The Consequence of Loyalty
By Cynthia Burnett
The passage of three days did little to ease the tension at the Locksley manor. Since returning home, the brooding lord refused to leave his house after Sheriff Vaisey's botched con with a fake King Richard. All of Gisborne's men knew to avoid their lord. If not for the fact that the servants were finding his bed slept in during the morning, they would have thought that Gisborne never abandoned his chair in front of the fireplace. When Gisborne returned to the manor that day without Marian as his wife, and after the news spread about the events and subterfuge of the Sheriff, the servants were prepared for any destruction that ensued. The manor was trashed from the great room to the bedrooms. Nothing escaped Gisborne's wrath.
The servants managed to clean up after their lord's devastating rampage, but his silence that followed unnerved the entire household. Thornton, the steward of the house, bravely approached his lord. While all the other servants continued to walk on eggshells around Gisborne, Thornton could not afford to be cowed by the man. He had a manor to keep.
The other servants had retired for the night in their quarters when Thornton made his entrance in the great room. He walked into the room behind Gisborne trying to make his presence obvious, yet hoping not to startle the self-absorbed noble.
Clearing his throat, he addressed Gisborne. "My lord, is there anything else I can get for you before I turn in for the night?"
Firelight danced off Gisborne's rigid jaw. Thornton knew that the lord would be dangerous to anyone who stepped into his ill favor. Dangerous eyes flicked away from the fire, and cut through Thornton. "I want to know how many years you have served this manor." Sir Guy's hoarse voice grated coarsely through the room.
"My lord?" Thornton questioned, but without waiting for an answer, the steward replied. "I have been in this manor for 35 years."
Sir Guy nodded. "Then you were here when Robin was born. You watched him grow from a boy into a man?" Gisborne knew the answer, but he wanted to hear his thoughts spoken.
"Master, I watched him grow into a fine young man. I watched him lose his parents to sickness and injury, and I watched him leave this manor for the Holy Land." Thornton did not like the questions or the fact that were discussing his former master. Nothing good could come from this.
Gisborne smirked, "What of his servant, the one who followed him to the Holy Land, and now into the forest? How long has he been a manservant to Robin?"
Thornton could never forget the day that Much joined them in the manor. Robin's father, Lord Robert, had introduced Much to the household and to Thornton as Robin's personal manservant. There had apparently been an event or two that had prompted Robin and his father to arrange for Much to join their household here in Locksley. The young man seemed to always be distracted by everything but the servant duties of the manor, and to Thornton's dismay, Robin seemed to always be there to protect Much from any assignments that the steward tried to arrange. It also did not help that Robin's mother found Much delightful, something that helped to embolden the young servant even more.
"Thornton?" yelled Gisborne, losing his temper with the steward.
"Sorry, master, I was trying to remember the year. It was about 10 years ago. Much has been Robin's manservant ever since." Thornton then remembered his former master's promise to free Much from his service and grant him lands of Bonchurch. While Thornton had been surprised by the gift, he knew that the horrors the two young men had witnessed in the war must have been terrible. When a younger Much announced he was going with his master to war, the only one who was surprised by the declaration had been Robin. When Robin lost his lands, his titles and became an outlaw after returning from the Holy Land, it only made sense that Much would follow him into this new life.
"So, he is a servant of the Locksley estate." Gisborne stated.
Thornton could not suppress a small laugh. "My lord, Much was and always has been a personal servant to Robin. He was not much use around here. If he was not helping Robin in his adventures around the shire, he was eating and sleeping here in the manor."
To Thornton's surprise, Gisborne stood. "Tomorrow, I will be leaving for Nottingham before daybreak. I want my horse ready."
"Yes, my lord." Thornton lowered his eyes to the floor as Gisborne walked past. He noticed the black boots stopping directly in front of him.
"And Thornton, do not discuss our private conversation with anyone. I would hate to lose the head steward of this house." Gisborne smiled and seemed to have made a decision about something. "I'm going to bed."
Thornton nodded, "Yes, master." He watched Gisborne head to what use to be Robin's bedroom. The day Robin had returned from the Holy Lands, Thornton could not express his elation to be rid of his former master, Sir Guy. He could only show Robin how good it was to have him home. When Gisborne returned to the manor after Robin had rescued the Locksley serfs from the hanging, Thornton's only relief was that Robin was alive, and knowing that Robin is still alive today gave him hope for an unforeseeable better future.
Now, Thornton feared the evil plot that was brewing in Gisborne, and he feared that Much may be the crux of this new scheme. He knew that Gisborne would love nothing more than to hurt Robin, and through Much, he could do just that.
Birds sang and flew through the trees in Sherwood Forest as Robin's gang worked on dissolving their camp into the woods. To Much's regret, breakfast seemed to vanish as soon as it left the skillet, and now he helped Djaq bury the fire that had served them well since the previous evening. Allen and Will carefully stuffed the blankets and supplies in a hollowed Oak tree. With his foot slowly scraping in the dirt over where the fire had burned, Much's attention drifted to where Robin knelt with John just a few feet away. He could hardly stand not knowing what they were whispering about over an impromptu map Robin had drawn of Locksley Manor.
Suddenly, he heard Djaq's Saracen accented voice. "Go, I will finish up here." She waved him on.
Much smiled at her and said, "Thank you." He grabbed his sword and ran over to Robin. He caught the end of a statement to Little John.
"It makes no sense." Robin drew an 'x' for the manor's main door.
"What makes no sense?" Much wanted to know what had distracted his master so thoroughly after they had finished their meal. Earlier, Will had returned with news that he whispered into Robin's ear. Robin pulled Little John off to the side while ordering everyone else to start breaking up camp. Finally, Will joined them with Allen and Djaq. The camp no longer existed, and the gang was ready to move out.
Robin glanced up to Will. "Tell them what you found."
Will stared at the scratched drawing on the forest floor. He grew apprehensive and hesitated before releasing a sigh. Finally, he spoke. "Gisborne is fortifying Locksley. He commissioned locksmiths and metal smiths to put in new doors, window bars, and shutters throughout the manor. He isn't just putting them on the outside, he is having the inside locked down as well."
Much gasped, "Marian?" His heart began to beat fast as he worried about the noble lady. He remembered how his heroics the day of her wedding to Gisborne had saved her from becoming Sir Guy's wife. He knew that her marriage to the lord had been destroying his master inside. Sadly, Robin's hurtful words when the two sat on the hillside overlooking Locksley before Marian's impending wedding came unwilling to mind, but he buried them just as quickly as they appeared.
Robin raked his stick through the manor drawing. Much observed how his master's forehead wrinkled as his eyes grew heavy with worry.
"We need to find out what he is up to. We cannot guess. This could be a response to the Night Watchman's breaking into the manor." As Robin spoke, Much watched his master's fists clenching.
"What do we do? Surely Gisborne is not going to force Marian to marry him before King Richard really does return to England?" Much gathered Robin's sword and tossed it to his master. "Besides, she called off the engagement after the lies he told her."
Robin acknowledged Much's statement with a glance to his friend. With a quick nod, he gave out orders to the gang. "Will, you and Allen go to Locksley. Be careful, but try to see if there are any rumors about Gisborne's actions. There may be some truths there." Robin eyes found Djaq and Little John, "You two, go to Nettlestone and see if the metal smith there can share any information about his work at the manor, but be careful not to get him in trouble. Make sure no one sees you talking to him."
"Right." Little John nodded to Djaq.
Robin continued giving instructions. "We meet up here at nightfall."
"We go to Knighton Hall, to see Marian?" asked Much, pleased that Robin nodded.
With a fury of action, every one parted ways, with Much running to catch up with Robin. His master seemed to have the path to Marian memorized from whichever camp they ever made in Sherwood. He marveled at how fluid Robin moved through the forest, never losing a step over roots and branches. As Much ran for several minutes, struggling to keep up, he heard the distinct sound of horses in the forest.
"Master…" Much gasped, stopping as he tried to find the horsemen.
Robin also stopped running, finding Much several paces behind him. He finally heard the horses. Looking around, he found a thicket to hide. Motioning to his friend, he ran for the cover. Much was thankful that the thicket was not full of thorns as they crawled inside. His relief vanished as one of the branches snagged his cap off his head. Before he could reach up to grab it, Robin pulled him down to the ground next to him.
Much caught himself holding his breath as the horses cleared the trees. He was surprised to see Gisborne riding on his black steed with six of his men following. Rumors had Sir Guy confined to his manor, not leaving for anything in the days that followed his failed wedding day to Marian. Much reminded himself that those rumors were before the news about what he was doing in Locksley manor.
Much watched one of Sir Guy's men studying the ground while Gisborne surveyed the brush. Much wondered if they had been spotted running through the woods. Suddenly, a cry went out through the guards.
"Over there," one of the guards pointed in the direction of the thicket, and to Much's cap. With their cover revealed, Robin hurriedly pushed Much out of the brush.
"Run!" Robin cried as he too joined Much in a sprint away from Gisborne and his men. Robin rushed Much down a steep incline, making it hard for the men on horses to safely keep up. When they reached the bottom, Much inadvertently tripped over long vines cluttering his path, falling into a tangled matt of dead brush. Robin stopped, and quickly helped Much untangle his feet from the clingy vines. Just as Much finally regained control of his footing, Robin noticed something strange about the ground. It was covered in leaves, and grass, hiding something.
"Much, no…" Robin cried. As Much went to step back, Robin pulled his friend forward, and accidentally triggered the trap himself. With a swoosh, a net engulfed Robin, hoisting the nobleman into the air.
"Robin!" Much looked on with horror as his master struggled inside a net swinging high in the air. "No! This cannot be!" When Much realized that the rope suspending Robin in the air was too high to reach immediately, he felt lost. "What do I do?"
"Much, run! Get out of here!" Robin spotted Guy and his men rushing down the hill. "They're almost here!"
Much ignored Robin's insistence that he run. Instead, he withdrew his sword and readied his shield. "No Master, I'm not leaving you." Much dug his heel into the dirt directly under Robin.
Robin had no time to argue with Much's decision to stay, Gisborne and his men finally made it safely down the hillside. Slowly, they circled the ensnared noble-turned-outlaw and his loyal servant.
Gisborne smiled down at Much and then up at Robin. "It looks like we have sprung an old trap." Sir Guy dismounted his horse and attempted to approach Robin, but Much moved forward with his shield and sword.
"Stay back." Much tried to hide his fear for his master's sake. "I have fought the Turk in the Holy Lands. I will not let you harm my master."
Gisborne nodded to his men. They too dismounted and readied their swords. Sir Guy warned, "Remember your orders." The guards nodded and circled Much.
Spinning around, Much tried to keep his back free from a guard, but there were too many. Finally, Much charged forward with this shield, knocking the man in front of him to the ground. With a spontaneous turnabout, Much swung his sword, knocking another guard to the ground.
Above him, Robin watched, feeling helpless as Much took down a third guard. The first two guards regained their footing and their swords, and no matter how valiant Much fought, he found himself sorely outnumbered. Then, before Robin could cry out a warning, two of the guards charged Much from behind while another distracted him with a parry. With Much wrestled to the ground, the other guards pinned his sword into the dirt.
After removing the sword and shield from their captive, an embarrassed guard kicked Much in the stomach. Much curled up in pain, but before a second blow found his fetal form, Gisborne backhanded the guard. "Your orders!" Sir Guy screamed at his man.
Robin struggled to reach his knife hidden near his boot without drawing any attention. He needed to cut through the net to rescue his friend. Unfortunately, his hands had gotten tangled in the ropes of the net, and he was having trouble retrieving his knife, but when the sheath was finally in his grip, he let himself hope that he had enough time to work himself free.
Sir Guy moved past his guards and reached down to grabbed Much by his hair, pulling the servant up to his knees. Much tried unsuccessfully to suppress a cry of pain. Once Much was able to rest on his knees, he managed to move his hands forward to cradle his sore midsection. Afraid to look up, he stared at the ground, and whispered out of breath, "I'm sorry master."
Gisborne returned his attention to Robin. "It seems that your servant is unable to protect you. Are you disappointed in him?"
"Gisborne! If you hurt Much--" Robin left the threat open as he worked diligently on freeing himself.
Sir Guy scoffed, "You will what? Yell at me?" Gisborne walked beneath Robin and slid a dagger from its sheath on his belt. Much watched in horror as Sir Guy reached up to the netting, steadying its swing.
"Please, don't kill my master." Much felt his heart about to beat out of his chest as Gisborne brought the dagger towards Robin. The loyal friend tried to stand, but a guard pushed him back to the ground with a rough shove.
"Are you a coward, Gisborne?" Robin hid his knife but was prepared to try to use it if he had to. Gisborne reached up through the netting and carelessly cut through the belt strap that secured Robin's saber. Suppressing a cry, Robin felt the knife also slice the flesh of his side. Gisborne did not take measure to only cut the weapon free. The noble who had stolen his lands and his life succeeded in removing Robin's Saracen saber. Sir Guy tossed the blade to one of his men.
He laughed up at Robin. "We cannot have you cutting yourself free. I suspect that once we are gone, you will be trapped up there for several hours, if not days, before the other outlaws find you." With a look of great satisfaction, Gisborne gave another order to his men, pointing at Much. "Bind his hands and put him on the horse."
Much felt several guards pull him to his feet, and one of the guards worked on tying his hands with coarse rope from one of the saddles. "What?" Much asked, confused by what was happening. He was sure that Gisborne planned on killing him, not capturing him.
Robin watched as the guards hoisted a struggling Much onto a free saddle. It was then that Robin realized that Gisborne's men had been leading an extra horse through the forest.
"No… master?" Much cried up to Robin.
"Gisborne, what are you doing? It is me you want!" Robin yelled frantically as his hidden knife barely cut through the rough netting, too slowly to allow him to stop the events taking place.
Sir Guy pulled himself into his saddle. Smugly, he laughed. "You always think everything is about you, Locksley. I have a score to settle with your servant." Then Gisborne paused. "Wait, he was your servant. If I'm not mistaken, everything that was yours is now mine; your title, your lands, your manor, your lady, and now, your manservant."
Much struggled against his binding to the horn of the saddle. "No!" he shouted as Gisborne grabbed the reins of his horse. Much realized the gravity of his situation. Gisborne was taking him back to the manor, which he had just fortified with new locks, and metal bars in the windows. How could Robin rescue him if he was locked away in the manor? "Please, no!" Much gripped the horn of the saddle tightly as Sir Guy dragged him away from his master. Frightened like never before, Much stole one last pleading glance up at Robin, who was now kicking and screaming inside the net.
"Gisborne! I will kill you! Gisborne! No…" Defeated, Robin slowed his kicking. Finally, to himself, Robin began muttering, "No… no… no..." He had never imagined that Guy would take Much and leave him behind. With more desperation, he worked the knife through more ropes, and to his horror, he felt the hilt of the knife slip through his fingers. He heard a thud as it hit the forest floor below. Struggling frantically, he tried to rip through the netting, but to no avail. Gisborne was getting away with Much, and there was nothing Robin could do about it.