The journey back to Sherwood started off normal enough; the four men spent the night at the hermit’s cave in the woods of Derby. Wulfhere, the hermit needed to get his medicines and things for the journey. It was generally believed that once the healer arrived at the burgeoning community, he would choose to join them. But that night, Robin had a strange dream. He dreamed he was betrothed to the Virgin Mary, and that Pontius Pilot was chasing him through the woods. Deeper and deeper into unknown territory he ran. He couldn’t lose his pursuers because he was leaving a trail of gold coins everywhere he went. The Virgin Mary kept telling him to feed the poor, but the game in the woods was becoming more and more elusive. Although he was unable to help the poor, who were multiplying in numbers and were impeding his getaway even more, they loved him and wanted to help him and sing his praises. This only resulted in Pontius Pilot hating him more and using the cheering of the poor to locate Robin even more easily.
Robin woke up in a sweat, despite the cold. He turned over to shake away the nightmare and saw Wulfhere staring at him, wide awake himself.
They left before first light, in a dense fog and journeyed in silence for hours. Robin was unsettled by his dream, and kept turning it over in his head, trying to figure it out. By midday, the fog had not cleared, and the terrain was overgrown and dense, making it difficult to tell if they were making good progress or even going in the right direction. The hermit seemed to dose most of the time and Robin wondered how he stayed on his horse. Will and John were unusually quiet also, as if troubled by dreams of their own.
“We should be in sight of Sherwood by now.” grumbled John.
“Aye.” said Will. The journey would take about a half a day by foot by road. They were horseback, but traveling through the woods, and they were taking a different rout to avoid showing the stranger any hint of the gold about which they had told him nothing.
“I would have thought experienced forest dwellers such as yourselves would know the way.” said the old man. He was sleight and weathered. His coarse woolen clothes were the color of dirt. Robin wasn’t sure at first if they were just dirty or dyed that color, but after seeing how fastidious and clean he was at his cave, Robin realized the hermits clothes were like that on purpose. It was as if the man wanted people to think he was dirty and reclusive and crazy, when he didn’t really seem to be any of those things at all.
“We know where we are, old man.” said Will as if he hadn’t just admitted the exact opposite. A moment later there was a surprisingly bad bird call from the trees just ahead. It sounded exactly like a person who had no idea how to make a bird call making a bird call.
“Sounds like a cuckoo.” said Wulfhere.
“That’s our man.” said John. “He’s signaling the others that we’re here.” As they walked on, people began to appear out of the woods.
It had been about a week since people had decided to bring their families and make a more permanent home in the forest, and some of the wives and children had begun to arrive. It was an odd tableau; not unlike a scene in Robin’s dream. In fact, since he had woken from it, it had been hard to shake. The journey home, the memory of the gold, the eyes of the hermit all seemed tied to the dream somehow, and now these smiling faces, so glad to see him as if he had wrought this community from thin air all on his own. Were they the poor from his dream that he was unable to feed and yet seemed to love him for things he couldn’t quite take credit for?
Presently, Tom, Audrey, Maggie, Bridged and Hank met the four horsemen. Audrey handed Maggie to Robin, who kissed her forehead, noticing the fever that burned there, and he handed her gently to Wulfhere. Wulfhere looked from Robin to Audrey to Tom and surveyed the crowd. Finally, he gave his attention to Maggie.
The hermit took in the way they all looked to Robin, and Robin’s own expression was not lost on him. As he turned his attention to the babe, he wished they had gone into a tent or somewhere private to carry out the examination. He had seen far more civilized looking crowds turn ugly at an unsuccessful healing. These people looked like murderers to begin with. The child had a high fever, her nose was red and runny, and she looked miserable. Her eyes were sunken and dark as if she hadn’t slept. She had no lesions. There was nothing to indicate she had anything other than a cold, though it was clearly a severe one. He handed the child back to her mother and right there on his horse began to mix a concoction from pouches he had with him. It was mostly honey and an bark like herb from the Indies called cinnamon. He asked for some fresh goat’s milk and mixed the potion in with the milk. He tasted it and thought it would make a fine desert. He hoped his experience with these mixtures held true, for this cured most colds. He gave instructions to feed it to the child, promised to make more, and said to give it some time.
“That’s it?” asked Robin. the hermit shrugged.
“We will see. She should respond well to the potion, but if the sickness persists, we may have to try something else. All we can do now is pray.” Then he changed the subject. “So, are you the leader of this band of outlaws?”
“Aye. That he is.” said a man that Robin didn’t even recognize.
“And we came the way we did to avoid the scene of your latest crime, eh?” Robin and John exchanged guilty looks. “Well, you’re not exactly living extravagantly here. What do you do; Rob from the rich and give to the poor?” Robin and John exchanged looks once again.