Robin looked over and saw that John was being kicked even though he was passed out. Unbeknownst to Gerard, he was the last of the demons standing. He was furious at the turn the night had taken and he wanted to make sure “Little John” never forgot it. A few more kicks give or take a dozen aught to finish him. A shadow passed over him He looked up just in time to see all the remaining outlaws of Sherwood converge on him.
It turned out to have been a much less fatal night than Chaucer had dared hope for. Every one of the demons that did live was a long way from consciousness. Gerard might never wake up. They were summarily loaded onto carts and carried out of town, like rubbish. It was hours before first light, and Robin had a few of the lads take the carts to Nottingham where they could be unloaded in front of the sheriff’s office. Robin wanted to send the sheriff a message. He wanted the sheriff to know that despite his carefully hidden plans, Robin Hood knew what he was up to and was more than up for it.
Chaucer had Robin’s men convalesce at the inn. Although it would take some time for these men to recover, only about six of them had been seriously wounded, including John. There were close to 200 men in the forest, ready to take the fight to the sheriff. The problem was, that number would soon be dwarfed by the sheriff’s mercenary army. Robin needed to rally the entire shire to his side, or act before the bulk of the enemy horde arrived, or both. The mercenaries might be doing Robin’s recruiting for him if what happened in Worksop was any indication.
As the year ripened and the days got warmer, families wandered in to Sherwood from all over the shire. People’s homes were being destroyed. The sheriff had been shaken by the pile of giant wounded at his doorstep and decided not to wait to put his plan into action. He wanted to show the people of the shire the price of lawlessness. He wanted them to beg him to make the attacks stop. His plan was that Robin’s outlaws would be blamed for the acts of the mercenaries who were instructed to pretend like they were themselves the outlaws of Sherwood. The sheriff felt that this would rally the people to the lawful representative of the shire. It would also enrage Robin Hood who it had been demonstrated would try to interject himself into every outbreak of pandemonium, the exhausting his forces and rendering him permanently on defense.
Although everyone knew that the mercenaries weren’t part of Robin’s band of outlaws, the news that it was the sheriff’s men was hard for people to swallow. Rumors began to circulate that Lincoln was gathering an army to take over Nottinghamshire. Other rumors claimed that there was treasure hidden in the shire, probably Robin Hood’s, and that the riff raff converging on the shire were treasure hunters in search of the gold.
The “Merry Men”, as the outlaws were referred to by the people of Nottinghamshire, would help people rebuild. They began an extensive underground network, connecting the various towns with Sherwood. They had to be careful as in addition to the mercenaries, there were deputies in every town reporting directly to the sheriff and anyone or any town caught co-operating with Robin Hood was putting his life in jeopardy. Tuck’s homing pigeons were distributed throughout the shire. Men from Sherwood were assigned to watch over towns where they wouldn’t be recognized. They would watch out for signs of invasion. Sometimes a scout would come and pretend to be a wandering soldier. He would get drunk at the tavern, and try to get a feel for the town’s defenses. If that were the case, and Robin’s man found out in time, he could make haste for Sherwood and bring a band of men to defend the town. Most times, though the mercenaries would just come riding in from where they had been hiding in a neighboring shire and attack a village, raping and pillaging, and then go back to where ever they came from.
In cases like this, the village could only rebuild, and hope it didn’t happen again. In some cases, the deputy of the village would be ignorant of the sheriff’s plan and help Robin fight the invaders. In others, The deputy’s loyalty would lay with the town they served and they would turn against the sheriff. Most deputies, however, had a fear of the sheriff that outweighed their desire to do the right thing. The same was true of many townspeople. Even after their town was attacked, they would stay loyal to the sheriff.
Sherwood itself began to swell with people who would rather live in the woods than in a town that was ruled by a sheriff that would exploit it as soon a destroy it. For the first time, Sherwood village had voluntary citizens.
The sheriff was sick of this game of cat and mouse. He had been trying to get Robin hood to leave himself open to attack by drawing him out to the various villages and towns of the shire. It was obvious to the sheriff, that the peasants of the shire were in cahoots with Robin Hood and so he cared not a fig if the mercenaries burned them all too the ground. Some of the gentry and nobility were beginning to suspect the sheriff was mad, but they dared not oppose him when he was so hell bent on catching Robin Hood. To do so might put even them in jeopardy. For his own part, the sheriff was convinced if he could just get rid of Robin Hood, life would return to normal, and no one need worry about any of this nastiness anymore. He felt he was right on the verge of capturing or killing Robin Hood. Nothing worked, however, and so the sheriff needed to change tactics once again. Instead of a raid on a town or village, the army would assemble en masse, and attack them in Sherwood. The forest lands were protected by the crown, and so the sheriff couldn’t just burn them down, or he would have done so long ago. But he now had enough of an army that he could surround the forest, and they could work their way towards the center, thus ensuring that there was no escape for Robin Hood.
For himself, Robin needed no conjurer to tell him of the coming carnage. It came to him in his dreams. The people of the forest, having built a home for themselves & redeemed themselves from their fall from grace and banishment from civilization, would be chased even into the wilderness by the madman who had placed them there in the first place, and finding them, would slay them all.
In the fever of sleep, Robin loosed every arrow, never missing his mark, and still they came, the invaders; choking the woods in the blood of his countrymen. And they did not stop with the outlaws, no. Onward they came. Punishing the whole of the shire, every man, woman and child. The children, with tomorrow’s bright promise of hope in their eyes, reaped like wheat, their dolls and toys falling to the dust, forgotten: a stuffed bear, a wooden deer, a toy archer.
Robin would awaken screaming silently, bathed in sweat. This coming war would destroy Nottinghamshire, and the sheriff would suffer not a scratch. Robin Hood would go down in history as the rat that caused the death of a generation. Heaven and eternal rest would be barred to him. In the eternal pit he would forever be tormented by the deaths he had facilitated by his rebellion. Robin could not allow it. He would take the fight to the sheriff. But how? The sheriff, now playing the role of general, was always surrounded by an entourage of lackeys waiting to be dispatched. Yet Robin determined to find a way.