So, this is it people :) The end of our journey has finally arrived :D Ten months, or closer to eleven, I have written this, more than 150 000 words and over 30 chapters. I've managed to get French, German, Latin and Turkish in there, and now, with the epilogue, even my native tongue Swedish. How about that huh? *lol*
A HUGE thanx to everyone who had commented and/or read this fic, and an even bigger to my superb beta Jas.
gatewatcher: lol, I quite like my own portrayal of Vaysey in that last chapter lol. He had that coming really, he's been bullying Guy constantly and Guy was bound to snap eventually imho. And we all love a happily ever after (actually i only love happily ever after's that don't get too sugary lol)
Dina: I agree with you that Guy isn't sypathetic, but a lot of people do sympathize with the bloke. I just try to give a fair picture of him, make him human without being all :awww, pooor Guy: lol. He's made his own bed imho, now he has to lie in it and he has to lie in it alone ;)
Bowandarrow: I'm sorry that there is so little Will.. He's my least favourite charcter to write. :/ Yes, the sheriff is dead. Just like that :D
.N: lol, no love for Gisbourne, huh? :D Nah, not me either really. His forther destiny, as well as that of the outlaws, somes in this chapter.
Thank you all for teh comments, also karol89 who I think I pm:d a response. No, I won't forget to change the story status ;)
Epilogue: And the dice rolled
-In which we say farewell
"För bövelen, karl! Stå inte bara där! Förtöj tampen!"
The captain of the Swedish trading vessel 'Jungfrun', a man called Tor Torsson, bellowed out his command to his newest recruit so loud that his already pink face turned dangerously scarlet. He had a reddish complexion which didn't take the sun well, but all the years by the sea had made his skin leathery. 'Jungfrun' sailed primarily between the Swedish harbour of Lödöse and the Hansaic cities which were scattered all over the European mainland's northern coast, but lately he had tried to establish connections with England. All in all his English was poor, so he had taken upon him to find an educated Englishman willing to work for him. It had turned out to be challenging. Educated men wanted decent pay and Tor preferred to pay as little as possible. He hadn't believed his luck when this man, all dressed in black wool which reeked of sweat, had approached him. The man knew Latin and had the haughty demeanour of someone of status, but he had been broke end desperate to leave the country. Tor had assumed that his unfortunate position had something to do with the political situation in England, especially considering the—state he was in. John Landless had been dangerously close to seizing the throne while the king was away in the Holy Land, but his plans had been shattered in the great battle of Nottingham. This man had probably been fighting on the wrong side. Of course, since all that occurred, the king had forgiven his brother and was more or less expected to name him his successor. Tor gave out a low, bubbling laughter. Politics! It was no different from neighbours bickering and gossiping outside the church on a Sunday.
He gave the newest recruit another glare and sighed. He still stood dumbly with the rope in his hand and looked pale. The man had been seasick most of the travel but had still kept an impressive amount of dignity between the vomiting. Since the ship had sailed in on the river which led to Lödöse harbour the water had been calm, but the Englishman still seemed miserable.
"Oi, Kaj, do rope or no food for you," Tor screamed in poor English and the man snarled an almost inaudible response before he started to clumsily secure the rope. The captain shook his head and sighed. 'Kaj Svarte', he had named the man. In English his name had been something similar. What was it? Guy – that was it; a strange, foreign-sounding name. 'Kaj' sounded better. It was the Swedish word for harbour and the man was a sailor, was he not? A bad sailor, but one determined to endure. 'Svarte' meant 'the Black', possibly even more suitable, Tor thought and laughed again over his own pun.
On starboard side the town of Lödöse was sprawled out on the green riverside, below the hillside covered in a dense forest where outlaws and wolves roamed. Tor moved up to Kaj Svarte and gave his shoulder a thump while he gestured with his other arm, moving it in a wide arch to point at the town.
"Lödöse," he exclaimed. "Like, yes? Tycker du om det?"
The man Kaj Svarte, formerly known as Guy of Gisbourne, grunted. Beggars cannot be choosers, he mused. This was a pathetic, primitive place, but in his new identity as Kaj Svarte he had a chance, however slim, to build himself a minor fortune, or at least some kind of life.
He might have economic security some day, but he would never have a name. The realization stung every time it dawned on him and he recalled how his life had been spared and destroyed in the same, cruel moment, well over three years ago.
"Robin of Locksley," King Richard smiled and walked up to the man who had been Robin Hood only yesterday. It only took that much – he uttered his name and he was restored. And what about Guy? What about him? Who would he be now? He swallowed hard and stared at Robin's face which was creased with wrinkles of laughter. He beamed, shimmered by Marian's side as he hugged the king of England like a brother with his one, unharmed arm.
"Lady Marian," the king then squeezed Marian's hand with considerably less warmth than he had greeted Robin. The tension between the three people was tangible even from a distance, but then Guy witnessed, with a pang of envy and jealousy, how the king placed Marian's hand in Robin's. "You have my blessing," he said simply.
"Thank you, your majesty," Robin and Marian responded simultaneously.
"You are restored of course. Locksley is yours, as well as Knighton when you wed your bride, and your title - Earl of Huntington."
They were all gathered in the Great Hall of Nottingham Castle, and in the triumph from the battle the gathering was bordering on informal. Robin was exhausted and walked with stiff movements, but he was victorious. Yesterday, when the battle was over, the king's men had collected Robin and Guy from the glen. They had not left Guy to rot in the dungeons, but rather locked him in his old quarters while a physician looked over his injuries. This morning his body had still hurt so much that he had been carried to the Great Hall. His arm was useless and he couldn't put any weight on his injured leg.
Guy watched as the king turned towards two men to the right of Robin, and he recognized Sir Adam and Carter with a rush of fury. They stood side by side, dressed in matching clothes and Adam unshackled. Carter gave Sir Adam a look full of disdain as the beautiful man with the raven curls bowed down to kiss the king's ring.
"Adam!" King Richard laughed and hugged the man, then Carter after him. "Carter! My dear, loyal subjects. I have instituted a new Knightly order and the two of you, as Locksley of course, will carry the insignia."
Guy watched with his jaw dropped as Sir Adam kneeled next to Carter and Robin and gained a medal of honour. That weasel! He had defied the king, tried to murder him, and in return he got praise!?
"No!" Guy heard himself call out. "Adam was with the sheriff! He was with us!"
Everyone in the room turned to the shackled nobleman. Disdain glowed from their eyes, all but Carter who shrugged sadly and nodded his agreement. The king frowned.
"And you," he bellowed, "Formerly Guy of Gisbourne, you have committed high treason. It is my final act of gratitude towards Robin of Locksley that he shall name your punishment." The room cheered, but fell silent as King Richard raised his hand to hush them, and they turned expectantly to Robin instead. For a couple of moments Robin's eyes met Guy's, locked into them with a triumphant smile. Then he turned away.
"Spare him," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. "Enough people have died today."
Guy felt speechless. He had bowed down his head as if he was expecting the axe to fall upon it any minute, but now it jerked up and gawked at Robin's back. He had turned to Marian who was smiling at him, holding his hand in both hers. It had been for her, Guy realized and felt the fury ripple through his body. Robin Hood. Robin of Locksley. Always the hero, always the gentleman, always loved and adored and admired. Always the better man.
"Very well," King Richard said sourly. "If that is your decision it will be so. Guy, you will be, albeit it is against my better judgment, released. You will be left with enough coins to leave the country, but you have no home here. Consider yourself outlawed in the country of England and most of France. Wherever I have influence you are a dead man. Furthermore your name dies today. There is no Gisbourne. You will be only Guy," he spat out the name as if it was an insult. "Take an epithet if you like. Guy the Weak of Guy the Black perhaps. I would suggest you spend your damned years wisely – a pilgrimage perhaps."
As his verdict fell, all Guy could see was Robin's hand in Marian's, her head against his shoulder, his cheek against her soft curls. He had never envied Robin more than in that moment, but the feeling was a vain one. The outlaw had won and there was nothing he could do about it. He had won! The thief! The villain! By Robin's side King Richard watched Guy closely and a mischievous sparkle lit up his features.
"One more thing," the king smiled. "It is custom to take a hand if a man has committed severe theft. This law is stated thus to ensure that the thief is unable to pursue and future acts of thievery. You, Guy Black, have also committed crimes with your hand, and in line with the finest English traditions I have decided that the punishment will be a public amputation of your sword hand."
The room started to buzz with people discussing the sudden turn of events and Guy felt himself freeze.
"What?" he exclaimed. "But Sire, Your Highness, how am I supposed to make a living with one hand?!"
"It has been done before," the king responded dismissively. "But since you are a weak, pitiful creature, I have decided that you shall have one chance to keep your body intact. If you fall down on your knees in front of Robin of Locksley and his wife to be and beg, then I will grant him a chance to spare your hand." The king smiled and watched Guy with morbid amusement. "Well?" he asked. "What shall it be? Your hand – or your pride?"
Kaj Svarte's lips pulled into a bitter smile when the memory reached this point and instinctively looked down on his sword hand. There was nothing but an ugly stump left, scarred and useless. Sometimes his nonexistent hand would ache or he would feel an almost insufferable need to scratch it, but there was no flesh there and thus he could find no release. In truth he had many reasons to regret the choice of his pride over his hand during this time, but every time he felt that tang of loss he would recall Robin's grinning face. It made him blush of anger and his resolution was once again as firm as it had been that day. He was done with bowing down to people.
Guy hid the stump of an arm in his pocket, away from people's curious looks, and walked over the gangway until his feet landed on Lödöse harbour. The ground still felt unsteady like the sea beneath his feet, but he turned to grab the cargo which was hauled over the railing and down towards his waiting arms. The people here were all blonde or reddish, tall with blue eyes and a strange, sing-song language. It wasn't truly much colder than in England, but the salty sea breeze felt harsh against his skin.
"Godafton, sjöman," a girl greeted him as she passed by him, and he turned to watch the pale, thin hair which fell in a braid over her back as she moved up to give the captain a kiss on his cheek. His daughter, Guy supposed, then realized as he watched her that this life still had one or two things to offer him. He did not have a name or a fortune, but his body still belonged to him, his life was still his. When the girl turned to trot down to the harbour again he caught her eyes in his and gave her a crooked smile. She blushed, but then her eyes fell on his mutilated arm and they widened in shock. Convicts had their hands cut off, and thus Guy's stump branded him as a thief. The girl turned away from him and walked hurriedly in the other direction.
Women! Never again would he let them rule him with their false innocence and big eyes. Guy snarled at one of his crewmates to get a move on and gained a look full of disdain in return. Then Kaj Svarte hauled up the cargo and felt his muscles work beneath the dark clothes as he continued to carry on with whatever task he was paid for.
Sir Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntington and lord of the manor in which he was standing, was a troubled man. From this window he could see the edge of the lush Sherwood Forest: she who had been his life's curse and blessing, home and exile, castle and prison, and on days like this he found himself missing her. He knew for a fact that life as an outlaw had been hard, much harder than he remembered through the mushy fogs of nostalgia, but in a way it had also been simple. There was a task which had to be done. Save the king, oust the sheriff, get his home back, marry Marian, and above all, stay alive. Difficult indeed, but straightforward, and he had always known that he had given all that he could for his beliefs. There was a comfort in that. He had been Robin Hood and he had never turned his back on any problem, however small. Since he got his life back he had always felt just a tiny bit of bad conscience, constantly nagging him. The world was not perfect. There were still injustices, and he always felt like he just didn't do quite enough. Now the latest news from London had reached his corner of the world and he did not like them at all.
Robin let his shoulders slump with a sigh and leaned his weight on the windowsill. That bloody king!
"What weighs you down, my love?" The door to the room had been opened and Robin could hear Marian's steps, heavy and rocking, moving her across the floor. His mouth tugged into a smile when he felt her weight against his back and her hands were sneaked possessively around his waist. They almost didn't reach, Robin noted, and lifted them to his mouth to plant a ginger kiss on her palm as he turned around. Then he looked down to her round belly where their first child still waited for the world to welcome him, or her, into the sunlight.
This was the only woman Robin had ever loved more than his Lady Sherwood, more than the king and England, more than life. Marian was a bit flustered from the sun and her eyes were clear but tired. Robin's heart still leaped when he saw her, his fingers still begged him to comb through the wild strands of chestnut hair, his stomach still tingled.
"You should rest," he chastised his pregnant wife lightly, and moved his hands from her shoulders, tracing them along her shape until they rested on her belly where her navel had popped like a cork. He stood silent for a while, watching the cloth drape around Marian's stomach as he waited impatiently for the sensation of his child moving under his touch.
"He never rests," Marian smiled wearily as the child kicked and Robin beamed with joy. Then she turned serious again. "Tell me what is wrong, Robin."
Robin sighed and removed his hands.
"The king," he murmured.
"Oh," Marian sighed. "Well, we both suspected something like this. He was very lenient towards his brother from the start."
"Yes, but to name him his successor!"
"He has no child of his own, Robin. John Landless is—family." She smiled and took his hand in hers. "Family is important."
"I suppose," Robin smiled, his anxiety melting away by her tenderness. "At least the sheriff and Guy is out of the picture. Forever."
"Forever," Marian agreed and leaned toward him to plant a shallow kiss on his lips. "And we did the best we could."
Lord and Lady Locksley stood entwined in an embrace when a cautious cough caused them to turn around. In the door the Sheriff of Nottingham stood hesitantly and wondered whether he should move further into the room or leave.
"Much," Robin exclaimed with a smile. "Well, do not just stand there. Come in!"
"I am not—interfering anything?" Much asked. He had a rather gaudy taste in clothing and was dressed is some rosy brocade-pattern which matched his new status as a sheriff and Lord of Bonchurch, but hardly his awkward mannerisms. He still behaved like he was a servant, meek and subdued.
"You are in greater danger of interfering when you sneak up on people than you would if you just stormed in," Robin pointed out.
"Oh, Much," Marian added. "You know that you could never interfere."
"Well, you could, but you aren't," Robin clarified. He didn't want to have Much walking in and out of the home he shared with his wife at any odd hours, and he feared the Marian's hospitality might make Much feel a little bit too welcome.
"Fine then," Much smiled and walked into the room. Then he sat down in a big armchair with a miserable sigh.
"What is wrong?" Robin asked, silently adding 'this time' to himself.
"Oh nothing, it's just," Much sighed again, "I had to do another one of those retractions."
Robin tried not to roll his eyes. Ever since Much became sheriff he had found it hard to stick to the law. Occasionally he would follow his heart instead and free people who should be punished, causing people to complain to higher authorities.
"What was it this time?" Robin asked. "A child stealing bread? A widow killing a burglar?"
"Widow," Much sighed. "Such a young widow too! It didn't do anyone any good to hang her. Marian, what did Edward do when he wanted to free people and the law wanted to have them—you know—dangling?"
"He'd give them the lightest punishment possible," Marian responded. "The law has to be obeyed. He would probably have given them the option of a combination of pilgrimage and working off the debt to the law. He was very fair-minded, he wouldn't have released anyone who committed a crime."
"You cannot keep this up, Much," Robin pointed out. "If you keep freeing people who should be convicted and then have to do a retraction of that sentence than no one will take you serious!"
"I know!" Much exclaimed. "It is just—hard—that is all. I mean, how am I supposed to be an upholder of the law when I have been a criminal myself? I always side with all the wrong people. You know, even Allan stared to grow on me in the end." Much sighed again. "Talking about Allan, this came for you," he continued as he stood up and gave a letter to Robin. "It's from him and Griet I suppose. Now, where are Will and Djaq?"
"The stables with John," Robin murmured and looked at the letter in his hand. It had come all the way from France so it was slightly battered. "This is addressed to you," he said and handed it to Marian.
"You want me to read it for you?" Marian asked.
"No, spare me the details. Just tell me how much money they want this time."
"Well, I don't want to hear this," Much stated. "I'll be in the stables."
When Much had left Marian shook her head and sat down in the chair.
"We need to get him a wife," she murmured.
"None of our business, Marian," Robin said with a small smile.
"Well, perhaps it should be. He is our friend. Perhaps I should try to fins that Eve girl he talks about sometimes?" she added pensively.
"You would have to wait until a horse can carry you," Robin responded with a mischievous grin and nodded at Marian's clumsy body. She glared at him, then opened the letter and focused her attention on that instead. She hated being this immobile!
Griet's handwriting was sloppy and difficult to read, but Marian was used to it and quickly skimmed through the initial well-wishes and polite greetings aimed at any number of random people.
"Well?" Robin asked and cocked his eyebrow. "How much and why?"
"It seems they are cursing the world with another A-Dale," Marian responded and was met by a low moan from Robin.
"She is pregnant again?!" he exclaimed. Allan and Griet's first child had been born nearly three months after their marriage and this would be their third. Allan's comment on the first one had been that A-Dale children were unpredictable – you never knew quite when they decided to drop in, and that was especially true for the firstborns. They were usually very eager, he had explained proudly, as if that was a virtue in the child rather than a flaw in the parents. "How could this woman claim to be my sister? And why in earth did I officially acknowledge her claim!?" Robin asked his wife miserably. Griet had told Robin the story of her mother's stay in Nottingham and affair with his father, although she had chosen to neglect the part of the story which involved all the other possible fathers who were scattered all over England. "She is so much like Allan," Robin growled.
"She is," Marian smiled in agreement. When there was a distance between her and the roguish couple she found them rather endearing, like clumsy puppies causing havoc wherever they went, but she chose not to say that to Robin.
"How much?" Robin asked again.
"She doesn't say," Marian murmured then gave out a little yelp. "Aw!" she called out.
"What?" Robin said with a suspicious glance at his wife.
"She's naming the child after me if it's a girl."
Robin rolled his eyes. "They said they were naming the first one after me," he pointed out.
"They did name him after you!"
"He is called Tom!"
"Tom Robin," Marian clarified. "Tom was Allan's brother. It makes sense that they would call the firstborn child that. They probably just forgot the promise."
"Well then, let us hope for your sake that Allan didn't have any sisters," Robin responded sourly, causing Marian to roll her eyes.
"Well, we are godparents again, so we must send them something anyway," she finished and folded the letter. "At least they don't want money to bail Allan out of prison again. You should be glad that they are doing so well."
"I am glad," Robin smiled. "I just wish he wasn't so much like Allan sometimes. Actually that goes for both of them."
There was a knock on the door and Little John entered the room. It had been uncomfortable for Robin at first that his old friend now worked for him, taking over Thornton's old job, but John had insisted. Alice and Little-Little John lived with the bowmaker and there wasn't room for another person in their household. They had all moved back to Locksley, and it amazed Robin how John could stand seeing his wife move on without him. At least he had his son close by, Robin mused. The child was often on the manor, limping after his father with a bow in his hand as he watched how the big man took care of the house. John had a talent for organizing people and making firm decisions based on careful observations, as well as listening to those who had the right knowledge without being too proud to admit that he could be wrong. It made him an excellent steward.
"It's ready," he grunted, and Robin nodded. Marian rose from the chair with considerable effort and Robin gave her a worried look.
"Are you sure you want to come?" he asked.
"It's only a short walk to the stables, then we take the cart. I wish to say farewell as well."
"You could say farewell here."
"I could, but I won't," Marian stated stubbornly and Robin reached out his arm for her to lean on. There was no point reasoning with her when she had her mind set on something, and she wanted to say get goodbye with the rest of them.
Will and Djaq had tried to make it work in England, but Djaq grew restless and then the affair with the villagers had started. Most of them accepted her, but there were some—well, there were always some. 'Saracen scum', they called her at first, then 'witchdoctor' when she started to use her abilities as a healer. The couple had despaired at first, wondering if their love would be doomed wherever they went, but it had been different this time. Here they stood together, stronger than before. They would have endured if it hadn't been for the fever. Four people had passed away last winter, and someone had decided that they should blame it all on Djaq. She was a curse, they decided, and even though most people didn't fully agree, they all considered it a possibility. They grew wary around her, and people who used to walk up and talk to her took detours around their house. It had been too much to carry.
Oddly enough it had been Luke who suggested Jerusalem. In Jerusalem there was a community, however small, of Englishmen, and a considerably larger one of Saracens. Jerusalem, the golden city, holy for four different religions and cursed for the very same reason. It had to be Jerusalem. The thought of the journey gave them hope again, and this time Luke would follow.
Little John, Much, Robin and Marian followed in the carriage as had been planned, until they reached the crossroads and halted. It was a perfect place to say farewell. You could see the western road which disappeared in the horizon, waiting to carry Djaq, Will and Luke towards the Promised Land, and Sherwood framed the spot in the other directions. The travellers dismounted from their horses as their friends came out from the cart to wish them good riddance. Compared to the farewell that took place when Allan and Griet left for France, which had been rather straightforward, this was a maudlin affair which left Djaq feeling rather uncomfortable. When the farewell was over, the rulers of Bonchurch, Locksley and Knighton, as well as Little John who didn't consider himself master of anything but still held more poise than any of them, stood in companionable silence as the travellers disappeared in the horizon. Will, Djaq and Luke was nothing but tiny dots when Marian gave out something between a yawn and a sigh and her husband held her tighter around her waist to let her lean on him.
"You know, I never was in the Holy Land," she said at last.
"It's all sand," Much shuddered at the torrent of memories which washed over him. "Nothing to see, really."
"Still," she shrugged. "It would have been nice to see it."
"You wish to go there?" Robin asked, but as the words left his mouth a cold wind rustled the treetops and made them all shudder. An uncomfortable silence fell and they wondered why it seemed so dark all of a sudden.
"No," Marian stated, and Robin felt himself heave an irrational sigh of relief. "I don't think I was ever meant to be there. Who knows what would have happened if that coin flipped differently? Perhaps we would not be here now."
Robin nodded and gave his wife a deep, lingering kiss, causing Much to murmur a few well-chosen phrases about privacy versus public places. As if those words were the key for them all to make their exit, they left the crossroads and walked into the carriage again, except John who was the driver and moved to sit in front.
"Come-on," the big man grunted to the two horses and tugged the reins so that they turned towards Sherwood and the road to Locksley. "Take us home, lads," he continued talking to the animals in a low murmur. The horizon was pale blue and the shadows short under the midday sun, flies hummed and the wind rustled the trees which had been his home for so many years. Once upon a time he had considered himself a dead man, but now there was so much life all around him. Then he remembered Robin's words, spoken every time they went from one phase of their lives into another, and smiled warmly at the memory. "Home," he murmured to no one in particular or the world in general. "We are going home."
~*~ The End ~*~