The Consequence of Loyalty
By Cynthia Burnett
Sheriff Vaisey paced parallel to the bottom step outside the castle where many of the nobles gathered before leaving the event. Many were whispering about the fire and speculated that Robin Hood was responsible for it. Constantly glancing over at the Prince, he found it even more infuriating that the man appeared so calm, and even smiled as a few of the nobles said their good-byes. This was no time for smiling. Finally, he stopped in his tracks as Gisborne quickly descended the steps flanked by two of his guards.
Impatiently, the Sheriff exclaimed, "Well?"
Prince John broke away from the crowd to hear what Gisborne had to report.
"There was no fire. After the smoke cleared, all we could find were these." He held up several bowls. Gisborne sniffed the empty bowls, and his nose wrinkled. Quickly pulling the foul smelling pottery away, he passed them to his guards.
"What of Robin Hood? His men?" Vaisey felt his face burning with anger. "And where is that sniveling servant?"
Diverting his eyes, Gisborne shook his head and with the most subdued voice he could muster, added, "No one saw Robin or his men." The noble hid his deed with a façade of confusion. "We saw Much being escorted out of the castle by several of Prince John's guard."
Vaisey swept his eyes across the courtyard. "Do you see any of his guard standing out here with Much. A clue, no!"
Gisborne let the rage that had been building all evening explode. Not only had the Sheriff plotted to win special favors from the Prince by offering Much as a gift, the Prince had in turn spent the entire evening courting Marian at the dinner table. "I warned you that this would happen. You said we had nothing to worry about with Prince John's guard protecting the castle. How was I supposed to know that your orders to let his men run the event would result in this?" Gisborne glared at Prince John, who only responded to the statement with a glance of amusement and a wave of his hand.
The dangerous look from his lieutenant took the Sheriff by surprise, and he decided to hold his tongue. Standing in silence, Vaisey jumped slightly when Prince John chimed into the conversation.
"This Robin Hood sounds like a very interesting character. What a great tactical maneuver to use such a clever distraction, preventing any knowledge about King Richard from slipping out of his control."
Slightly annoyed, Gisborne continued to voice his outrage. "You think this was about protecting your brother?"
Puzzled, the Prince queried as his brows narrowed, "Was it not?"
"Robin and his servant share a unique loyalty. I have never seen a servant willing to die to protect his master nor have I seen a noble risk everything for a peasant." Gisborne ran his hand over his sword's hilt, remembering catching his blade in Much's side. "If you hurt one, you hurt the other." When Gisborne finally glanced up at the Prince, he found the man still smiling.
"Your majesty, may I ask what you find so amusing?" Gisborne could not imagine how having someone with vital knowledge of King Richard's camp stolen out from under him could leave the prince so jolly.
The prince only replied, "Like I said, I would love to meet this Robin Hood." Without another word, he marched up the stairs to the castle with his guards in tow. Gisborne and Sheriff Vaisey watched him go, both sharing a quiet moment of confusion.
After surveying his camp for the fifth time, Robin finally decided it was well hidden and safe for his men to stay the night. His anxiety over the sudden attack by Gisborne out of nowhere had left him nervous about the safety of his men in the forest.
Robin realized how good it was to hear Much's voice ring out through the camp. The gang had created a very nice pallet for him to rest not too far from the fire. "I'm fine. I promise. It was just a few jabs to the stomach."
Djac refused to give in to the injured man, "I must look to be sure. Just raise your shirt, and let me see."
Looking to Robin for help, all Much received in return was a shrug. Much finally raised his shirt to reveal two dark bruises in the shadows of the firelight. His sword wound stood out as well. Djac carefully pressed on his stomach, causing a shout of pain.
"Ow! Don't do that. It doesn't hurt unless you press on it." Much pleaded. "Or unless I move."
Satisfied, Djac laughed, "That is a good sign. Gisborne clocked you good. They must have been nasty punches."
Embarrassed, Much added, "Well, he wasn't too pleased with the events at the castle. He couldn't punch the Sheriff or Prince John, so I got the brunt of his anger."
Before adding Much's discarded servant's uniform to the fire, Allen asked, "Are you sure you want these burned? They are very expensive. I mean, only royalty can afford these colorful clothes."
Glancing at the fire and Allen, Much felt confident in his request. "I swore the moment that I put those on that if I had the chance, I would see them burned."
Allen shrugged, and dropped them into the fire. A brilliant flash burst through the flames as the clothes ignited, but before long, nothing remained except ashes.
"Ha, I hope to never see a purple shirt for the rest of my days." Much laughed.
Robin knelt in front of Much, and then addressed his gang. "Can we have a few moments?"
Without another word, Djac, Allen and Little John quickly left the camp to give Robin and Much privacy.
Confused, Much glanced up at his master, "What's wrong? Was it something I said?"
With a sad laugh, Robin replied, "No, it was something I said, the day before Marian's wedding."
Remembering those hurtful words, Much felt his stomach threaten a repeat performance that he experienced during his audience with the Prince. "Robin, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told you to forget Marian."
"You're sorry? Much, I'm sorry. I regretted those words the moment I spoke them and every day since. When Gisborne took you away and then stabbed you with his sword, I realized that I may never have the chance to tell you how I really feel."
Much felt embarrassed because he thought Robin had spoken the truth, no matter how much it hurt. "But I do complain a lot about food, about a bed to sleep in. I'm sorry."
Robin laughed, "Much, if you were not hungry or wanting a nice bed and a comfortable life, you would not be my loyal friend who tells me how he feels every moment of every day. I don't want you to change who you are because of words spoken out of misplaced anger. You have been by my side through the worst times in my life, and you never wavered. You never deserted me even when I wanted you to. You are a true friend, and I value your friendship every day." Finally, Robin let his emotions free. "I feared that I had let you down, that I had caused your death."
Much, not used to seeing his friend so emotional, tried to stop him, "Robin, it was Gisborne who did this," Much pointed to his wound, "not you."
"No, you went to stop Marian's wedding for me. You knew that telling Marian the truth about the imposter would foil Gisborne's plans, and you did it without worrying about the consequences that would arise from your actions. After everything I said to you, you still went looking for me. Even then, you had my interest at heart over your own safety, and I never thanked you for that."
Much laughed, "Well, I do like Marian too. I didn't want her married to that goon."
"She told me what you said at the altar. How you told Marian that I needed her." Robin lowered his head. "I want you to know that no matter what happens here in Sherwood, when the King returns, you will get your Bonchurch. You will be a free man with lands in his name."
"Yah, well, promise me one more thing." Much asked.
"Anything." Robin smiled.
"That you won't ask me to serve any more dinners while we are stuck in this limbo. If I have to serve another man wine, I think I will bury my sword into someone."
"I will serve you, my friend." With those words, Robin filled Much's cup to the rim with red wine.
Smiling, Much accepted the drink, but suddenly a frown formed. "Wait, did you find my shield and sword?" He asked anxiously.
"What?" Robin stood and walked around the camp and added, "This sword and shield?" He held up the two weapons.
"Yes, I thought they were lost to the forest." Very content, Much added, "Now this is the life." As he took a long drink of wine, Will came running back into the camp, out of breath.
"Oh no, what is it this time?" Much asked, rubbing a hand over his face at seeing the young man so winded.
Will looked to Robin and grinned. Opening up his bag, he said, "Sweet cakes".
Allen and the rest of the gang returned, each reaching into the bag, grabbing their share of the dessert. Little John's hand brought out three cakes. As he took a bite, the only sound that left his mouth was, "Mmm…"
After everyone's hands had reached into the bag, Will brought the sack over to Much. "And last but not least…"
"It's about time. I would love a bite of…" Much's hand searched but found the container empty. "What…"
When he glanced up, each member of the gang stood before him with an extra cake in his hand, offering to serve Much personally
"Here you go." Allen stated. "But don't get use to it."
Before Much could say another word, he had five sweet cakes resting on his chest. After taking a bite out of one, the taste made the homecoming sweeter.
He then wiped off the crumbs around his mouth, looked up to his friends and exclaimed, "It is good to be home!"
Robin replied, "It is good to have you home, my friend."