|Primary Characters:||Robin, Marion, Guy, Loxley, Scarlet|
|Description:||Will Scarlet is in trouble and Robert comes to his rescue, which makes Scarlet gain a new respect for him. Guy also happens to save Loxley’s hide. Not much later, the two former outlaws are in a position to repay the debts.|
The wedding was over, all the other guests had departed. All that remained was for Robert and Marion to return to Leaford. Sir Richard would be travelling with them part of the way along with his friend Huntingdon. The elderly men would be going on pilgrimage to Byzantium. Huntingdon had decided to bring Nasir to serve them as guide. The Saracen appeared to be pleased with the decision, but as was his habit, did not comment.
On the day of the departure, Leaford, Huntingdon and their entourage gathered. Leaford’s daughter, Huntingdon’s two sons, and Guy of Huntingdon’s new wife Elaine were gathered in the yard to bid the two pilgrims farewell. Marion and Robert would be travelling with their fathers a little way, before turning onto their separate roads. Marion embraced Elaine and promised to stay in touch. However, Marion thought to herself that she would not write her friend for a while yet. Guy and Elaine deserved some time to themselves. If any two people in the world had earned the happiness that could be clearly read in the eyes of the newlyweds, it was Elaine and Guy.
Robert likewise embraced his brother, and bade him farewell. He then stepped aside to allow his brother to speak to their father. For the first time, since being acknowledged as heir to Huntingdon, Guy would now be assuming full responsibility for his ancestral home. Robert had no doubts his brother would fulfill his duties far better than Robert himself would ever have been able to. To his astonishment, he now watched Guy embrace their father in his turn. Robert had never seen his brother willingly embrace anyone in the time they had known each other. It was plain that they shared a deep affection for their father.
Smiling at the picture of filial devotion, Robert returned to his wife, to begin the journey back to their home, Leaford. Marion had already bid her father farewell, though they would not part company until past midday. She was, Robert thought, eager to see her home again. After her years in Sherwood forest, sharing the life of a band of outlaws, it was hardly surprising that Marion now treasured her home more than ever.
It was a fine day, and they had made an early start. The two pilgrims were not travelling with a large entourage, and they were making good time. Before midday, they had reached the crossroads where the two gentlemen would part company with their son and daughter. It had been decided that the company would share a simple meal before going their separate ways.
Marion sat with her father, and while she ate, her eyes rarely left the old man’s face. His pilgrimage had been the cause of some dissension between father and daughter. It was Marion’s firm belief that Leaford would do best to stay in the safety of his own home. At his age, travelling abroad was hardly advisable. Leaford had retorted that he was not going to the ends of the world, or even to the Holy Land, but merely to Constantinople. In fact, should circumstances demand it, he was willing to settle for a compromise and break off his journey in Rome.
This did not satisfy Marion, but in the end, her father had had his way. Reminding his daughter of the crusade he had fought in, Leaford felt he had a strong point. Marion did not agree, but knew it was useless to argue further. When her father had made up his mind, no one could make him change opinion. Being a sensible young woman, she wisely refrained from making further comment upon the matter, and furthermore, she did not seek to vent her irritation on her husband, which might have been natural. Instead, she chose to turn her mind to other concerns, such as the running of Leaford, and possibly – though this was hardly a topic worthy of contemplation in her father’s company – the begetting of another heir for Leaford. She knew that whatever her decision, she would be heartily supported by Robin.
“Father, may I prevail upon you the need for caution. You do not need to remind me that you have travelled this road before many a time. That was a long time ago. Do not accept any challenge -”
“My dear, I am on a pilgrimage, I do not intend to fight in any more wars. This journey, I undertake solely for the benefit of my soul.”
Marion inclined her head in assent. Her father would never lie to her. However, she knew this stubborn old man far too well to believe he would flee from any danger. This journey might take him from her for good. She forced herself to reconcile herself with this, though tears burned her eyes. Leaford sensed his daughter’s distress and sought a means of consoling her. He placed an arm around her shoulder, and murmured some comforting words.
“Marion. On my return, I shall at the very least expect to hear that you are expecting again, if the child will not already be delivered.”
Her cheeks colored slightly and she lowered her head modestly, but this display of virtue did not fool Leaford. The girl took after her father, he had not a doubt about that.
“I will bring suitable gifts for the babe, whether boy or girl, and I shall bring gifts for you and Robert as well, my dear.”
“On condition we produce an heir?”
A booming laugh escaped the old man’s lips. Indeed. He could not have said it better himself. Marion’s sense of humour appealed to Leaford.
“No. You will receive the gifts regardless, but I am hoping you will not disappoint me.”
“Then we shall strive not to, while you will take no unnecessary risks.”
“Agreed. Now, child, it is time Huntingdon and I were on our way. What splendid luck that Saracen chose to serve Huntingdon and will now accompany us. He is a good man.”
“Yes. Nasir is a good man and a fine warrior. He will keep you safe for me.”
Leaford did not comment on this, but merely kissed his daughter farewell. Within minutes, he was in his saddle, and along with the rest of his entourage he left the young couple behind.
Robin read Marion’s countenance and hastened to cheer her in any way he could.
“You tried to make you father change his mind about leaving?”
“No. It would have been a waste of time.”
“My father would not listen to reason either.”
Truth to tell, Huntingdon had spent most of the time in his son’s company offering advice on how to run Leaford, along with other admonitions. Robin was saddened by his father’s lack of faith in his abilities to run a castle.
“But we shall manage on our own, will we not, Robin?”
“Indeed we shall. And speaking of Leaford – I believe it is time we were on our way.”
“Yes. Robin, was it not wonderful to see the happiness in Elaine’s eyes as Guy put his arm around her?”
“I could not agree with you more, my love. And I have rarely seen a more comforting sight, than the look in Guy’s eyes as he watched his bride. I believe they shall be as happy as we are.”
“I have not a doubt about it. Let us be on our way now. I can not wait to see Leaford again.”
Before nightfall, they saw the towers of Leaford, and soon they were met by their people, welcoming Leaford’s master and mistress back.
A maid had made their rooms ready, and as word of their arrival had preceded them, a fine supper awaited them. After partaking of the meal, Robert and Marion retired to their rooms for some much needed rest.
In the weeks that followed, the young couple tried their best to get into the habit of running all of Leaford. It seemed to Robin that Marion took to the practice naturally, and after a time, he felt as if he was gaining a better insight into the tasks as well. The work kept them from comtemplating their loss too much, and served to bring them even closer together.
In the meantime, Guy and Elaine enjoyed married bliss at Huntingdon and did not greatly miss the letters from Marion and Robin, letters which somehow did not get written.
At Leaford, Tuck still served as Marion’s confessor, and adviser in all matters.The former friar had been the one to baptize Much’s two young children. Much was a very happily married man, and found his work in the stables of Leaford much to his liking. Due in part to Marion’s benevolent influence, the young man found himself speedily promoted to a station higher than a mere stable hand.
While life went on peacefully in the castles of the noble, the former outlaws of Sherwood forest, also continued with their lives. Little John divided his time equally between Sherwood and his village, where he occupied himself with the task of persuading his two eldest sons that living in the forest was not the best way they could spend their lives.
Loxley was at this time considering moving to a village again. He had been courting a young woman in one of the villages under Leaford’s protection, and as he was at the moment without a prize on his head, he rather liked the idea of returning to a village, so many years after his departure. The news would almost certainly annoy the Sheriff of Nottingham immensely, and for that reason alone, the idea appealed to Loxley. On the other hand, making his home far away from his love’s parents and friends might make life easier and more peaceful. While he pondered his future, he worked hard on bringing Will Scarlet to heel. It was plain that in Loxley’s absence, Scarlet had been giving himself notions of grandeur, and was now more difficult to command than he had been.
Scarlet had made new friends, and these men were still not content with their lives, though the Sheriff perforce had to leave them be, at least for the time being. The new men along with Scarlet had made enemies in every village within walking distance and many others.
This angered Loxley, whose goals were different. His quarrel, to the extent that he still had one, was with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Abbot Hugo and men of their kind. The villagers were their own people, and should be treated accordingly. It seemed to Loxley that Scarlet understood this, and even agreed with his friend, but he had become accustomed to doing things his own way. In Loxley’s absence, Scarlet had gained a position among his new friends that he was reluctant to give up. Loxley was certain that given time, he would be able to sway his friend, but in the meantime life in Sherwood had its new challenges.
What Loxley did not know, was that Scarlet had taken to antagonizing the people of Nottingham, and – worse – a knight who had dealings with Abbot Hugo. Sir Reginald did not take kindly to any man’s meddling in his affairs, and that a serf should dare to cross him was unheard of. To begin with, sir Reginald sent two of his men to beat some sense into the audacious serf.
This, however, was no deterrent and soon Scarlet and his companions were once again poaching on sir Reginald’s land, carousing with the maidservants and in general making a nuisance of themselves. For some reason, perhaps because sir Reginald could not stand the Sheriff, he decided to deal more leniently with the serf he saw as leader of the offending rabble, than might have been expected.
His next move was to send six men to take Scarlet away. This time, they were successful. He was rendered unconscious and brought to an abandoned abbey. It had been burnt by the Irish some two hundred years before, but the ruins still stood, and commoners and nobility alike gave the place a wide berth. In the villages and indeed in the castles and the towns it was whispered that the murdered nuns still haunted the ruins, and sought their revenge on any man who dared to trespass.
Even the young squires that sir Reginald had sent, under the command of his cousin Roger Clermont, whispered uneasily amongst themselves, as they invaded the peace of the dead. It was bright daylight, and no sound broke the undisturbed silence, save for a startled flock of birds and the noise of heavy boots on the paving. One tower alone still stood, and it dominated the entire clearing. At one time, a group of nuns from the Cistercian order had been sent to clear the place up and if possible make their home in old abbey. For some reason, they had not stayed for long and once again the dead ruled the ruins.
The squires climbed the stairs to the crumbling tower, not without trepidation, and deposited their prisoner on the floor of the topmost chamber. They then proceeded to block the door to bar his escape, once he came to. It had been sir Reginald’s intention to thoroughly frighten the man, but the state of the building did not make it likely that it would long hold the serf once he regained his wits. Secretly, it amused sir Reginald to allow the man to live, as this particular serf so angered the Sheriff.
Scarlet had received a heavy blow to his head, and it was some time before he came to. By then, the shadows had lengthened into evening, and the sun was low in the sky. That much he could spy from the window high on the wall. He soon discovered that his hands were securely shackled behind his back, but at least his legs were free. After regaining his wits, Scarlet walked over to the window to take a look outside.
It did not take him long to realize where he was, and that night was fast approaching. No man frightened Will Scarlet and not even the prospect of his own death daunted him much. This however, struck fear into him, and he felt his bones turn to water. A shiver went down his spine as he contemplated his situation. No one knew where he was. He had been alone when the squires struck. After flinging himself against the door, he concluded that he would be some time escaping, even had he been fully in possession of his wits. A dull pain in his head told him he would need rest before he attempted to force the door, and in the meantime, night was fast approaching. He did not know it, but Herne was watching over him that day.
Tuck had been sent to Nottingham to see to some official business on Marion’s behalf, and he chanced to overhear two of the young squires jesting about their assignment. Now safely away from the haunted place, and in the company of their peers, the two young men were telling their tale again and again, to whomever wished to hear it. It did not take Tuck long to realize the squires were discussing his old friend Will Scarlet. His business concluded, Tuck made haste back to Leaford to have a word with Robin and Marion.
Marion sent a man to Sherwood with the tidings about their friend, but she was not hopeful the serfs would be willing to go and seek out the haunted abbey.
“It is my belief that none of the men in Sherwood will go to Will’s aid. We must go ourselves.”
“No argument, my love. I am not with child anymore. This time I shall please myself. There was a time when Will would have done the same for me. He has changed, but unlike him, I do not forget an old friendship.”
“Surely Loxley will -”
“Loxley too has an unreasonable fear of the shades of those poor nuns. Do not ask him to go where he will surely hesitate to go.”
“Very well. Tuck – will you stay and look after Leaford for us?”
“Are you certain you do not wish me to accompany you?”
“To put those poor souls to rest?”
Marion did not speak seriously, and Tuck recognized her words as a manner of jest. Despite that, he replied as if her question had been in earnest.
“No need. After the abbey was burned down, the bishop held a mass, and the souls of the sisters have been put to rest, long ago.”
“I see. No, Tuck, we do not need your company on such a short journey. We shall be back before midday tomorrow if not sooner.”
“Marion, I beg you, bring a few men to protect you -”
Here Tuck broke off, in consternation. He had not wished to be disrespectful of Robin’s fighting skills.
“Do not concern yourself, Tuck. We shall bring men.”
Robin tried not to let his hurt feelings show, and carried on as if nothing untoward had occurred. Indeed, how could be offended, when Tuck most likely was right? He would find it hard to defend his wife, should they come under attack, though that would not prevent him from giving his life trying, should it be asked of him, and Tuck ought to know that Marion was well capable of protecting herself.
While making preparations for their departure, Marion was interrupted by an agitated young man who wished to speak to the lady of Leaford. The young man had a likewise young wife, and she was now in the process of giving birth to their firstborn. With a sigh, Marion realized that she would not be able to accompany Robin after all.
“Very well, Dickon. You may tell Caitlin that I shall be with her shortly. Run along, and do not give me that look of terror. We shall manage perfectly.”
Her husband had overheard the conversation, and he hastened to reassure Marion that he would be fine on his own. He knew he would. Now he would not need the men to keep Marion safe. In the bright moonlight, Robin had no difficulty finding his way over to the ruined abbey. Though he did not wish to dwell on it, he had once visited the site in the company of Mark d’Aubry and a few other boys. They had intended to show off their courage, but in the end, all they had managed was to frighten themselves half out of their wits. That was a long time ago. Today, Robin feared nothing, not the living nor the dead. After facing a living god, he did not believe anything would make much impression on him.
The road was smooth, he made good time, and before the moon was low in the sky, he reached the woods that hid the outrage from men’s eyes. He did not have much difficulty finding the place most likely to hold the prisoner. Not much remained standing, and Robin said a silent prayer that Scarlet would not be down the deep well. If given a choice, he would much rather brave the winding stairway of the tower, than making his way underground. The door was barred from the outside, and it did not take him long to realize that he was unable to shift the boulders and debris that had been used to keep the door shut. He came to the conclusion that at least four men must have been involved. Dejected, Robin stood back to survey the tower from every angle.
There was only one way inside, through the window high up the wall. At first, Robin thought he might have to return, bringing more men. He was beginning to curse his own folly, in coming alone. However, the thick covering of ivy, that wound its way up the wall, all the way to the roof, gave him an idea. Cautiously testing the ivy, to ascertain it would carry his weight, Robin at last deemed it safe to continue. He had no doubt that Scarlet could be found in the chamber upstairs. Where else would the prisoner be kept? Slender and lithe, Robin did not find the climb too daunting, and though it was slow going, eventually, he reached the windowsill, and concluded that it was large enough to allow him passage. After some consideration, he also deemed it large enough for Scarlet to pass through it.
It was time to announce his presence, lest he frighten the man half out of his wits, and placed himself at risk by thus startling the superstitious serf.
“Will? Will Scarlet?”
“Leave me alone, ye spirits.”
“Will, cease this foolishness and listen to me. It is I, Robin – Robert of Huntingdon. I am come to bring about your escape.”
“What madness is this? How come you to be outside the window?”
“Walk over and take a look. Then you must allow me inside. I need to rest before we can climb back down again.”
It was plain that Scarlet did not for a moment believe any living soul was about on such a night. For some time, he did not have the courage to approach the window. Eventually, however, he came to the conclusion that his situation was hopeless, and any change might be for the better. By the time Robin was beginning to fear his arms would lose their hold on the ivy, a face appeared in the window.
“Now will you allow me inside, Will?”
Scarlet had to admit this apparation had the looks not of a long dead nun, but rather his former companion in Sherwood forest. Why would the boy come to his rescue? Uncomfortably aware of his own ingratitude and his broken oath, Scarlet withdrew to allow Robert inside.
“The door below is barred. I can not shift the debris.”
“You climbed all the way up here?”
“As you can see. The very same way we shall both make our escape. Are you injured?”
“No, but my hands are tied -”
“I see it. Turn around and I will attempt to undo the bonds.”
Though the rope was securely tied around Scarlet’s wrists, Robin was eventually successful in untying them.
“There. Let us leave this place at once, lest your enemies return.”
“Did I not tell you how?”
“Down the wall?”
“There is thick ivy growing on the side of the tower. You shall be safe enough on your way down.”
At least Robin hoped so. The older man was heavier, and less lithe than Robin himself, but the ivy had seemed sturdy enough.
“If you think I shall -”
“Do you wish to stay here?”
A long pause told Robin the answer to his question.
“Then I suggest we begin the climb down. Do you wish me to go first?”
Scarlet paused to consider. He had no wish to remain alone in the tower, now that at last a rescuer had arrived.
“I will go first.”
At that moment, a rustling noise from the highest reaches of the ceiling made both men turn. A shiver went down Robin’s spine. Was there after all some truth in the tales of the undead nuns? But his fear was as nothing compared to Scarlet’s. Sounds of mortal fear issued from the man’s lips, and somehow, that made Robin feel slightly less scared.
“Go on, Will. Make your way down now. Once you are safely on the ground, I will join you.”
“I said, go. You will manage.”
The two men exchanged a look, in which Scarlet’s eyes betrayed a bit more respect for the slight young man facing him. A weakling the young noble might be, but no coward. Without another word, Scarlet swung his legs over the windowsill and vanished into the night.
Robin cast one look through the window, and concluded that despite Scarlet’s fright, he was indeed managing the climb, passably well. Now Robin turned inwards to investigate the sudden noise. Though the light was dim, by now his eyes had become accustomed to the murk, and he was able to see quite well. He could not spy anything untoward. There were some rotting remains of what he thought might have been furnishings, but nothing else.
Just as he was about to abandon his search, in favor of a speedy escape, he spied the denizen of the room. An owl. Their voices had startled the beast, and it had fluttered its wings until it settled down. He could only see one of its yellow eyes staring at him in a way that told Robin he had not been welcome. He concurred. This was no place for men. It was time to leave this room to the memories and the mice and birds who had made it their home. Though he was tiring fast, the descent did not trouble him much. Soon he was standing on the ground below, looking around for Scarlet. He found his former companion some distance away, as far from the ruins as possible.
Scarlet stared at his rescuer for a moment, giving Robin the impression the man intended to speak to him, but in the end, Scarlet merely nodded in acknowledgement and they began walking away from the clearing and the bloody secrets it hid. Robin suspected that Scarlet wished to inquire about the noise from inside the room, but was too proud to speak the words out loud. After some time, Scarlet turned to face Robin. Again, Robin was struck by a change in the man’s demeanor.
“Robert – Huntingdon -”
“I suppose I owe you thanks. That was a neat trick. Climbing up and releasing my hands and all that.”
“Do not mention it, my friend.”
It amused Robin to thus address Scarlet. He knew well that there was no love lost between them.
“Just let me say this, before I change my mind. You were very brave. I do not know anyone who would have ventured out here on his own. Not even Robin – Loxley.”
“Let us say no more. I am happy to find you in good health. You are welcome to rest at Leaford before returning to Sherwood, should you wish to. I know Marion would be glad to see you again.”
“Thank you again, but I think I shall return to Sherwood.”
Nothing more was said between the two men, but when Robin saw Scarlet turn off to find his way back to the woods that was his home, Robin thought perhaps he had made a friend on this night.
At Huntingdon, Guy and Elaine were indeed enjoying married bliss, just like Guy’s brother had predicted. Though the running of a large estate such as Huntingdon occupied much of their time, the married couple found plenty of opportunity for privacy. Guy had never dared to hope for such a life, and though he chose not to dwell on the reasons for it, he knew his bride shared the same troubled past. Together, they did their utmost to forget and set their minds on the future.
The daily work of running the castle did not usually include visits to other estates belonging to Huntingdon, but one day, about three weeks into the marriage, Guy received a summons from one of the minor holdings quite distant from Huntingdon. Elaine read the letter to him, and as the contents were revealed to him, Guy realized he would be forced to investigate in person. It appeared someone was stealing out of the barns and store rooms of Huntingdon, and he could not allow such a thing to continue unchecked. His responsibility as heir to Huntingdon made it impossible for him to send a proxy.
“My dear, I shall have to leave you tomorrow.”
“I understand. You must put a stop to this drain on our resources. I shall be here, eagerly awaiting your return. And Guy -”
Something in his wife’s voice told Guy what Elaine had in mind, but he feigned ignorance. It was far too sweet, being lured into her embrace by her clever talk. While far from stupid himself, Guy admired his wife’s wit beyond measure.
“Let us make the most of the time we have until your departure. I feel somewhat faint. Perhaps I ought to retire early. You will accompany me, will you not?”
“My lady, your will is my command.”
The newlyweds retreated to their rooms, not to be seen again that night. At dawn the following day, Guy set out for the estate which was being robbed. If he made good time, he would not be forced to spend the night away from Huntingdon and his wife. Even one single night alone was more than he could bear, after knowing happiness in Elaine’s arms for the first time since a boy.
By midday, Guy was approaching his destination. Unless his business dragged on for very long, he felt sure he would be able to return to Huntingdon shortly after nightfall, or at least before his lovely bride had fallen asleep. As the Sheriff’s man Guy had learned all there was to know about dishonesty, and it was an easy matter for him to find the culprit responsible for the thefts. Unlike in his past, he did not see fit to punish the man by death, which would have been his solution to any and all problems in the old days. Guy hid his grin from the fat little steward, as he recalled who it was that had taught him this new gentleness. He wished he could say that it was his wife, Elaine, but in truth, his younger brother Robin was the one who had taught him about forgiveness, kindness and generosity. To his astonishment, his former steward reacted with gratitude, even though he lost his position, and was forced to find another one, with someone less discriminating.
Satisfied that his work had been concluded so successfully, Guy took his leave of the pleasant little manor house. Perhaps he would suggest to Elaine they make their home there, for a few months or a year, once his father was back from the Holy Land.
In the late afternoon, Guy decided to give his horse some rest, and at the same time himself. The spot he had chosen was a small clearing beside the river. This part of it was quite calm, but some distance further downstream it began to flow more rapidly. While Guy was stretched out comfortably on the ground, dwelling pleasantly on his wife’s raven hair, he became aware of noises breaking into his reverie. Noises of men shouting and the din of battle. Instantly, he became alert. It would not do to be taken unawares, but as he gathered up his few possessions, and mounted his horse, Guy realized the battle was not moving any closer. He decided to stealthily approach the direction from which all that clamour could be traced. Once again, he dismounted. Tying his horse to a tree, Guy then proceeded on foot.
It did not take him long to reach the field of battle, if that was the word suited for this display of weaponry. Though Guy had been guilty of the same harassment of the peasants in the past, he now recognized the scene unfolding before his eyes for what it was. He might not share all his brother’s views on leniency towards the populace, but Guy had become aware of the injustices being committed. Even so, he could not lightheartedly throw himself into the fray. He was no longer acting solely in his own name. There was now his father’s name and reputation to consider.
To his astonishment, he now discerned a familiar face. Loxley, his old arch-enemy. What could this import? Again, Guy hesitated. Loxley was no friend of his, and generally, the man could be counted on to be seeking trouble. However, once again, Guy became aware of something new, which had earlier escaped his attention. Some of the peasants the knights were pursuing were women, young boys, and even children. Sickened, Guy watched how a man with no badge on his shield was mercilessly tormenting an old man, who appeared to be crippled. This was no act of knightly honour, and Guy at last made up his mind, to join in on the side of the oppressed. With a wry grin, he reminded himself how pleased this would no doubt make his brother, if not his father.
He had taken the time to assess the situation, and knew that though the attackers were six, with Loxley and a few other ablebodied men on their side, Guy was certain of his eventual success. To avoid any misconception about his allegiance, he called out to his old enemy.
It was plain that Loxley had a hard time making up his mind on how to interpret this gesture, but as Guy took on the nearest knight, it appeared Loxley accepted his help. Guy had time to spy a look of wonder spreading across the serf’s face, before he was forced to give his chosen opponent his full attention. The knights fought well, and Guy recognized their training. These might be men with no current allegiance, but they had once served under a good commander, that much was clear. Eventually, however, the aid of a seasoned knight on the villagers’ side turned the tide of the battle, and all but one of the attackers were killed or forced to flee.
The remaining knight renewed his efforts at breaking free from his opponent, who turned out to be Loxley, and by this display of desperate force he succeeded in driving the serf into the now more swiftly flowing waters of the river. Satisfied that his enemy was thus incapacitated, the knight joined his surviving men and vanished into the woods. Guy walked to the riverbank to lend Loxley a hand. Not until then did it dawn on Guy that Loxley did not know how to swim and was quickly losing his struggle to stay afloat. The swift current was carrying him away downstream, and Guy saw Loxley’s dark head bob up and down as the man desperately tried to keep himself afloat.
Though this was his old archenemy, a man who had brought the Sheriff’s wrath down on Guy on more than one occasion in the past, Guy did not hesitate. For Robert’s sake, if not his own honour, Guy knew he would have to offer whatever assistance he was capable of. There was no time to shed his heavy armour, and with no more hesitation, Guy leapt into the swift-flowing waters. Just as he had expected, the tug of the current was hard to counteract, and to add more difficulty, his armour was dragging him down, but Guy was a good swimmer, and he was able to stay afloat. The current sent him in the same direction Loxley had vanished, and soon Guy caught sight of the dark head once again. By now, he could tell that Loxley was losing the struggle, and was rapidly wearying. With a few last strokes, Guy closed in on his quarry, and managed to grab Loxley’s long hair. Now the man was no longer in danger of sinking, if only he would cease his thrashing about.
It was hard to make himself heard over the din of the river, but eventually, Guy thought he had made himself understood. The man he was holding above water, stilled somewhat, his face fixed on his rescuer. Perhaps Loxley knew how to swim, but did not excel at this skill. Guy found it hard to imagine that a man like Loxley would not have the strength to stay afloat, but he banned all thoughts from his mind. He would need to find a way of reaching the bank before they reached the falls.
“Loxley, do not move. If you try to pull me down I will have no choice but to let you go. Do you not know how to swim?”
The serf did not reply, but Guy knew he had his old enemy’s attention. This was no time for conversation. Grimly, Guy devoted his efforts to holding Loxley and himself afloat and at the same time devising a way of reaching the bank. Eventually, through sheer stubborness and tenacity, Guy was able to bring them closer to the riverbank and at last find a spot where they could pull themselves out of the water. Exhausted, they lay side by side, while they got their wind back. Guy rolled over on his back, pushing the damp strands of hair out of his eyes. How far had they been pulled by the currents? As soon as he was strong enough to walk back to his horse, he would resume his interrupted journey home. He could hear Loxley wheezing nearby, and decided that he might have to do something about the water the serf must have breathed in.
After some coughing and retching, the man straightened up, and he too, pushed his wet hair out of his face. There was a puzzled look in his eyes, as if he could not fully understand that his enemy had saved his life.
“Ah, good. It seems you are able to breathe on your own. For a while there, it seemed to me that you must have swallowed nearly half the river.”
“Hm. You could say that. I never thought I would live to see the day when Gisburne – Huntingdon – saved my life. It seems I owe you thanks for that.”
“Not at all. Now if you are feeling stronger, I suggest we make our way back to your -”
In response to Guy’s inquiringly raised eyebrow, Loxley found himself explaining about the kinship between him and the villagers.
“Ah. Well, shall we?”
“By all means.”
Guy was uncomfortably aware of the other man’s intense perusal, and wondered what Loxley might say next. He was kept wondering a while. They made their way back to the field of battle in silence. Eventually Loxley could not contain himself anymore, and he began speaking rapidly, as if he might change his mind if he did not make haste.
“You may call me Guy if you wish.”
There was a brief pause, in which Guy had the impression Loxley was seriously considering his suggestion.
“Very well. Guy. Why would you wish to save my life? Or those of my kin?”
“I am no longer serving the Sheriff, I am serving myself, and it seemed to me, those knights were needlessly tormenting those villagers. What was their quarrel with your kin?”
“What is it ever? Pasture lands, taxes. Tithes. My kin felt they could rely on my protection. Now see what has befallen them. I should have brought my men from Sherwood, but I was taken unawares. Without your aid – Again, I owe you thanks. How strange.”
“Believe me, Loxley, no one could be more astonished at this turn of events, than I am, but I suppose there comes a time, when you must let bygones be bygones. I am prepared to put the past behind me, if you are.”
“Please, call me Robin. Yes, I believe it is time.”
Solemnly, and without any trace of awkwardness, the two men shook hands. Guy knew that his brother would most likely have embraced this other Robin, but this was as much as he was comfortable with. Loxley would just have to accept his friendship or not, as the case might be. Loxley guided his rescuer back to where he had left his horse, and encouraged him to come to Sherwood, for a celebration of their victory over the knights. That was not what Guy most wished for, but he recognized the peace offering in the other man’s voice, and though he most of all wanted to return to Elaine, he decided to accept.
The deep green of Sherwood no longer held such terror for him. He thought that might be because his conscience was clear. No god or other creature who dwelled in the shadows of the high trees could find fault with his intentions today. It was almost completely dark, when they finally reached the safety of Sherwood forest. Loxley’s men had lit a big fire, and the warm light welcomed the weary fighters.
Soon Guy was seated on the ground right beside Loxley. Guy realized that in a way, he was placed in the seat of honour. Loxley certainly made much of his guest, and repeatedly encouraged his men to forget anything they might have learned about Guy of Huntingdon.
Barrels of mead, ale and a strong cider could be found all over the clearing, and each of Loxley’s men, their guests from the village, and the guest of honour freely helped themselves to the contents. Despite himself, Guy was beginning to feel more at ease. It had been a long time since he had sat down with a group of other men to drink and be merry. He had never thought Loxley would have voluntarily invited him, and he was certain, should such a thing ever have occurred, he would not have accepted. Yet here he was anyway.
Loxley was making a toast, and to Guy’s astonishment, it was made in his name.
“Let us make a toast.”
Everyone’s eyes were on Loxley. Silence fell all across the clearing as every ear strained to catch their leader’s words.
The silence was now no longer expectant, as much as stunned. Then the toast was taken up by Little John, and soon every one else followed. At first Guy could not fully conceive that the crowd was calling his name. When finally the realization sunk in, he too, was stunned into silence. At that point, he felt Loxley’s arm around his shoulder. His first impulse was to shove the hand off. Fortunately, he was able to suppress the impulse and he listened to Loxley’s next words.
“Whatever else you might have heard me say about this man, forget it. He is a good man.”
As always, Little John supported his friend.
By now there were cheers as well.
Guy hastily blinked away what was suspiciously like tears, burning his eyes. After a disapproving glance at the cup in his hand, he decided he had had enough to drink for the night. Facing Elaine after such carousing, did not bear thinking about. By now, he felt it was too late to begin his journey back to Huntingdon. He was glad he had told Elaine he might spend the night over at the manor. At least now she would not worry.
One morning, a letter was delivered to Leaford. It was addressed to the young master, but the contents made reference to his wife also. As always, Marion would read any such communications before Robin, or over his shoulder, which was the case on this morning. While the import of the message sank in, silence reigned in the solar. Marion was the one who regained use of her tongue first.
“I can not believe he would have the audacity to try once more. If his latest bout with King Richard did not teach him humility what will?”
Marion, who knew perfectly well that the contents of the letter were a downright lie, at least as far as she was concerned, spoke with the indignation of the innocently accused.
“Adultery? How? Who with? He has truly lost his mind this time, our dear Sheriff.”
“I believe he is referring to either Guy or de Chesnay.”
“de Chesnay? That’s absurd.”
With a pained look on his face, Robin acknowledged her words. Naturally, de Chesnay had never intended to force himself on Marion, and though neither one of the parties had at that time been joined in matrimony the church referred to any and all extra-marital actions as adultery, though Robin did not know why.
Marion’s innocence might easily be established, at least he hoped so. Regrettably, however, her liaison with a serf, was well known, and once a lady’s reputation had thus been sullied, even Robin knew that nothing but her father’s influence might silence the vicious whispers, as it had, in the past. Now, though, Leaford was no longer about to hold his protective hand over his erring child. King Richard too was regrettably absent, and Robin feared that Richard’s brother John might use this opportunity to fulfill his revenge on the group of people who he must feel had most wronged him.
What truly weighed on Robin’s conscience was not the alleged act of adultery Marion supposedly had committed. By his marriage to her, it would most likely seem that the church had nullified any unfortunate trespasses she might have been guilty of in the past. At least he fervently hoped so. What was weighing most on his mind, was his own involvement in the incident. Though he did not see how the Sheriff, or rather, as the contents of the letter from the Bishop revealed, Abbot Hugo, could find any proof to his slanderous allegations, he could still remember the torment and humiliation he had suffered at de Chesnay’s hands that night.
In his case, there was truth behind the outrageous accusations. Though in the eyes of the church he might now be seen as a heretic, and no longer a good Christian, despite his pardon, from the King himself, he did not wish to add to his sins by burdening his already tarnished soul with falsehoods. Once again, their enemy had manage to strike at him, when he least expected it. For a moment, Robin gave in to despair.
His wife, however, did not share his despondency.
“A man in the Sheriff’s position can not afford to open himself up to the same sort of accusations. As well you know, he is himself a thousandfold guilty of what he is holding you responsible for. We will use this to our advantage. I shall now write to some of father’s friends, and we shall turn these accusations back to the accuser. You will see, Robin, this will be his downfall.”
“How can it? Though I know you are innocent of this absurd accusation, as you know, I am not. Unnatural practices – that is exactly how it felt. I am guilty, as surely as the Sheriff himself is.”
“I know that, Robin, just as I was faulted in the eyes of the church, by my union with Loxley. Who remembers that today? My father’s influence shall keep us safe, as always. Now you must write to your father’s friends and ask for their assistance as well. Do not delay, my love.”
Marion’s determination, and never failing good cheer at last managed to reach Robin in his gloom. It occurred to him that first of all, he ought to write to Guy. His brother had been intimately involved in the distressing incident, and although that had been the end of Guy’s degradation at the hands of the Sheriff, for that reason alone, it was likely that Guy too was being accused in the same way. Robin had to know.
“You are right. To begin with, I shall write Guy. He will most likely have received a similar letter, and even if by chance he has not, he will need to know.”
“That is true. Poor Guy. I would dearly love to kill the Sheriff with my own hands, so that we will at last be free of his trickery and deceit.”
When her husband stared at her in consternation, Marion hastened to reassure him.
“Oh, Robin. Do not look at me like that. I have no intention of making good my threat. Still, it is poor luck that not one of the Sheriff’s many enemies has yet managed to finish him. That would have been so appropriate.”
“I know. Alas, our wishes do not come true that easily.”
Just as Robin had guessed, his brother had indeed received a similar letter. Elaine noticed right away that something was amiss, and gently inquired about her husband’s agitation. At first, he did not appear to have heard her, and when on her third attempt, he at last looked up, his eyes were filled with such pain, her words died unsaid on her lips. Instead, she chose to soothe his torment by actions.
“Elaine? I am lost. The Sheriff has chosen this moment to strike at me.”
“In what way?”
She felt it best to allow Guy to explain in his own words, though she could quite easily guess the nature of the Sheriff’s accusation.
“I told you, did I not, about the time when Marion was abducted by Prince John?”
“When he left her in de Chesnay’s hands? You did. I see. But you will surely not allow him to treat the heir to Huntingdon in this manner? Write your father’s friends, my love. They must once again come to your rescue.”
Guy did not share his beloved’s faith in the aid his father’s friends might be able to lend him. Once again, he was prey to painful memories.
Both letters had mentioned a trial, where the accusations would be gone into in detail. Robin and Guy dreaded this equally, whereas Marion was still filled with righteous anger. In her mind, there was no doubt whatsoever that justice would prevail, and the Sheriff would suffer for his cruelty.
As the date of the trial approached, letters containing offers of assistance were arriving at Leaford and Huntingdon. Just as Marion, and Elaine had predicted, most of their friends were keen on dealing the hated Sheriff a severe blow.
When the day of the trial came around, Guy and Elaine, Robin and Marion had to travel to Nottingham. No amount of reassuring words could reach the two brothers, no matter how their wives tried. The last place in the world Robin and Guy wished to be was in the Sheriff’s house.
They were invited to stay in the house of one of Marion’s cousins. Her kin was as outraged as she was, and they all promised their full support on the morrow.
In the morning, a large gathering of Huntingdon’s friends and supporters joined them for the walk over to the Sheriff’s house. A sizabel crowd were standing outside in the street, calling out insults or cheers, depending on where they hailed from. Some of Huntingdon’s people as well as a number of Leaford’s tenant farmers had somehow made their way into Nottingham to stand by their masters on this day of trial.
Not until Guy drew his sword did the crowd part to let him and his party through. Though Guy had begged Elaine to remain at Huntingdon, she had insisted on accompanying her husband. She would stand by his side, come what may.
Inside the Sheriff’s house, they were met at the door by the Bishop’s men, and ushered to a bench at the head of the Sheriff’s hall, where he usually conducted the King’s business. At the moment, the Sheriff himself was nowhere to be seen, but his sour-faced brother, Abbot Hugo, was seated at the end of the table where the Bishop was residing, with his secretaries and other dignitaries of the church. Every man wore a somber look on his face, but it seemed to Marion, that even the Bishop did not quite dare to treat his noble guests with too much disrespect. This cheered her, and gave her the impression all was not yet lost.
The day appeared to drag on endlessly, and still the Sheriff had not arrived, and accordingly, the proceedings were held up. At long last, when Marion thought her husband might be close to losing his mind, the vile little man at last walked in.
The trial could at last begin. One of the Bishop’s secretaries called for order. Guy and Robin looked down onto the wooden surface of the bench, rather than facing their accuser. Marion realized that if anyone was to speak for them, it would be she. Elaine was not named in the letters summoning them to the trial.
“We are gathered here today, to ascertain whether there is any truth to the accusations against Guy of Huntingdon, Robert of Huntingdon and Marion, wife of said Robert. We will now hear the first witness, Guillaume de Chesnay.”
At the mention of this infamous name, every man and woman in the Sheriff’s hall fell silent. Marion grasped her husband’s hand under cover of the bench, to lend him whatever strength she could. This was unexpected, and unfortunate. Of all men in England, de Chesnay was the only one who was in a position to harm Guy and Robin.
At this moment, a disturbance travelled through the hall and everyone’s eyes turned towards the door. A man, with the looks of a messenger, walked hurriedly up the aisle. He exchanged a look with the Bishop’s secretary, and was allowed to walk up to the dais and behind the table, right up to the Bishop. The messenger handed over a sealed letter, and whispered a few words into the Bishop’s ears.
Marion could not help but notice the consternation that spread across the Bishop’s rather dull features. Something was afoot, and she had a feeling that it was not in the Sheriff’s favour. In fact, the Bishop cast a dismayed glance in his host’s direction. Now two more men entered the hall, and found themselves seats near the entrance. They vanished in the crowd, but Marion had already recognized them.
Loxley and Scarlet. What would their presence import? She wished with all her heart that the enmity that had existed between those two and her husband and his brother was now at last buried, after Robin’s and later Guy’s heroic aid of the two former outlaws. But she had no more time for her old friends. Again, the Bishop rose, but this time it appeared he was less sure of himself.
“We will adjourn until after the midday meal. New – new facts have been revealed, and we shall have to investigate further.”
To the astonishment of everyone gathered to witness the trial, the great men, and Abbot Hugo and his brother left by the small side door. No further explanations were forthcoming, and after a short moment of consideration, it appeared the crowd had come to the decision that nothing would be gained by remaining in the Sheriff’s house.
Marion put a hand on Robin’s shoulder and suggested they leave as well. Her friend Elaine, and Guy followed them outside again. At the door, they were met by Loxley and Scarlet. Both men were grinning broadly, and Marion wondered what they had planned. She hoped it was not an attack on the Sheriff and Abbot Hugo. In addition to everything else, such a mad caper would only add to her troubles.
“Robin, Will. It is good to see you as ever. Might I ask what brings you here on this sad day?”
“Sad not for much longer, I believe, mylady.”
It felt odd to be thus addressed by her former lover, though Marion was more concerned with the statement he had just made. But they could not stand about idly discussing an event of this import.
“Please, join us in my cousin’s house. Let us have some refreshments.”
“Very well, mylady.”
To Marion’s astonishment, Will Scarlet now took it upon himself to clear a path through the teeming crowds in the street. Loxley joined him and before long they were back at her cousin’s house, and were able to escape the throng. Despite the rather rustic appearance of Marion’s guests, no one attempted to stop the men at the door, and the party was ushered into a pleasant room facing the courtyard. A servant girl brought the refreshments Marion had requested, and everyone sat down around the oval table by the window.
Marion felt a hot flush suffuse her face as her husband and her former lover both turned and faced her. She hastened to clarify, and Loxley again shot her an amused smile. This time, she suspected, the smile was on account of her confusion, but she would not let this minor inconvenience prevent her from hearing Loxley’s tale to the end.
“What were you referring to just now?”
“Oh. Yes. What do you say, Will? Shall we confide in them? Or will we keep them waiting a while longer?”
However, the look in Marion’s eyes, told Loxley he had better get on with his account.
“Very well. As it seemed Guy and Robert were in need of our assistance, we were happy to lend whatever aid was in our power. Will and I approached some of de Chesnay’s villagers and were able to locate a few servants who were, shall we say, not very content in his service. Those young men were kind enough to provide us with much important information. As for the Sheriff – well, it appears that his servants are not much more loyal. Several of the pretty young servant girls were happy to provide me with all the information I could wish for. Truth to tell, far more than I wished to know. Best of all, a young secretary of noble birth has come forward to testify about the indignities he was forced to witness at the Sheriff’s house.”
“You provided the Bishop with these new facts?”
“In a manner of speaking. Suffice it to say, I do not believe de Chesnay’s account will carry any weight, and as for the Sheriff -”
At the mention of his old archenemy, Loxley gave a delighted laugh, before continuing his tale.
“I believe the Sheriff will find his reputation somewhat tarnished as a result, and I do not mean what every resident of Nottingham already knows. This time, his downfall will be greater. He will be shamed in the eyes of the church, and perhaps, if we are in luck, we shall have a new Sheriff appointed before long.”
“Perhaps that will be too much to hope for. With John behind him, I doubt we shall see the last of that pompous little fool.”
By now, as the impact of Loxley’s revelation was sinking in, Guy and Robin realized how much they owed their new friends.
Despite the occasion for this touching proof of loyalty, Robin felt impelled to offer his heartfelt thanks to Loxley and Scarlet.
“Loxley – how can I ever repay you for your kindness?”
“Do not mention it, my friend. Nay, my brother.”
At this reference to their connection with Herne, Robert frowned in dismay, but he hastened to cover his reaction, by turning to Scarlet.
“Will – I owe you thanks for your assistance.”
Scarlet appeared somewhat shamed by this blatant display of gratitude. Perhaps he remembered how he had broken his oath to the flaxen-haired younger Robin, and during their last encounter, Scarlet recalled far too vividly his own cowardly behaviour.
“Let us say no more, my friend.”
Guy followed his brother’s example and hastily mumbled a few words of gratitude to the men he had spent so many years hunting down. He would have said more, had not his shame prevented him from dwelling too long on the sad memories.
Loxley had been right. After the midday meal, on their return to the Sheriff’s house, they found that the accusations against them had vanished, and for some reason, so had the Sheriff, and his brother Abbot Hugo.
Marion concluded that once the tables had been turned on the vile Sheriff and his no less vile brother, they had chosen to remove themselves from the Bishop’s presence. That was understandable. As the King’s representative, the Sheriff could ill afford to be associated with any kind of scandal, especially one that the church deemed this inappropriate.
The Bishop chose to let his secretary make the announcement that all charges against the Huntingdons were dropped, and that their good name was fully restored. It appeared the Bishop knew far too well, that had Huntingdon and Leaford been in England, the repercussions for such a slur against their good names would not have been left unchallenged.
“Let us celebrate. Come back with us to Leaford, Guy, Elaine, Robin, Will. Allow us to show our gratitude in a seemly manner. We shall send messengers to Sherwood and the villages and we shall have a splendid feast. What say you?”
“I shall be delighted, my dear. Guy?”
“Yes. Why not indeed? I will be glad to see the last of this accursed house and this town.”
Loxley and Scarlet had no objections either, and soon the entire entourage were on their way back to Leaford. Marion was looking forward to her friend Elaine making a prolonged visit, and she knew Robin would love to see more of his brother. Perhaps, she would at last be successful in persuading Loxley and Scarlet to make their homes in the village, rather than in Sherwood. On the other hand, she knew well that after knowing the free life in the forest, it could not be easy for men such as her former lover and his friend to make the adjustment back to village life.
The celebration that followed dragged on for close to a week, and every one of Loxley’s men, and all villagers from Leaford’s holdings enjoyed the hospitality of Leaford and its young master and mistress.
One day, about six weeks after the Sheriff’s failed attempt at striking at his enemies, Marion received another letter. This time, however, the message was utterly different. Another of her numerous cousins, a girl some five years Marion’s junior was marrying a Welsh lord, and Marion and her husband were cordially invited to the wedding festivities.
After all the trials and tribulations in the past months, Marion and Robin were eager for a change of scenery. Neither one of them had ever visited Wales, and for this reason alone, the journey appealed to them. In addition, Marion and her cousin, Anne, had once been close. They had attended the same convent school, just like once Marion and Elaine had.
The next week or so was filled with preparations for the long journey. A voyage by sea was suggested, but in the end, it was agreed that travelling by land was preferable at this time of year. With an entourage consisting of half a dozen men, including Tuck, but not Much, Robin and Marion set out on their journey.
The weather was clear, and the roads passable. It was the first time since their days as outlaws that they had been travelling this far. Robin found that he was able to put the past behind him, and enjoy the journey with his love.
The prospect of meeting her dear cousin again was caused Marion to feel as a young girl again. She only wished Anne would be making her home closer to Leaford. Who knew how many times they would be able to meet after this joyous occasion? But Marion was determined to enjoy this time away from home to the full.
She knew Leaford was in safe hands, and at last, Guy and Elaine appeared to be able to enjoy married bliss at Huntingdon. With no troubles on her mind, Marion eagerly watched the changing scenery.
They had set out early, so they would not need to make haste. It was hard to tell in advance what troubles they might run into on the way.
As it happened, fortune smiled upon them, and they arrived safely at Caer Myrddin three days before the wedding. They were to stay with relatives of the husband-to-be.
The reunion between the two cousins was a happy one, and Anne, with the honey-colored hair, swept Marion away to a private chamber for a long and pleasant conversation. Robin found himself alone with his host, a man of such dark complexion Robin for a moment suspected he was in the presence of another Saracen. However when the man introduced himself, he turned out to be a Welshman, as was natural in this land. Robin was treated to a vivid description of the glorious past of the Welshmen, a number of tall tales, and an invitation to go hunting. Searching his mind for a tactful way of turning down the offer, Robin was at last successful. His host stared at him for so long, Robin feared he had offended him, but that turned out not to be the case.
“Huntingdon, have you ever visited the cave of Myrddin?”
“No. Who is this Myrddin?”
“In English it would be Merlin. The legendary sorcerer.”
“Ah. Now I understand. He used to live nearby?”
“The town is named for him. Caer Myrddin. In the mountains above the town he used to make his home in a cave. There is also a well. Do you know the legend? Surely, it is told in England as well?”
“Yes. About King Arthur and his men? It is a well known legend, but I did not realize he truly existed.”
“No Welshman doubts Myrddin.”
It seemed to Robin that the man was more Norman than Welsh, but came to the conclusion that many of the Norman lords would have married Welsh princesses on their arrival in the mountainous land, and his host might easily have heard the legends, growing up.
“I shall take you up to the cave tomorrow. It is unthinkable that you shall visit Caer Myrddin and not see Myrddin’s cave and well.”
“Thank you. I shall be looking forward to it.”
When Marion at last rejoined him in their room at night, she astonished him by declaring that she would accompany him on the excursion to Merlin’s cave.
“I would have thought you would be spending the time until the wedding with Anne.”
“No. She will be busy. There are so many things that need doing before a wedding, if you remember.”
Yes. Unfortunately, Robin could recall the hectic activities that had led up to his own wedding at Leaford far too well. He had not been forced to participate, but he had not been allowed near Marion for weeks on end.
“Do not remind me, my love. I understand. Did you know that this Merlin once lived here?”
“No. Perhaps he did. I am sure the Welsh would know more about it than we do. And if a god walks among men, why should not a sorcerer have once existed too?”
This was the first time Marion had made any reference to Herne since the horned god had taken their firstborn from them. She appeared to be carefree enough, and Robin was hoping she was healing after the tragic occurrence. They would never forget, but as time went by, their hearts mended, and life continued. One day, he was certain, they would have other children, and while they would never replace the little one they’d lost, the pain would one day be no more than a distant memory.
On the morrow, they set out at dawn. Their host provided them with rugged, surefooted mountain ponies to ensure their safe passage. The ascent took most of the morning, but around midday, they reached their destination. Leaving the ponies by the swift but narrow mountain stream, they proceeded on foot towards the well, and the cave.
Their host, who was a man of advanced years, though not as old as Leaford or Huntingdon, chose to remain behind.
“I have seen this place a dozen times or more. There is no risk of getting lost up here, so I shall await your return here, if you do not mind.”
“Please, do not trouble yourself on our account. We shall find our own way around.”
The well turned out to be small, but deep, and the light of the sun appeared to vanish down it, without a trace. Further up the sheer mountain side, the cave opened. It was not as small or as dark as they had feared. Now that they were at the entrance, it was not hard to imagine that a man – or a sorcerer – once made his home here.
Once inside, they were stunned to find the walls apparently lined with shiny crystal. Their own reflections were cast back at them, again and again, and the glare hurt their eyes. After their eyes were accustomed to the strange sensation, they moved further inside. At the back of the cave, there was a large flat surface, of the most dazzling crystal yet, but when Robin looked more closely, he did not see his own reflection. A strange man was facing him. He did not know the stranger, but as he stared into the deep, dark eyes, he was alarmed by a gasp from Marion. He turned and faced his wife, concern stamped across his features.
“Those eyes – Robin, I swear to you, those are the same eyes our son had.”
“Our son? But this -”
Again, he looked into the mirror, and again, he was faced by the dark stranger. The man appeared advanced in years, and his hair and beard were long, yet still pitch black. Those eyes appeared to draw him in, and suddenly, Robin saw another image reflected in the crystal. Marion, and Guy fleeing their enemies out into the forest. The babe being born, then taken away by Herne. Was this the answer to the puzzle of Herne’s treachery? The child – this man – were they one and the same? Herne’s words were beginning to make sense. The child had never been theirs to keep. Did this make everything fine again? Robin did not think so. Who gave Herne the right to use them this way?
“Did you see that? That was exactly how it happened. Do you think -”
“I do. Though I never saw the babe, it appears Herne was not lying to me.”
“Now I understand, though I do not know if this makes me forgive Herne or not. I shall have to think more on this.”
“As will I. Well, my love, you think we have seen enough?”
“Enough and more. We walk among gods and sorcerers. Truly wondrous.”
If their host remarked on their subdued mood on the journey back to Caer Myrddin, he did not call attention to the fact. By the time they were safely indoors again, the daylight was fading fast, and the travellers were weary. Marion and Robin retreated to their room, to further discuss the strange incident in the cave. It was clear that someone had been attempting to communicate with them, and it seemed with some success.
“Robin, I have been pondering the vision in that cave.”
“As have I. What conclusion did you arrive at?”
“Herne told you that our son never truly belonged to us, did he not?”
“That was the meaning he conveyed to me.”
“I believe he must have been telling the truth. The child was never ours to keep.”
“I agree. But – how came we to be chosen for the begetting of someone like this sorcerer?”
“How came you to be chosen as Herne’s son? These creatures toy with us, using us as they please. No man or woman can truly understand the ways of these immortals. Let us leave this tragedy behind us and go forward with our lives. We are spared the life of outlaws, you are no longer forced to share Will’s or Little John’s life. That will have to suffice.”
“Yes. That is plenty. I have you. How could I ask for more?”
“And I have you, Robin. That is all I ever wished for. I will pray that Guy and Elaine will be as happy in their marriage as we are, and that Anne will find happiness in this strange land also.”
“Indeed we are fortunate. Shall we rest now, my dear?”
“I believe we must. Father specifically told us how important it is to – rest.”
“Then we should hasten to obey his command. My father also stressed the need for – rest.”
“How could we disappoint them? I am feeling – weary – this very moment.”
“As am I.”
The encounter in the crystal cave appeared to have lifted a weight off the young couple’s shoulders. Knowing that nothing could have changed their son’s fate, helped them leave the memories of the past behind. Freed of their grief, they once again felt strong enough to face the future. They were still young. Herne had given them their old lives back. There was every reason to rejoice. And rejoice they did. Freely, happily and with reckless abandon. The stone walls of a Welsh keep are thick and do not carry sound. No one disturbed the happy young couple as they strove to fulfill a promise to their elders.