The sheriff Held his lantern over the chest and peered in at the gold coins. The heat had fled with the sun and yet the cold swirling around the scene seemed to emanate from the sheriff himself. He had fumed briefly and impotently when he had been bested and then ignored by the crowd. He locked eyes with Roland and for a brief moment commiserated with his man before steeling himself. He would take care of Robin Hood in good time, right now he needed to send these chests of money to his monastery. This time he would take no chances. He was sending his own men. There were six of them; nearly every man he had. If the thieves struck again, they would be decimated. There had truly been a record turnout, and there were four chests heavily laden with coin. The clergy had recognized his seething anger and had not said a word as he took everything, not even leaving the portion allotted to the orphanage.
He made sure the chests were secure and sent the men out into the darkness. It was unheard of to travel at night, but the sheriff wanted to take no chances. The sooner these chests arrived at the monastery, the sooner he could breathe easy. The horses would not be able to see, but the sheriff would not listen to complaints or excuses.
The team made its way quickly out of Nottingham, but once away from the sheriff, Roland slowed the horses and had Mace walk in front with a torch and lead them. Roland was sore from the day’s effort and had a fantastic headache for which he kept a skin of strong wine close by. He welcomed the idea of an attack that would let him unleash his blood lust, but wanted a bit of rest beforehand.
The night wore on and all was quiet until well after midnight. Diana’s moon was high in the air; a bow pointed down at them as if to attack. There was a sound in the wood off to the right.. “Halt!” called Roland. Everyone had torches, so they all drew swords instead of bows. Each man was tense, and alert. There was the sound of hooves in the woods; definitely more than one animal. They waited in silence for a long moment and then bursting through the woods onto the road they came with a terrible crash, deadly points stabbing at the air. They thundered onto the road quickly, several of them, their eyes piercing the night as they came. And then, as quickly as they has appeared, they were gone, leaving the road in silence once again; the men staring at nothing, dumbfounded. A herd of deer had crossed the road heading for the river to drink.
Far to the north in Sherwood forest, Robin and his men found the hidden glen where they had agreed to meet. It was late and they were all exhausted. “Were you all careful not to be followed?” asked Robin in a hushed voice. Each man nodded affirmative. There were clouds of breath from horse and man and the scent of wet earth that comes in the early morning hours before dawn in the air. They pulled their saddlebags off of the horses and Robin carefully lit a lantern, not wanting too much light to give them away. They opened the bags and peered inside. Each bag was full and heavy with gold.
“It’s too bad we had to let the sheriff have some of this.” said John.
“We needed the real thing to cover the rocks in the chests so he wouldn’t suspect. It was only a handful, really.” said Will.
“That was cunningly done, stealing the gold from the sheriff before it was ever in his hands and giving him chests full of painted rocks.” said John.
“Aye. we just had Wulfhere take the real gold down to the basement as soon as it was dropped off throughout the day. This way, there’s no bloodshed, and no one’s in danger.” said Robin.
“Except the old hermit.” said Will.
“Well, he claims he can turn invisible” said John.
“That is a load of rubbish.” said Will.
“Aye.” agreed John.
“Well, he certainly came through for us today, and he would’ve been killed if he had been caught.” said Robin.
“Aye, but I wasn’t caught was I?” said Wulfhere appearing from seemingly nowhere.
“Jesus and Mary!” said John. “Where in the devil did you come from?”
“A load of rubbish perhaps?” said Wulfhere.