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.
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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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