This is something I have been working on since before the premiere of season 3, so it's going to be pretty spoiler free. I love Sherlock and I love the lore of Robin Hood, so I figured, why not both?
Thank you to Nocturnias for giving this the thumbs up!
The smell of melting wax and smoke filled the nose of Sherlock Holmes as he sat in his favorite chair in the library, eyes closed and hands tucked under his chin. He reclined into the brocade fabric. His nostril twitched at the scent, only slightly distracted from cataloguing the new information he had absorbed from the Latin chemist's text he had acquired, quite luckily. Another candle must have snuffed it. He could pick a more well-lit room for his readings and musings, he supposed, but the library suited him. Large, heavy curtains covered the one rounded, corner window and the rest was shelves of books and parchment and stone walls covered in tapestry. It was truly the most worthwhile room in the whole manor.
"M'Lord, there is news of the Earl of Huntingdon."
The words sliced through his thoughts like a blade, bringing his musings to a frustrating halt. The words themselves were enough to set him on edge, hearing the servant boy refer to his brother as though he were some stranger never known to their household. The growing deference to himself, the overuse of 'Lord' when he was addressed, increasingly made his lip curl as it became apparent those around him were already resigning themselves to a transition of power. Sherlock may not have felt any great filial love for his brother, but he would not abide the attitude that Mycroft could be considered as good as dead, his bones bleaching in the Arabian Desert.
"What news?" he ground out.
The boy started and Sherlock smiled inwardly. At twenty years of age, his voice had already deepened to an intimidating timbre and he enjoyed using it to his advantage.
"The enemy has proved strong, m'Lord," the boy squeaked out. "His Highness' army is said to be weakened."
"Said by whom?"
"Returning soldiers, m'Lord," the boy said. "Many have been sent home, too injured to fight. They say the Earl stayed on with weakened numbers. They say only God's mercy will have saved them. They say -"
"God has nothing to do with it," Sherlock said furiously, standing from his chair and dramatically sweeping his green velvet cape behind him as he swept past the servant. The boy sputtered behind him.
"But m'Lord, surely you believe God will be on our side?"
Sherlock stopped abruptly and turned a sharp eye on the boy.
"Every army believes God is on their side, even the Moors," he told him evenly. "The side that waits for His assistance crumbles to the side that makes their own miracles. You would do well to remember that. The crusades are a failed endeavor and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is an idiot."
Without waiting for a response, he left the room and glided purposefully through the main hall, his boots echoing on the stone. It had been two years since his brother had left Anglia for the war with the Moors, recruited by the king himself to leave his duties as Earl and lead an army. That was the price to pay for being counselor in court, one of the most powerful and intelligent men in the land, and a fighter. If it had been Mycroft on the throne, the war would not even be occurring. He was intelligent enough to know when losses were to be cut. Regrettably, he owed all duty to the crown.
And he left his little brother to manage what was left behind.
Sherlock took on the duties with reluctance, but carried it well out of a respect for Mycroft that he would never admit to a single soul. Though he refused to move into the castle. The manor house was his home and there he would stay. Far less to scatter his attention when he was already struggling with the mundane day to day business of being the stand-in to the Earl. Fortunately for everyone involved, Mycroft had successfully coaxed him away from the frantically hushed use of alkaloids before his leaving, though the urge remained from time to time. Disaster would have ensued were it not for that.
"I'm out for the afternoon," he called to whatever servant may have been in the vicinity as he strode out the entrance to the manor and onto the lane.
The day was fine and a warm breeze blew down the main road, making his tousled hair even more unruly. He preferred walking when he could, finding it more conducive to thinking. Nearby lords and ladies were often scandalized with his 'peasant-like' behavior, but he couldn't be brought to care much about it when he knew what he did about them. Particularly whose bedchambers they were all rotating into.
It was a mere two miles into town and once he reached the edges it was easy to spot the flurry of activity around the newly returned soldiers. Many had the vacant eyes of individuals who had seen too much. They were lucky compared to those few who had survived missing a limb. Or rather, missing a finger or bit of an arm. Those who could not walk did not come back, Sherlock noted again with a grimace.
He turned to see Sheriff Lestrade walking towards him, his grey cloak billowing out behind him and his black boots covered in mud.
"Chasing that band of young thieves to the river again?" he observed.
Lestrade stopped mid stride and gave a surprised laugh.
"You could pry the secrets out of a mute," he said, shaking his head.
"The mutes are often most eager to share their secrets," Sherlock mused. "It's the ones that can talk and choose falsehoods that you should worry about. The trees."
"Look up the next time you run after them," Sherlock advised, looking down at the mud caked boots. "You're too busy with the ground."
"I offer again to put you in my employ. Just say the word."
"Perhaps when I am not occupied with running a county."
They walked together towards the group of haggard soldiers, surrounded by curious children and wary villagers. The town friar and women of the cloth were administering food and clean linens, no doubt encouraging the men to find good solid work as soon as possible. Sherlock's eye landed on a man close by, perhaps six years older than himself, shorter, with light hair. He looked just slightly less hollow than the rest, shifting the bowl of stew in his hands and looking about with a set mouth. He shuffled awkwardly as he stood, trying to balance the bowl and a crutch against his side.
"Unfortunate for a surgeon to wind up wounded," Sherlock commented with a pointed look at the man's leg. His eyes traveled up to his torso. "Though it's your shoulder that took the blade. Interesting."
"How…how in God's name did you know?..."
"You carry that shoulder a bit higher than the other, common indication of damaged tissue and subconsciously tensing from the wound. Not to mention the arm is not held correctly, almost as though it still pains you to straighten it. As to your being a surgeon, no insult intended, but you do not fit the physical specifications of a soldier of his Highness' army."
"I fought," the man said defensively.
"No one said you didn't," Sherlock replied with a hint of a smile.
The man gaped at him for a moment before the corner of his mouth turned up.
"You'll hang for a witch if you're not careful," he said. "That was truly magic."
"Not a bit. There are many reasons I may hang, but witchcraft will not be one of them."
"John Watson," the man said, holding out his hand in greeting.
"Sherlock Holmes," he said, taking the offered hand firmly. A look of recognition crossed the older man's face.
"Brother to the Earl," John said. "I'm sorry we could not bring you better news, sir."
"Don't start with titles and pleasantries, please, it's unbecoming," Sherlock instructed. He nodded towards the sheriff. "Sheriff Lestrade. Keeps the peace well enough in my land."
"Honored," John said with a tilt of his head which Lestrade returned.
"You are not from Huntingdon?" Sherlock ventured.
"No, though the last I knew I had an uncle here," John informed him, looking a bit grieved. "Ran a chemist's shop. I find out this morning that he is two years dead."
"As are your chances of a position with him," Sherlock stated.
"You remain very intuitive," John said with a resigned sigh.
Sherlock regarded the man for a few moments. With a wounded shoulder and a limp, he hardly stood a fair chance on his own and could very likely turn beggar in a few years' time if luck was not on his side. Fortunately for John Watson, Sherlock was quite adept at fortuitous situations.
"Can you walk a mile?" he asked, though he was fairly certain of the answer.
"As long as it's not towards the desert, I could walk a hundred," John said.
Sherlock nodded and turned on his heel, keeping his usually swift gait to a more reasonable speed to allow the surgeon to keep up. John offered a quick goodbye to Lestrade before hurrying after him. He headed out of the square and down the main road that was lined on one side with pasture and on the other with woodland.
"Master Hooper has a practice and is invaluable to Huntingdon," he informed his companion. "An ingenious physician, but sadly the only one within a day's ride."
"And he is looking for a partner?"
"If his belly aching in town has been any indication, yes."
The walk went surprisingly quickly, with John keeping pace and looking less tired as they moved and talked. Sherlock informed him of the important aspects of town as well as the surrounding areas, pointing to each cottage and house as they passed by and providing intimate details of the dwellers. In no time at all, they were leaving the main road and walking up a short path to a large brick farmhouse, scrubbed bright and surrounded by trees heavy with late summer leaves. A few chickens clucked in the yard and somewhere a dog barked.
"The Hooper farm," Sherlock explained, marching right up to the door. "His wife passed several years ago and has just the one child left to him."
He rapped on the door to the farmhouse and they immediately heard the rapid footfalls of someone rushing to the door. The heavy wood was thrown back and they were met with the youthful face of a girl of sixteen, wide brown eyes looking at them in surprise as she hurriedly swept her wild, long hair away from her face. Her pale pink gown mimicked the fashion of the day, though the sleeves were shortened and tightened for practicality, the bodice was higher than most young ladies' and the hem showed signs of time spent outside. Overall, the effect was rather childlike despite the figure of the young women inside the fabric.
"Ah, Margaretta," Sherlock said with familiarity. "Is your father at home?"
"Yes," she replied quickly. "He's just down to his library at the moment. Shall I fetch him for you, Sher – ahm, s-sir…m'Lord?"
"Presently, yes," Sherlock said with a quick smile. "And do remember to invite us in."
"Right, yes, of course."
The poor girl nearly tripped over her skirts backing up to allow them room to come in, looking grateful to flee on the spot as the housemaid took over in showing the two men to the sitting room and offering food and drink. John chuckled as they settled on a plush lounge in front of a warming fire.
"Bit of a nervous thing, isn't she?" he commented.
"The maid? No, I should think not."
"No, the girl."
"Margaretta," Sherlock corrected. "Like a baby deer from the moment they first tightened the laces around her waist two years ago. I've known her since childhood."
"And that's an excuse for talking so indelicately about her?" John said with a bit of embarrassment. Sherlock furrowed his brow.
"Indelicately?" he asked, confused.
The question was left unanswered as the master of the house entered the room, a white smock tied around his linen shirt and dark trousers. He had the same warm brown eyes as his daughter, though his light hair had begun to turn silver. He made a neat, cheerful bow to them as he approached.
"My Lord," he said happily. "It is an honor. What brings you on your visit this day?"
"I've heard mention that you are in need of an assistant for your practice, Hooper," Sherlock said, gesturing for the physician to sit.
"That's quite right," the older gentleman said as he did so. "With our county growing, my attentions are stretched thin. My Molly tries to help, bless her, but there's only so much a girl can do, smart as she is."
"Understandable," Sherlock nodded. He then tilted his head towards his companion. "John Watson, recently home from his Majesty's war where he acted as surgeon."
Master Hooper's eyes lit up at the news and he looked to John with interest.
"And would you be looking for a position, sir?" he asked.
"If it would please you, I would be indebted," John said, straightening up in all sincerity.
"Wonderful," Hooped clapped his hands together. "Marvelous! Well, sir, well, I imagine you are tired from your day, I do not wish to flood you with my words until you are refreshed. Shall we meet in the morning to discuss the whole of it?"
At Sherlock's cue, John and Hooper stood, shaking hands congenially.
"That would be very good," the surgeon said with a smile.
With goodbyes said, John and Sherlock were shown out. They had barely made it to the road when a light voice called out.
They turned to see Margaretta traipsing after them and holding some bundle of plants and a small white pouch in her hand. She reached them, cheeks tinged pink, and held the bundle out to Sherlock.
"The fennel and blackberry you wanted. Also the willow bark. Do be careful with your experiments. A few blackberry leaves should soothe the burns."
With that, she made a modest curtsey and turned back to the house. John turned a curious eye on his new companion.
"Hardly anything to worry about. Shall we?"
The late summer sun was growing large on the horizon when they ambled back to the manor house, throwing an almost blinding light onto the stone edifice. It was not enough to blind Sherlock to the sight of his brother's steward and counselor, James Moriarty, standing at the entrance and looking bored with life as always in his crimson tunic and black velvet mantle, twisting the garnet ring on his finger. A squire stood nearby, the reins of Moriarty's roan stallion in his hands.
"M'Lord," Moriarty said, taking the minimal effort to bow before resuming his casual stance. "You have no doubt heard the news from the war."
"Indeed, and so have you, or why else would you be here?" Sherlock drawled, striding quickly by the other man and towards the door to his home. It was opened on cue by one of his servants as he approached.
"It is so, you are correct," Moriarty replied, following. "I find myself in the position of needing to offer you counsel on a certain matter -"
Sherlock swung around suddenly as he and John made their way inside, blocking Moriarty in the arch of the doorway.
"I don't recall inviting you in," he said curtly.
The steward flicked his eyes over Sherlock's face, his gaze cold for a moment before morphing into an expression of neutrality. His eyes remained dark, distant.
"There is a matter that is of the utmost importance…m'Lord."
"It can wait til the morrow," Sherlock said firmly. "I am tired and in need of food."
He nodded to his servant who promptly shut the door and bolted it. His servants were nothing if not accommodating to his whims of impropriety.
"Dinner, please, Sam," he instructed his servant. "In the parlour. Ale as well."
"Very good, sir," Sam said, turning to procure the requested items.
John followed quickly as Sherlock led him through the entrance hall and into the great hall, passing quickly by a grand, long table, cold fireplace, and several rich tapestries. Through another door and small hall and they were in a comfortable room situated with grand chairs, side tables, and many decorations. Several large windows looked out onto extensive grounds, dropping off into the woods. A roaring fire was going in the stone fireplace, keeping the room perfectly warm with the cool of evening. Sherlock crossed to a high backed chair and began to unfasten the clasps of his cloak.
"Your lodgings shall be here until you find something suitable for yourself," Sherlock told John as he removed the cloak and draped it lazily over the back of the chair. He sat down and propped his boots on a stool by the fire, slouching and indicating that John should make himself comfortable. "Stay as long as you desire. The place has been far too empty with just myself."
"No lady of the house, then?" John asked as he abandoned his own cape and mimicked Sherlock's repose.
Sherlock snorted and pushed at the sleeves of his linen shirt.
"Not if I can help it."
"It would make the place less empty," John said with a smirk.
"And more tedious. I find most women to be far too concerned with trivial things to be of any use or diversion in my home," he said simply. "No, it is my brother's duty as Earl to produce a family. Not mine."
"An interesting position."
"Not one you share, I gather?"
"No, I can't say that I do," John said amiably. "But each man is to live his life as he sees fit."
Sherlock looked at him with happy regard. Footsteps sounded in the hall and Sam and an older woman with a kind face and greying hair appeared, carrying platters of roast chicken, potatoes, bread, and apples and tankards of ale. Though Sam delivered the meal with respectful silence, the woman hovered in a motherly way as she made sure they had everything they needed.
"A new friend, Sherlock?" she asked with a smile.
"John Watson. He'll be taking a position with Master Hooper," he said in easy explanation.
"Oh that's very nice indeed," she said happily before leaving the room.
"Martha," Sherlock said to fill John in, nodding after her. "She used to be my nurse when I was young. I kept her on when her husband proved to be less than suitable."
The supper was shared over tales of the war and discussion of all things outside of Anglia. Sherlock found him to be a most agreeable companion, sharing in an interest of foreign cultures without the dire loyalty to the crown that most people possessed. It was enough to take his mind off the worry over the war and his brother's safety.
The next morning, John hurried off to the Hooper farm just after sunrise, eager to be onto the promise of a position. Sherlock dressed and breakfasted late, staying in the hall to linger over his spiced wine. When Sam entered to announce Moriarty, he regretted lingering quite so long. He had no choice but to receive the man.
"M'Lord," Moriarty entered with the same cool manner, a parchment tucked under his arm. "With the news of the turn of the war, I'm afraid we can no longer put off this conversation."
"Oh God, get on with it," Sherlock groaned, closing his eyes in annoyance.
"Your brother the Earl has no family, no heir. You stand to inherit."
"He's not dead yet."
"Of course he's not," Moriarty said with the grimy air of veiled sarcasm that Sherlock hated. "But we should be prepared in the event that something happens. And, God forbid, if something were to happen to you -"
Sherlock's eyes snapped open at that, at once on high alert and focused on the man standing in his home.
"What on earth would happen to me?" he demanded.
Moriarty gave an affected little shrug, looking the innocent.
"If your Lordship has no plans to take a wife, arrangements need to be made."
"How dare you discuss my personal intentions," Sherlock growled, standing up to his full height. "You are dismissed."
"I only suggest -"
"Out!" he roared, flinging his hand towards the hall entrance.
To his great dismay, Moriarty remained calm, looking pityingly at him before his mouth turned up in a wry grin and he slowly walked away.