Tom’s House was unusually quiet, when Robin came to visit. Robin had decided that he would try to maintain friendships in town, and if people did not want to be seen with an outlaw, that was something he could not blame them for. So far, he had had better luck than he expected. The townspeople hated Bill and cursed him for taking their money and filling his pockets with it. The Stanhopes had fed Robin and told him how they had planned to open a tavern but now could not because the sheriff had found out about their savings and taken it on the pretence of a fine for selling ale without a permit. Villagers throughout Edwinstowe had similar stories. Robin began to form a plan for getting his land back. He did not say anything to anyone, because it was dangerous and illegal and probably treason. He would need help, and he had an idea where to start to look for it.
Tom was the last friend on his list, before heading back into the forest. He knew Audrey was ill and so was the baby, and he was loathe to put them out. A visit required an offer of a meal and pleasantries that Robin was sure Audrey was not up to, nor could Tom afford. Robin knocked at the door. Through the thin walls, he heard muffled movement, and Audrey shushing their oldest, Bridged. “It’s me Robin.” He said through the door. “I can leave and come back tomorrow if that’s better. I’ll bring you some fish if you like.” Robin mentally berated himself for not thinking to bring them something.
He heard little Henry say, “It’s Robin!” and scramble to open the door. Robin’s face lit up at the sight of little Henry. Henry’s dirty face showed the boy felt the same.
“Oh, Hank! You are a sight for these eyes!” Robin scooped the boy up in his arms. “Is your Da at home, Henry?”
“Da got hurt.” the child pointed to a dark corner of the room where Audrey, Bridged and Maggie sat over Tom who lay on a straw pallet. The breath went out of Robin as he put down Henry and went to Tom’s side. Tom had bruises all over his face; his lip swollen, his eyes both blackened and his cheeks were raw. His clothes were ragged and bloody and every inch of skin that showed through was covered with cuts, abrasions, bruises and scabs. Tom tried to force a smile for his old friend.
“Bill?” asked Robin. Tom nodded.
“They are going to take our home and kill us!” wailed Audrey who had been holding it in until now. Now she let her fears out. She needed someone to know. “They beat poor Tom just to show him they could! They had no call! He’s done no wrong!” She was sobbing uncontrollably now. Robin took her in his arms.
“Hush, now Audrey, nobodies going to hurt you or the children. Tom and I will see to that.” Robin said to be soothing.
Now Audrey became suddenly angry. “How can you make such a claim?!” She yelled. They run you off; they took your home. They will take ours too as sure as the Virgin’s in Heaven!” The children were all crying now as well, and Tom tried to sit up to reign in the situation.
Robin scooped up Henry and Bridged. “I said we’d see to it!” he said, trying not to be caught up in the emotion. “Maybe they will take your home, for now; but we will all be gone from here! Get your things. Tom, can you walk? We’re leaving right now!”
The Outlaws of Sherwood
As dusk found Sherwood Forest, the sun turned the sky orange behind the silhouetted trees, and the whole forest was in shadow. The quiet was broken by a loud call. “John!” said the voice. “Little John! Where are you?”
Finally, John came out into the clearing. “Robin! Stop your shouting!” Then he saw that Robin was carrying two children and had their parents and a baby in tow. “Blessed Mary, Mother of God!” said John, getting a good look at Tom. “What’s the meaning of this?” said John.
“Where are the rest?” said Robin.
“The rest of what?” said John.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Little John. The rest of the outlaws; where are they?”
“We are here.” said a burly man emerging into the clearing with several others. They came to stand around Robin and Tom. No one needed to ask what had happened to Tom. They had all experienced the same treatment. Men were still coming into the clearing. Robin could not believe how many. He knew there would be a lot, but he had not taken into account all the towns in Nottinghamshire, the number of years it had been going on, nor the size of the sheriff’s greed, nor the size of his evil. Robin thought, the good of the forest seems big enough to overcome the evil.
“Damn that man!” said Audrey seeing all the pain she felt in all these men’s eyes.
“They have seen us all together.” said one of them to another.
“They belong with us now.” was the reply.
“Is that true?” said the first man to the newcomers. “Will you not give us up to the sheriff? Will you swear to not give away our location? Can we trust you?”
“Aye.” Said Robin. “We are all in this together, no? The sheriff drove us out of our home once, we will not allow him to do it again!” The crowd gave a resounding “AYE!” Robin felt it was enough for now. First they would accept him. He would show them what they had. He would show them that they were an army with a common enemy.