leaders, rulers and priestesses. Marian, named for the Virgin, had loved the stories her grandfather had told her. She kept them secret as she was told and they kept her strong.
They were tales of the Lady of Lake, known in Arthurian legends, Vivian, the High priestess of Avalon, the Isle of apples some say was at Glastonbury. They were tales of Boudicca, Warrior Queen who led the Britons in revolt against the invading Romans in ancient days. These women would laugh if they saw Marian despair at her situation. She examined the mortar between the stones, but even if it were soft, she had no tool to dig it out. Part of her told her to be patient, that she would be released; the townspeople would not let her remained caged. Where was Tuck? Rumors were that he had fled for fear of being captured also.
Then, one day, there was a voice outside. Finally! Someone had not forgotten her! She positioned her upturned pale under the window, climbed up on the meager surface, and leapt up to the bars of the window, not quite catching them, slipped and caught hold of the angled sill. She pulled her self up and peered out to see two children. Adam and Eric.
“Marian! It’s us! We’ve come to visit you!” said Eric an attempt at a whisper that could be heard by anybody.
“Bless you, lads! I am so happy to see you! You didn’t bring any weapons or shovels, did you? Saws, files, hammers, anything like that?” She was giddy with delight that these boys had come to see her.
There was a brief conference of recrimination where each lad claimed to have wanted to bring something, but thought the other wouldn’t approve. “I’ve got my knife, Marian!” Said Eric.
“Me too! Except mines a dagger!” said Adam. “Stand back!” Marian dropped to the floor and stood against the windowed wall as two knives came sailing in. One fell to the floor at her feet and one clattered against the far wall. Each came through the tiny window high above the young boys on the first try. Marian gathered them up and hid them under her dress in case someone heard the clatter.
“Thank you boys! Thank you! How are you lads holding up without me? Is it true Tuck has fled St. Anne’s?”
“We’re all right, Marian.” Said Eric. “Sister Martha has taken over most of your duties. She’s mean. Not like you.”
“We’re fine, Marian. Don’t worry about us!” Said Adam. “Robin came and took Friar Tuck with him after trying to get you free. They’ve been gone a few days and no one knows where. When Robin finds out they didn’t let you go, he’ll be awful mad. He’ll come get you!”
“That is exactly what the sheriff wants!” Marian said. “If you see Robin, or Tuck or any of them, warn them that the sheriff has vowed to kill them on sight! Tell Robin to stay away!” Marian’s arms were getting tired, and she wanted to plan how to use her new “tools”. “You boys get along before someone sees you! Bless you boys for coming! Visit me again soon! Make sure no one sees you, or the sheriff will have your hides! This is no game, lads! People will die before this settles down!”
“We know, Marian! God keep you, Marian! Take good care of yourself! We’ll have you out of there in no time!” and with that, they were gone.
The sheriff was furious at having let Robin Hood get away. He announced that there would be a new round of taxes to make up for lost revenue and the cost of pursuing the murderous Robin Hood. Anyone caught aiding and or abetting Robin would be arrested for treason. The sheriff and his men began to terrorize the shire, whipping and beating those that couldn’t pay. Those who seemed to have more money than the sheriff thought they should had it worse. He couldn’t believe Robin had returned the taxes back to these peasants! What was his game? Was it to infuriate the sheriff and make the lives of the poor even more miserable, because if it was then; well done! If not, well that was the result! Still there was no sign of that coward, Robin Hood.
John, Wulfhere and Tom had ridden to Derby to meet Robin and Tuck as soon as they had received news of their whereabouts. Wulfhere knew that Robin would do something foolhardy. It had been smart not to lead the sheriff directly to Sherwood Village. It had been smart to take Tuck. He would have been in danger as he was connected to St Anne’s. Everyone else at St Anne’s was free from contact with Robin, his few archery lessons not withstanding. It had been smart for them to contact them by carrier pigeon. But it had been damn foolish to name himself to the sheriff’s face in the heart of Nottingham. It had been sheer luck that they had escaped. If they were to avoid further bloodshed, they would have to plan and be more careful.