That first night, they built several campfires in a big clearing. There was no organization, and many of the outlaws hadn’t met each other. Until now, they had lived solitary or in small groups and gave each other a wide berth. Like Robin, they didn’t really think of themselves as outlaws and imagined all the others were dangerous criminals. They had all suffered at the hands of the sheriff, some simply for helping friends or relatives who had been outlawed. They feasted on what they could all bring to the circle. As in any such event, what had not seemed like much by itself turned out to be more than enough when taken as a whole. Robin thought this was probably true of the people as well.
That night the men of the forest had their first taste of fraternity in a long time. To be an outlaw was akin to banishment. They sang songs and drank ale that had been squirreled away and forgot their cares for a time. Though Robin and John had called them out together in the clearing, it was Tom that bound them together. He became a symbol of what they had all gone through to come to live in the forest. Some lived in caves, but most were afraid to stay in any one place for any length of time. Seeing Tom with his family gave others hope that they might be united with their families. Any wives and children had been sent to live with relatives or friends, because the forest was thought to be too dangerous. Now with the idea of a community blossoming in Sherwood Forest, many openly spoke of their longing for their families for the first time since coming to the forest.
Bill checked the locks on the chests a final time that cold winter morning. Some of the money he collected had to be sent on to the crown as a small portion of the taxes he collected were legitimate. He kept a good portion of that for himself with the ongoing explanation that the people were either too poor to pay the king, or were holding back on the crown. The lion’s share of the money he collected went to a monastery in Mottisfont in Hampshire, which Bill founded as shelter for his wealth. That is where this shipment of money was going. It was a long journey, and Bill could not afford for himself or his men to be away from the large Nottinghamshire for the length of the journey. He had hired professional couriers from Hampshire to make the journey. He contracted these couriers to make deliveries to all three of the monasteries he endowed and all his businesses throughout the realm. There were three chests weighing nearly 100st all together. they were placed on a two wheeled cart, which was then covered with a plank and sealed with a lock.
They would take the old Roman Road south to Hampshire.
Maggie had taken a turn for the worse and the moral of the new community at Sherwood Forest was down. There was a consensus that something should be done. Audrey had an aunt in Derby, who talked often of an old hermit who lived in the woods of those parts who was a healer of some renown. Immediately feeling camaraderie for a fellow forest dweller, the entire population voted unanimously to seek out the hermit and persuade him to come to Maggie’s aid. As it was winter, and Maggie was such a wee lass, time was of the essence, and in what was to be the first of many journeys through out England, Robin and John set off at once. With them was a young outlaw by the name of Will Scarlett.
They had started before sunset and there had been a blanket of mist covering the wood. None had a horse of their own, but in the spirit of community, three horses were donated for the purpose of the journey from the outlaws. They were all three nags, each one worse than the last. As the sun came up behind them, they fell into easy company, talking when they had a mind to, but quiet for the most part.
“Where did you learn to shoot so keenly?” Asked John. “I’ve heard of a man fishing with a bow, but that was the first I’d seen it.”
“My father taught me.” said Robin. “He fought for Henry Plantagenet. He preferred this longbow over the common bow of the day.” Robin’s face took on a wistful look at the memory.
“I prefer a regular bow,” said Will. “It’s faster.”
“Aye. a bit.” said Robin. “But the longbow has better range, is more accurate and is powerful enough to pierce armor. I’ll keep my longbow.”
“Could you teach me to shoot it?” Asked John.
“I’ll teach you to use a short bow!” said Will. “It’s faster. Don’t believe that hogwash about armor. No arrow can do that.”
“I was asking Robin to teach me.” said John.
“I’m as good an archer as Robin!” said Will, hotly. “I’m as good as anybody!”
“Quiet!” Robin commanded with such urgency that the two who had been arguing gave each other a look that said, ‘Well, look who’s king now.” but they did become quiet.
Robin stopped his horse, and so did John and Will. In the silence, there could be heard two men arguing and the clip clop of two horses. “We’re too close to the road!” whispered Will. “We’ll be caught!”
Robin held up his hand, and just then, the team came into view. They were dappled geldings with sandy manes, probably brothers. They pulled a cart with two men at the front, and a third on a horse bringing up the rear. They wore second hand armor and were heavily armed. The cart passed, and the outlaws were out of danger. That is they were, until Johns horse snorted, and he automatically said, “Bless you.” at this, the rear horseman stopped, cocked his head and turned. With a trained eyes he scanned the woods. Robin tried to disappear into his hood, but it was too late; they had been spotted.
“Bandits!” Shouted the man. He pointed his horse directly at Robin and charged as he drew his sword. Robin had only his bow, which he had in his hands in an instant. However, John chose that moment to charge and spoiled Robin’s shot. John Had a staff; his weapon of choice. Will charged after John. Robin cursed, and followed them onto the road.
The horsed guard met John and each man swung mightily. They clashed and wheeled their horses, the man with his muscled and armored horse, John with his nag. The one horse nearly laughed at the other and actually reared up to waylay the nag. John’s nag fell under the attack and John leapt to his feet. Now the guard had the advantage of height.
Will loosed an arrow as he charged but it went wild. Now the cart had stopped and its riders kept their posts but turned to assess the situation. The guard who had been riding protector to the driver had a crossbow and leveled it at Will. He shot. The arrow hit Will’s horse in the chest and the horse reared up and fell backwards nearly on top of Will who scrambled out just in time. The guard protector began to methodically reload and the driver laughed and pulled out his own crossbow. He saw Robin and noted that he was out of range and therefore not a threat. He aimed carefully at Will.
The horseman loomed over John once again using his horse as a weapon pulling on the reigns to cause him to rear up and attempt to trample John. John sidestepped to get a better shot at the rider and instead of swinging the staff, he thrust it like a spear striking the guard in the chest and unhorsing him. The man landed on his back, but sprang to his feet surprisingly fast. He came at John with his sword raised. Now John had the advantage as his staff was longer than the sword. He swung before the guard was in range and knocked him down.
Will saw that the driver had him in his sights and he furiously scrambled for an arrow as his quiver had spilled when he was unhorsed. It was too late. He knew he was dead. Then there was a loud buzz by his ear, and at first he thought the driver had missed, but then the driver fell, and arrow in his chest. and Will turned to see Robin fitting another arrow in his bow.
The guard that John had knocked down sprang to his feet again and came at John again. They engaged with John blocking a series of lightning attacks. The guard was unhinged at the prospect of being beaten with a staff and flailed crazily at John. John kept his wits and finally saw an opening and whacked his opponent heavily in the head.
The protector had reloaded, seen his leader killed and now aimed at Robin. He fired and the arrow fell short by a few yards. Will had collected a few arrows and now loosed them one after the other at the protector. They found their mark. Will was a good shot after all.
John picked up the sword and put it in his belt. They surveyed the scene and approached the cart. “What do you suppose is in here?” asked John.
“Jewels!” said Will. “What else could it be?”
“Our taxes” said Robin grimly as he took his dagger and pried the clasp off the lid rendering the lock useless. The Chests inside were made of sturdier stuff, and John Broke one with the butt of his new sword before Will found the keys on the dead leader to open the other two.
“What do we do?” said John.
Well we are thieves and murderers now.” said Robin. “We can’t let anyone find us with this or we’ll be hanged.”
“We can’t take the cart through the forest, the wheels need to be on a road; And we can’t take the road or we’ll be seen.” said Will.
“These boxes are too heavy to carry without the cart.” said John.
“We’ll bury the men in the woods. We’ll take apart the cart and use it for firewood. We’ll take some money and bury the rest, and come back for it later. We have to get to Derby to find the hermit. We will take the horses and sell them there. Let’s get going.” said Robin.