Wulfhere’s cave had many unique features. Not the least of which was a natural chimney which allowed for fires for cooking and warmth without fear of asphyxiation or detection from outside. The small band of outlaws had an uneasy night as Robin and John tried to get some sleep and Tuck, Marian and Wulfhere stayed up at the fire discussing the history of Druids, their philosophy & religion, and the legacy they have left for England. Tuck was fascinated both by Wulfhere’s extensive knowledge on the subject and the voracious appetite Marian had for the subject. Tuck was surprised to find how much Marian already knew. In fact, she was able to clear up some mysteries for Wulfhere, whom everyone had decided was a Druid, though the old hermit was typically enigmatic on the question. Though Tuck was a monk and devoted to God and the Church, he was not the type to cast aspersions on the beliefs of others. He knew that nobody had all the answers to life’s mysteries and he enjoyed learning ideas that were new to him. He was surprised to learn that Marian’s Grandfather had schooled her in archery and sword fighting when she was a little girl. He had heard the tale of her escape from captivity and was scarcely able to believe it. His already tremendous admiration for her grew as he learned things about her which were not apparent. Not only were they not obvious, but they were obscured, as she had hid them from everyone just to fit in as a woman in society. She vowed to be herself from that moment on, come what may. Will Skarlett had speculated that her addition to the group would weaken it, but Tuck could see the fallacy of that thinking here in the firelight on Easter night.
Dawn found Robin awakening to see Wulfhere and Marian still talking, though Tuck had fallen asleep where he sat and was snoring softly. He went outside to relieve himself and as he returned, one of Tuck’s rock doves arrived bearing a message. The group exchanged grim looks as Tuck fumbled delicately with the bird to get at the note. These messages were rarely good news. “The Earl has returned to Lincoln, but one of the children had gone missing.” Read Tuck.
“Who?” said Robin.
“Martha, daughter of James.” said Tuck. He was unfamiliar with Sherwood’s tightly knit community.
Just as the incident with Tom’s girl, Brigid mobilized the community, news of Martha’s disappearance brought Sherwood to move as a unit. Months of living together in the forest virtually cut off from the rest of the world, living in fear of detection had caused the community to think quickly and as if there was a leader giving them direction, even when they were all separated from each other. They had been drilled to assess information in such a way as to discover the root importance and determine the immediate action needed. These reactions could be refined and modified as need be, but in an emergency the entire community’s existence hung in the balance of making the correct decision and arriving at it quickly.
Given Lord Lincoln’s reputation of having a predilection for young girls, and the timing of Martha’s disappearance, it wasn’t difficult to figure that she was his captive. Other possibilities were considered and dismissed. Perhaps an animal had attacked her. If so there was likely to have been some sign; a struggle, clothes, blood. None of those things were found. It was quickly determined that Lincoln was still in Mansfield, and the outlaws of Sherwood were drawn there as sure as if there had been a trail. As the community recoalesced in the woods surrounding the grounds of the Lincoln estate, they slowed there pace a bit. Earls in England were historically the leaders of armies and wielded tremendous power. It would be dangerous to just storm the property; both to the outlaws and to Martha. A scout was sent to the main property to try to determine Martha’s exact circumstances. By the time Robin and the group form Derby joined them, the scout had not returned. Robin was not the official leader of the group, though they all looked to him for guidance. As for himself, Robin was the first to admit, he had hardly the experience nor the inclination to know what to do in every situation. There were men among them who had fought in wars, and men who had once been knights and gentry themselves, only to turn outlaw mostly due to the egregious tax situation, but there were other ways for good men to fall low.
There were no titles among the Sherwoodsmen, but experience was well respected and the grizzled old warriors that had been lads in Richard’s crusades devised a plan whereby one or two fleet footed lads would sneak up to the house in the dark of night and crawl in through an open window. (windows were shuttered in the winter to keep out the cold but otherwise had no kind of barrier, other than that they were usually exclusive to upper floors.)
“Who’s going to be fool enough to take that job?” Robin wondered allowed, and when he found all eyes upon him he realized that it would be he.
The scout returned shortly before dark. He was famished and the men fed him rations of bread and plied him with questions. There could be no certainty that young Martha was there, but he had overheard talk of the need for an extra guard in the aft tower.
The Earl of Lincoln’s Manor look moor like a castle than the Sheriff’s. And well it should. It had a gate house and a brick wall surrounding a front lawn that was as big as the main house itself. There was a guard’s walk along the top of the wall and crenellations around the perimeter. There was a tower in the front and back of the house; built square in the Norman style. There were only a few guards as no one would be stupid enough to try an assault on Lincoln’s house since he was a well known sadist and crazy person.
In the end, Robin elected to go alone, reasoning that he could move with more stealth by himself, and that no one else need be in danger. The plan was that if he was not back by dawn, They would stage an all out assault on the property from every direction. The problem with the execution of such an assault was that unless it was well coordinated, whoever lagged or went early would make it easier to target a few attackers at a time, so a careful timing system had to be worked out, or as in this case a signal; there would be a flaming arrow shot over the roof so that all could see it and attack en masse.
Sometime after midnight, the household seemed to have gone to bed. Robin had argued against waiting for fear of the harm that might befall the young maiden. After some discussion, Robin was convinced that it was just too dangerous to go before the household was abed. This point was brought home when a hunting dog came bounding into the thicket where Robin and his councilors were drawing their plans in the dirt. The dog, far from the vicious brute one would expect from the house of a lunatic, was surprised and happy to see so many new people. He barked and wagged his tail and licked the faces of everyone hunched over the dirt. Then, from a ways off came the call of a teenage boy. “Lucifer! Here boy! Come on Lucy! Don’t make me come looking for you!” Clearly torn, the hound looked in the direction of the boy and back to the men huddled around him in the dark. Then he looked at Robin, sniffed him one last time, and bounded off.
Now, by starlight, Robin skirted the perimeter of the property. The scout had said he had gotten close to the wall and listened to the gossip of the guards on top. The guard wall terminated near the front of the of the house, but the crenelated walk continued around the house itself. The tower at the rear protruded from the rectangle of main building.The tower itself was the rear entrance to the house, where deliveries would be made and the help would come and go by. Although the door was locked, it was not a complicated design, and Robin was able to use his dagger to throw the bolt without much noise. Once in, he let his eyes adjust to the near total darkness. He could make out a doorway to his right and made his way in that direction. Beyond the door was a square hallway. To the left, leading into the house, was a door to the kitchen where there was still a faint glow from the embers of the hearth. To the right of that was an even blacker doorway which Robin suspected led upstairs. He felt his way toward the doorway, practically blind. There was the scent of embers and bread coming from the kitchen and a musty smell of damp stone coming from the stairwell. He climbed the stairs and when he came to a turn, he was at last in total blackness. He listened carefully and heard only the light scrape of mice scurrying somewhere nearby.
Robin listened to the sound of his footfalls and concentrated on making them as quiet as possible. He had learned to be stealthy when hunting and if he could sneak up on a deer, he felt confident he could move with relative silence. This environment was different than the forest, though. And if he even allowed himself to think for a moment of the danger he was in, it seemed to far outway anything he had done in front of the sheriff. He barred the thought of danger from his mind, and proceeded up the stairs carefully.
After another turn, there was a cross shaped window in the wall which let in the meager starlight. Finally, Robin came to a door. The stairs led on to the roof and the guard walk. Robin had no way of knowing if Martha was on the other side of the door. Hadn’t that scout said something about a guard being posted outside the door? There was no use in debating questions at this point. If there was a guard, he might return at any moment. I hope he has a torch and a key, thought Robin ruefully. He knelt at the door, and felt for the keyhole, it was much smaller than the one that he had picked with his dagger downstairs. He looked through it. Darkness. He smelt it but smelled only metal and grease. Robin thought for a moment, and then had an idea. He pulled an arrow from his quiver. The point was smaller and more narrow than his dagger. It didn’t quite fit, however. Frustrated, Robin forced it creating a scraping sound that in the preceding silence seemed loud enough to wake the house. Silence ensued again and Robin listened for movement on the stairs. Perhaps the guard was right outside talking to the guard on the roof to pass the time. After a moment, Robin jostled the arrow again and this time it went in. He heard a rustling on the other side of the door. Was it the Earl? Probably not; the Earl would be demanding to know who was there. He twisted the arrow, turning it, trying to throw the bolt.
There was a sound again from the other side of the door. Was it a gasp? A sob? “Martha!” he whispered in a hoarse kind of voice that didn’t carry through the door, but seemed too loud all the same. Just get the door open, he told himself. Finally he felt the bolt release and the door opened. Robin realised that is was so dark, they couldn’t see each other. “Martha?” he said.
“Who is that?” she whispered back. “Is that.. Is it Robin?” she sobbed again, and stumbled into his arms, sobbing, trying to be quiet, but unable to control herself.
There was a loud slam that came from up the stairs and a blinding torchlight. A guard came down the stairs. “What the devil is going on down here?” The guard, still quite a ways up the stair drew his sword. Now he had a torch in one hand and his sword in the other.
“Get down the stairs! Now!” Robin commanded Martha, who didn’t need to be told twice. Arrows are only an advantage at a distance, so Robin moved fast before the guard could close on him. Robin had his bow from off his chest to in his hand and an arrow fit into it so fast, it was like a magic trick. Robin shot the torch, hoping to extinguish it. Although it was knocked out of the guard’s hand, it remained lit and fell down the stairs, toward Robin and past him, coming to a stop where the stair turned. The flickering falling light had been disorienting, but Robin moved even as it was happening. As he sprang up the stair, he dropped his bow and drew his sword. The guard was still trying to process the last few moments when Robin knocked the sword out of his hand, and moved past him up the stair. Once behind him, Robin kicked the guard hard in the back, sending him sprawling down the stairs. When Robin reached the door to the roof, he shut it and noting that there was a wooden bar to seal the door against attackers, he slammed the bar home, locking out any guards outside. Robin turned back to the guard to find he had regained both his sword and the torch.
The guard rushed Robin in the same fashion, turning the tables on Robin, but, Robin was ready and had the high ground. He attacked downward, forcing the guard down the stairs. As the man backed up in the dark on the steep stone steps, in the dark of the guttering torchlight, he slipped and fell. Robin reached down and grabbed the torch, noting that the man had hit his head on the sharp corner of a stair. Robin wasn’t sure if he was dead or just unconscious, but didn’t have time to find out. He raced down the stairs and caught up to Martha. By now, the rest of the house was waking up, and dogs were barking. There was the sound of people yelling in confusion. Robin and Martha were at the bottom of the stairs when one of the dogs leaped at them. The dog barked but didn’t attack.
“Lucifer?” Robin tried. The dog growled and barked again. “Lucifer! Stay!” Robin commanded. Robin and Martha made it to the door leading to freedom just as the dog leaped at them. Robin met the attack by soundly smacking the hound on his nose. The dog was unabashed and bit Robin’s hand. But now he and Martha were out the door, where they were safe.
Except that they were met by Lord Lincoln and a large retinue of his men.
“Thief!” shouted the Earl. Robin saw that there were at least twenty men with arrows trained on him. It was at that moment, Robin realised that he had left his bow on the stairs.
“What have you to say for yourself, scum!?” shouted the Earl.
“I’ve come to rescue Martha!” said Robin proudly.
Rescue her? From me? It is I who rescued her from the woods.” said Lincoln. “Who would abandon a child in the woods? Not I. Was it you? Are you her father? I rather doubt it. Look at you. You aren’t old enough. You aren’t much older than she, are you?” the Earl smiled. It was a wicked leering smile. “What exactly do you intend to do with her?”
“I’m going to return her safely to her father.” Robin said.
“I doubt that very much.” said Lincoln, examining his gloved hand for imperfections in the stitching. “Kill him. Put the girl back in her room.” he said in an offhand manner.
“There will be no killing here tonight.” said a new voice.
“My dear sheriff!” cried the Earl with apparent delight. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“The girl’s mother came to me. Sobbing. Told me she was probably here. You can hand the girl over to me. I’ll see she gets back to her family.” said the sheriff.
“What about this trespassing brigand?” said the Earl petulantly. “Surely I can have some fun with him?”
The sheriff looked at the two of them for a long moment. It would be a bright tomorrow if they killed each other. The very term outlaw meant that Robin was beyond the protection of the law. But there was something admirable about the way Robin had rescued that girl. And he didn’t like the Earl.
“Not in my jurisdiction. This is Nottinghamshire. I’m the law here. Not you.” Grudgingly, the sheriff realised that Robin had saved him the trouble of demanding to search the house for the girl. The sheriff began to see a way out of this mess.
“You say you rescued her from the woods. What does the girl say?”
“Who cares what a girl says!” spat the Earl. “And a child at that! I’m the Earl of Lincolnshire! I’ll have my men run you through, blame it on this filthy young thief, and that will be the end of you. You are on my land and you are outnumbered.”
Lincoln had a point. The sheriff had brought only a handful of men. To have brought an army would have been unseemly, and unrealistic. And it would have been asking for trouble. This was a point the sheriff had been hoping to avoid.
“He’s not outnumbered. You are.” said yet another new voice. There along the perimeter of the woods, emerged what looked to be a wall of torches. It was hard to see how many were there in the dark but it was more than enough to overpower the Earl’s assembly.
“Well played, sheriff. I have underestimated you capacity for strategy.” said the Earl icily.
The sheriff, for his part, was getting his first look at the men Robin had rallied to his side. This was not a bright tomorrow. This was the exact opposite of that. For now, though he had stepped in to protect Robin and Martha, and Robin’s grim looking horde were returning the favor.
“My, what a merry lot.” said the Earl sarcastically. “Very well. You win. Take your merry men and begone with you.”
Martha went with the sheriff to be reunited with her mother, and Robin turned to go and then stopped. “My bow.” he said. “I’ll have my bow returned to me.”
“To Hades with your damn bow!” said the Earl.
“You’d do well to fetch him his bow.” said the man who had announced the army.
“Oh, very well; get him his blasted bow!” Even in the dark, the red of humiliation was evident in the Earl’s face.
With his bow in hand, Robin walked to the band of merry men, where there was a horse waiting for him, mounted, and like the mist, they vanished into the night.
And that is how the sheriff of Nottingham teamed up with Robin Hood.