The Crossroads

Chapter 1

"Children, don't wander too far" A mother called to her children as they fled the confines of their meagre house, it was early evening and the final tasks of the day had to be completed. The woman's husband was tending the fields gathering the harvest for what was to be a bad winter. The mother carried a small child, no older then three, in one arm and a bucket full of waste food intended for the pigs in the other. She lowered the child to the ground and scattered the slop into the pig pen.

The child sat at the mothers feet, happily playing with a small rag doll, the mother smiled, it was a worthless toy made from rags and wheat stalks but to the child it was priceless. The moment of peace was suddenly snatched as a loud horn sounded in the distance. Shielding her eyes against the setting sun the woman could see a figure on horse back, the horn sounded again. As the woman watched she was gripped buy a sudden terror, the horizon was moving, scores of mounted figures where appearing over the slight incline and where heading towards the small village.

The bucket fell from the mothers hand as she snatched her child from the ground calling her other children to follow. The panic in their mother's voice rebuked any disobedience as she called for them to hurry into the house. The thunderous sound of horses' hoofs now mixed with that of the horn, as a wave of excitement and fear ran through the tiny village. As the woman's last child passed her in the door way she dropped the wood bar across the door, sealing them into the wooden home as she clung to her children.

The women's neighbours where less fearful of the procession. Many left the security of their homes to watch the spectacle as it passed by. The column was headed by Heralds, all dressed in the fine colours of their lords carrying banners and horns. Behind these where the powerful and majestic war horses and their knights and their men at arms, all flying banners and standards donned with different emblems and crests representing many different masters.

To the village children it seemed as though thousands of warriors where thundering passed their houses, then came the carriages followed by wagons and behind these more men at arms, Never had the children seen such a wondrous sight.

As the sound of their passing faded the mother stepped away from the door and sat down, A sudden knocking at the door made the woman gasp in fear but her husbands voice called out to her. Reassured she quickly unbolted the door and embraced her husband as she begins to cry allowing her panic and fear to finally conquered her.

Meanwhile, a quarter of a mile away at the edge of Sherwood Forest there stood a small group of men on horse back. They too where watching the procession.

"There it is!" Allan A Dale said needlessly as he nodded towards the convoy "Told you the rumour wasn't a lie"

"The war's finally over then!" Said Much grinning. It was a statement not a question but his master answered anyway.

"If the crusades are over then surely we would have had news. The whole of England would be celebrating Richard's return"

Much looked towards his master "Surely the Sheriff wouldn't try the same trick twice?"

"I wouldn't put anything beyond him" scoffed Allan

"No, he knows we're wise to him now, but I still don't believe that this signifies the king's return-"

"What else could it be, Robin?" Allan asked, "There must be several hundred men there!"

"Precisely!" Robin jeered "There are thousands of men fighting for the king in the Holy lands and even if this was the vanguard where are Richard's banners, His heralds, the messengers spreading the word of the Kings return?"

"Your right" Much conceded, his hopes for his small lodge at Bonchurch dashed once again "I don't recognise any of the crests"

"Yes you do, there!" Robin said suddenly animated as he pointed and urged his horse to move a little closer. They all looked at the standard Robin had indicated, flying at the front of the procession. It streamed out from behind its rider, a streak of gold and red. As the autumn breeze unfurled it they could all see a golden lion standing on its hind legs.

"What's so special about that one?" Allan asked in an almost bored voice.

"What's so special?" Robin laughed as he turned in his seat to look back at Allen "Much tell the man why that banner is special"

"That banner-" Much said obeying his master's command with a grin, his pleasure at relaying this bit of information was obvious. "-Is the banner of Sir Thomas D'bernard, Duke of Durham and The king's cousin-"

"More then that-" Robin said eagerly "He's one of the King's council, anything that we tell him is like beseeching the king himself- The sheriff and Gisborne have had it, we have them! We finally have them!"

The loud whoop of joy sent the birds flying from the trees.

Sir Guy of Gisborne pulled his horse to a halt at the peak of the hill that over looked Locksley manor. A gentle breeze caressed his skin and ruffled his hair, the day had been good. He had risen early and had spent it's entirety in the fields overseeing the surfs of Locksley as they began gathering the first harvests of the season.

As the weary workers filed passed him, many inclined their heads, marking their respect to their master as they headed to their humble homes. Guy watched them as they entered the village. Their bodies tired from the toil and work of the day but all the men smiled. Their day had been spent profitably and they knew that come winter there wouldn't be an empty belly at Locksley. The satisfied smiles grew as each man was greeted by their loved ones. Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters hurried to their men folk, who where embraced and welcomed home. Young children hurried around the men's feet clamouring for their fathers or older brother's attention as the men followed their women back to their homes.

Gisborne lowered his eyes from the sight; He knew what scenes would play out within the confines of those tiny little houses as the women prepared a meal, simple but welcomed and filling. The sense that the men knew that their efforts would keep their family fed through the winter and the knowledge that their family was safe. A loving kiss from a wife and her softly placed hand which would sooth any ach that the men had received through their work.

The thought of such domesticity irked Guy, but that wasn't anything new. These days most things irritated Gisborn. It had been six weeks since he had been the laughing stock of Sherwood. Jilted and humiliated on his wedding day, disgraced in front of the people that he had desperately wanted respect from and left for an outlaw.

Marian had said that it was only coincidence that Hood had been there. That the true reason for her actions was through anger at Guy's lies, she had already promised that she would never marry him if she knew that he had lied, and how could she possibly love the man that desired her body more then her father's life?

The words haunted guy, unconsciously his fingers found their way to his cheek and to the place where Marian had struck him. The wound had healed and the Shire had found new things to gossip about. Marian and her father carried on with their lives as though nothing had happened and Guy had retreated into a fa├žade of indifference and carried on, just like always, alone.

But the thought of his lost life pained him. Who was there to greet him when he returned? To sooth his aches or to remove his heavy dusty boots as he sat by the fire in his large manor house, Who was there to forgive him his sins and help him find the light on the dark path that he had found himself wondering?

Gisborne had loved Marian, he was sure of it, but he held no love for her now. His heart had grown cold to her and in the place of his once burning desire was a burning rage. One hand grasped tightly to the reins as the other tightened its grip on his swords hilt and his eyes moved from Locksley to the distant trees that marked the beginning of Sherwood Forest, his hatred increased as he thought of Robin Hood.

A distant sound drew Gisborn from his thoughts, He froze, his senses heightened as he strained his ears to hear the sound again, but there was nothing. Just his tired mind playing tricks, surly that was all it was? He urged his horse forward but the sound echoed again. Gisborne knew that sound!

It was the sound of a herald's trumpet, the proclamation of a force moving throughout the countryside. Usually sounded to tell the villages that no harm was meant, but in times like these Guy wasn't willing to take any chances.

"Williams!" Guy called to the nearest of his men "Send word to Thornton, tell him to bar the door of the manor and ensure guards are posted throughout the rest of the estate. Tell the villagers to stay inside and to wait for my word, the rest of you with me!"

With that Guy turned his horse's head and urged it into a gallop as the rest of his guards followed.