The Keepsake

By Sorne

This story is based around Richard Carpenter's wonderful TV series Robin of Sherwood. For those of you familiar with it, the story is set immediately after Time of the Wolf. For those who are not, I have provided a short background.

Chapter 1

"It's bloody freezing," grumbled the rough-looking man as he tried to shift closer to the fire.   "Stop pushing, Will!" returned a young red-haired man beside him. They formed part of a group of disreputable-looking fellows huddled around a fire that appeared to be giving off more smoke than heat. All around the forest clearing was silent, save for the sound of water dripping from the bare branches. The other members of the bedraggled band consisted of a tall, bearded bear of a man, a dark, watchful-eyed Saracen and a fat, red-faced friar. All were dressed in matted furs and stained leathers, even the friar hiding his threadbare cassock beneath a coat of rough-cured sheepskins. Weapons were evident everywhere, daggers at belts, swords and longbows within hand's reach.

"Do you think Robin'll be back soon?" the red-haired youth asked hopefully

"Much!" Will Scarlet replied, exasperated, "That's the twentieth time you've asked that! And for the twentieth time - I DON'T KNOW!"

"Well, I'm hungry, Will!"

"I know, lad." He ruffled Much's hair affectionately. "We all are."

"Bet you never thought you'd see the day you'd be sick of the King's venison, eh Tuck?" The ursine giant asked the friar with a wry smile.

"You're right, John. What wouldn't I give for a lovely, soft, warm loaf of freshly baked bread."

"Tuck!" rejoined Will. "You're only making it worse!"

"So, do you think Robin'll bring us some bread, then?"

"Right! That's it, Much!" Scarlet leapt on him, wrestling him about the clearing. They rolled, tussling down a shallow slope, and came to rest at the feet of a slim, well-made young man. Although similarly dressed, there was something in his strong, clean limbs and fair, handsome face that spoke of a life other than physical labour and hand-to-mouth subsistence.

"Robin!" Much pushed Scarlet away and leapt to his feet, "Did you get any bread?"

"Yes, Much, I did." With a smile quirking his lips and sparkling in his blue eyes, he clapped Much on the shoulder, then held out a hand to help Will to his feet. Together they climbed the slope to the clearing, where he unslung a heavy bag from his shoulders and handed it to Tuck.

"And not only bread but cheese, eggs, butter and oatmeal."

"Praise be to the Lord," exclaimed Tuck, as he unpacked the haul and began to prepare a meal.

"Robin!" Little John rose to his feet and extended an enormous hand to clasp Robin's. "Welcome back."

"It's good to be back, John." He turned to the Saracen, who nodded a silent greeting. "Nasir."

"Sit down, Robin," urged Tuck. "The fire's finally starting to get going." And indeed, the clearing, so dank and dismal only a few minutes ago, was now cheerful, not only with flickering tongues of flame but with the warmth of comradeship.

"I've brought something else as well," continued Robin, settling himself on a log by the fire. "Huntingdon is full of news of our dear friends, Gisburne and the Sheriff."

"The King's hanged them?" Scarlet asked eagerly.

"No, Will." Robin's mouth twisted wryly. "They're to be pardoned."

"What!" Will's astonishment was mirrored on every face. "But they were to be executed. You said so. How can they get pardoned just like that?"

"It's not 'just like that,' Will. They will have to buy their pardons. King John needs money for his war and this is an ideal opportunity for him. He's set Gisburne's pardon at 1000 gold marks and the Sheriff's at 4000."

"Pheeeoooww!" John whistled. "That's a fortune! Do you think the Sheriff can raise it?"

"I think between him and the Abbot Hugo they can probably manage the 4000, but I don't see him forking out 1000 for Gisburne."

"Will Gisburne be able to raise it himself?" asked Tuck.

"I doubt it," answered Robin, looking pensively into the flames. "His estates can't be worth much over 100 marks a year. He's got no family and I don't see him having many friends with that kind of money."

"Good!" Will spat. "At least we'll be rid of one of them. When will it happen? I'd like to be there. To see Gisburne dance on the end of a rope." He smiled savagely.

"It won't be a hanging," answered Tuck quietly. "He's a nobleman. It'll be the headsman's axe." He looked fixedly at Robin, who continued to gaze at the fire.

"The fine is due by the end of the month. They're to stay in gaol at Newark until it's paid."

"Hey!" Scarlet became animated. "What if we were to steal the money for De Rainualt's ransom. Hugo will have to get it to Newark somehow. Then we'd be rid of them both!"

"No Will," Robin answered. "We've more important things to do."

"More important? What could possibly be more important than seeing those two villains getting the chop?"

"Helping the villagers through the winter. Since Gulnar's men destroyed all the grain hidden in Hobbe's Cave, they don't have enough to last the winter."

"What about the stuff we got from Grimstone?" asked John.

"It's a help, John, but not enough to last until spring."

"Well, then," interjected Will, "if we steal the Sheriff's ransom we can use that to buy them enough grain to last ten winters!"

"But that's just the point, Will. There's no grain to buy, never mind how much money we have. We need to steal some from somewhere." His forehead furrowed in thought. "Now King John is at Warwick but the grain and the army are still at Newark, although they'll be marching in a few days. The way I see it we have two choices. Either to attack the granary at Newark, which will be heavily guarded, or to ambush the supply wagons while they're on the move with the army."

"I'd suggest the ambush, Robin." John's deep voice was thoughtful. "We could block the road with a fallen tree, or create a mud hole for the wagons to get stuck in."

"That's good, John," replied Robin. "Now, it would need to be somewhere that wouldn't block the road too much, so the soldiers could carry on past it but the other wagons couldn't."

Scarlet rubbed his chin moodily. "If it was mud, they'd have to unload the wagon to shift it but, still, it's risky. I mean, we ain't talking about the Sheriff's dolts here. These are professional soldiers and they ain't going to leave the wagon unattended."

"Well what do you suggest, Will? Attacking the granary in Newark?"

"Nah, I like that even less. There must be another way to get that grain."

Much looked up from where he had been poking the fire. "Robin?" he began uncertainly.

"What is it, Much?"

"Well, it's just that the grain won't be going with the army."

Everyone looked at him in surprise.

"What do you mean?"

"You make bread out of flour not grain."

"Of course!" Robin exclaimed, slapping Much on the back. "Much! You're a genius!" Much grinned with pleasure and embarrassment. "They'll have to mill the grain first, and that means taking it out of Newark."

"Well done, lad," John congratulated him.

"Not bad, not bad," conceded Scarlet.

* * * * * * * * *

"That which was lost can be found, that which was broken, mended."

The bright mist swirled around the head of Herne the Hunter, silhouetting his horns against the dark walls of the cave. His black eyes shone, gazing into another world, into another time. The air was heavy with strange, sweet smells.

"That which was lost? Do you mean Marion?" Robin asked, frowning. The hope, unbidden, rose in him, Was there a way to get her back?

"Open your heart; this will be the only chance."

The only chance. His mind was racing...What was it? "When will it be, Herne? How will I know?"

But already the light was fading, the mist darkening, and, once more, he sat in a dank, seeping cave opposite a worn and aging man. His face troubled, Robin rose silently to his feet and left the place of dreams.

Once outside he breathed deeply, expelling the last of the cave's strange perfume. The glade was peaceful and quiet, the soft winter sunshine filtering through the branches and dappling the ground, the water running into the pool behind him, sounding sharp and clear. By contrast his heart and mind were racing and roiling. Marion might be brought back, but there would be only one chance. When? God, he wanted it so much, he almost wished Herne hadn't told him. The hope was fuel to the smouldering embers of his pain.

As he made his way back through the forest he thought of Marion. Her gentle mischievous eyes, her beautiful hair spun from autumn leaves, destined to be hidden under a stiff wimple or, worse, shorn off. Her lithe, free limbs never to run and leap through the green of the forest but to kneel cramped on the cold flagstones of Halstead Priory.

"Robin." Tuck's quiet voice woke him from his reverie.

"Tuck!" He clasped his fat friend by the shoulders. "I've just come from Herne and I think there might be a way to get Marion back."

Tuck frowned. "What did he say?"

"That which was lost can be found."

"That which was lost?"

"It's Marion! It must be! We haven't lost anyone else, have we?"

"What else did he say?"

"That there would be only one chance." Robin was pacing up and down with barely suppressed energy. "I must go to Halstead and see her. Come on, Tuck, let's find the others." He sprang away to head down the track.

"Robin!" Tuck called. "Wait, I want to talk to you about something."

"What is it, Tuck?" Robin demanded impatiently. "Can't it wait?"

"No, Robin, it can't." Tuck was implacably serious.

Robin came over reluctantly. "Can we at least walk back while we talk?"

"All right, but slowly."

They walked together in silence for a short way. Then Tuck took a deep breath "Look, Robin, you won't like what I'm about to say, but I want to know what you're going to do about Gisburne."

Robin stopped dead in his tracks and looked at Tuck with an incredulous expression on his face. "Do about Gisburne? What on earth is it you think I can do?"

"He's your brother, Robin. You can't just let him die." Tuck spoke with quiet conviction.

Robin's eyes narrowed and his voice became hard. "And what exactly would you have me do, Brother Tuck? Break into Newark gaol and carry out a daring rescue? Beg the King for mercy on his behalf?"

Tuck looked straight at him. "You could pay the ransom."

Robin laughed harshly. "It may have escaped your notice, Tuck, but I don't happen to have 1000 marks to hand just at the moment."

The Friar's voice was quiet. "You could ask your father for it."

Robin stared at his friend in disbelief, "You're not serious. You can't possibly be suggesting that I tell my father Gisburne is his son."

"Don't you think he has a right to know? Don't you think he has a right to decide for himself whether or not to pay the money?"

Robin ran a hand violently through his hair, striding up and down. He stopped and spun to face Tuck. "Gisburne is a vicious, arrogant and narrow-minded man, just the type my father most despises! Do you think he'll thank me for telling him that…that recidivist is his son? Not to even mention the fact that Gisburne is our enemy and has deserved this fate many times over!"

Tuck continued to look Robin straight in the eye. "You must do as your heart tells you, Robin."

Robin turned abruptly and, without another word, stalked off in the direction of the camp.

His eager and optimistic mood destroyed by Tuck's words, Robin strode up the forest path. His emotions seethed within him: pain, guilt, but mostly anger. Anger at Tuck for exposing the wound, anger at Lady Gisburne for revealing the secret, anger at Gisburne, anger at his father, but, most of all, blind, white-hot anger at the cursed twist of fate that had caused this dreadful abscess in his soul. What was any man supposed to do with the knowledge that his most hated enemy was in fact his half-brother? And not only that, but the knowledge that the circumstances of his birth had contributed directly to his character.

If he, Robert, had grown up in a household of hate, fear and pain, would he be any better? Then there was the choice to be made. Did he leave Guy to be executed by the King, and rid not only himself, but all his followers, the villagers and their families, of a cruel tyrant responsible for killings, torture and repression, or did he give his father the chance to save this unknown son, a son born to the woman he had loved so dearly in his youth? He pushed the thoughts aside, down into the deepest part of him. There were more pressing matters to consider. The ambush to steal back the grain was to take place at the Kelham mill, two miles outside Newark, in three days time. Will and John were to recruit some of the more reliable villagers to help, and tomorrow he would go to Halstead and see Marion.