In the board room Sheriff Vaysay of Nottingham was scowling over the ledger. This month's tax income had been disrupted yet again by the meddling outlaw and his no good gang of peasants. Prince John would soon be asking questions and this did nothing to improve his mood. And the incompetence of his lieutenant never ceased to amaze him, yet again he had escaped their clutches and had the audacity to come and visit him in his bed chamber and threaten him if he dared to eek out punishment on his own treacherous people.
"I want the head of Robin Hood" he seethed. "you" he snarled at Sir Guy of Gisbourne "are pathetic" Gisbourne flinched. His hatred of the hooded menace not diminishing with the Sheriff's disgust.
"What would you have me do my Lord, he has allies in every village, the people love him."
"Then find someone who doesn't!!!" came the snarled response. "Surely there must be someone who has not been touched by his do gooding!! Someone who can be bought!"
Gisbourne sneered in response. He had no answer to the Sheriff when he was in this mood. Experience told him that sometimes discretion was the better part of valour. And Gisbourne considered himself to be a valiant man – now more so than ever. He also knew when it was time to change the subject – particularly when the subject was Vaysay's nemesis.
"My Lord, I do have some good news…….
Will Scarlett smiled at the diminutive figure walking beside him. The sun was shining, the light causing dappling through the forest overgrowth. At this time of year, he thought that everything was perfect. Warmth from the sun, sheltered by the thick leaf canopy from the trees, nights that were balmy, he loved the month of August. It was nearing harvest time, a time of plenty. A time when there should not be too many empty mouths to care for. A time when spending time alone with his favourite person was not a guilty pleasure.
If it were not for the fact that he lived within the environs of Nottingham, and Nottingham was ruled by Vaysey, life would be perfect.
He hated the Sherriff.
But for the moment his only thought was of the exotic woman who was his companion, apparently oblivious to his attention. She was recounting how Much and John had fallen out over breakfast while he had been away gathering kindling for the cooking fire. Much had been complaining bitterly about how it was always him that had to go to the river and fetch water, despite the fact that John had been the last one to collect it. And how comical Much looked when, dripping wet and still complaining he had to replenish the pot of water that John had poured over him in disgust. Robin had laughed aloud at this, joining in the merriment.
"It was good to see Robin laugh" she finished her story. "He has smiled little lately"
"He's worried about Marian" he agreed. "Can't say I blame him she is in the castle with Gisbourne and Alan for company," the young carpenter could not imagine being in that situation. At least he was with the one he loved, even though she was oblivious to his feelings. Feelings he could never express for fear that they would lose the very foundation upon which their relationship was based. Will longed to share his deepest thoughts with the beautiful Saracen, how much he worshipped her intelligence, her forthright manner and her wit, but if he lost her friendship he could not bear it. So he never again voiced the emotion that he had blurted out so long ago about how he loved her and was thankful that no-one else appeared to have revealed his secret to her either. One day perhaps but for now he was content to be in her company, and relished a day of being her sole companion.
They were making their way to Clun. Their latest haul had uncovered some luxurious woven cloth which they knew would be useful for warm winter clothing for the villagers. So they had divided the load between them and travelled separately to the villages of Clun, Locksley and Nettlestone. Little John had headed for Nettlestone and Robin and Much had set off in the direction of Locksley.
As they walked their cheerful conversation relaxed into a comfortable silence, both lost in their own thoughts as they made their way quietly along the forest floor, at one with the essence of the trees.
They noticed the shift in the atmosphere at the same time and stopped, listening intently. Was it a cough? Someone breathing? A twig snapping perhaps? Someone was out there waiting for them.
They exchanged a knowing look and then hearts pounding slowly crept towards the nearest group of beech trees, aiming to find some form of cover. Every sense told Djaq that they were in trouble. She looked again at Will, who had a look of grim determination on his face, he sensed it too. His large axe was in his hand, their burden of cloth was discarded on the forest floor. Djaq drew her sword and nodded at him. They waited, listening intently for some sign of who or what awaited them and where it was.
Endless seconds passed,….
not even a whisper of a breeze to carry a scent or the sound of a footfall. Had they imagined it? Will was beginning to think so and relaxed a little, feeling a little foolish when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned swiftly in time to glimpse a figure taking cover behind a large bole several yards away. Another movement to his right, and to Djaq's left.
They were surrounded.
"I'd come quietly if I were you – I reckon you are surrounded" the triumphant voice did nothing to hide its glee at snaring its prey. The two young outlaws stared in horror at the sight of the man in front of them, clad in noble man's garb, sword drawn and flanked on either side by marksmen with long bows drawn wearing soldiers uniform. Soldiers bearing the emblem of Prince John on their breast. A quick glance at either side told them there was no where to run.
They were indeed surrounded.
"What a pretty gift you two would make for my friend the sheriff"
Much was still grumbling as they made their way back to camp. Robin of Locksley was only half listening to his friend's complaints as they walked, he was still basking in the warm glow of gratitude from the peasants, who were looking forward to making fine cloaks for their children in time for the winter. No matter how bad things were, that feeling of satisfaction that he got from helping the poor in need never got tiring.
Unlike his companion…..
"And I still don't see why we had to split up to do these drop offs today, we could have done one circuit all together and still got back to camp by nightfall Its much safer that way."
Robin sighed. "Much I have explained this before. This way we all get back to camp earlier and discuss the plans to retrieve the Great Pact from the Sheriff. We need the evidence against the Sheriff and Gisbourne for when the King returns."
"We need to keep the team together. Too many bad things have happened, what with Alan's treachery, and Marian" Much hesitated and stole a glance at his leader. Robin had made a face at the mention of the Lady Marian. Watching her being rescued from Winchester by Guy and then riding off with him had stung. All the gang had felt it – but only Much would ever have the gall to make mention of it.
"You just don't trust anyone any more – you want to keep your eye on them all don't you?" Robin half joked – wondering if there might be a grain of truth in his statement.
"Of course I trust them. I trust all of them, especially Djaq, John I suppose…. Well maybe not as much as before but that's to be expected. I am only looking after your interests. Someone has to think of these things" Robin smirked at the typical remark.
Undeterred Much continued. "I just think that the team needs to be together – we are stronger that way. This splitting up to do drop offs and being more efficient will end in disaster, mark my words."
Robin turned and looked at him appraisingly, not breaking his stride. He wondered if his former manservant had a point. "Lets hope you are wrong Much. C'mon lets get back to camp there is work to be done"
Sherwood – Near Clun
Will and Djaq stole a glance at each other and then regarded the figure in front of them. He was a large man and he stood tall and proud. Djaq observed that he could be considered handsome if there wasn't the cruel glint in his eyes as he leered at them. His hair was orange, she had never seen orange hair before and in other circumstances she would have found it to be intriguing. But their current predicament drove all thoughts from her mind except for escape and survival.
Djaq knew that if she spoke, she would immediately give her origins away. She was dependent on the normally silent Will to talk them out of this one.
Where was Alan when you needed him?
"My Lord, we are just weary peasants travelling to Clun. We mean you no harm sir if you would just let us pass." Djaq felt a surge of pride. Will had sized up the situation in the same way as her and had tried to act innocently.
Maybe they could pull this off.
The man laughed out loud. "Very well armed for peasants don't you think men?" His laughter was echoed by the men who surrounded them. Djaq guessed that there were at least ten of them.
"I am a carpenter my Lord, I need my axes to chop wood." Will maintained, doing his best to look innocent and scared.
The noble man walked over to them, still flanked by his henchmen. "And what does she use this for then?" he snarled, grabbing Djaq's wrist which still grasped her sword. "Stirring broth?"
With a wicked twist of her arm, she gasped in pain and the sword fell onto the forest floor. The young carpenter clenched his fists in anger, but before he could move he found his arms pinned behind him. He was forced to his knees and held down.
The man then hovered over him, still gripping onto Djaq's arm with a vice like grip. He bent down to look Will Scarlett directly in the eye, "Do not take me for a fool. I know who you are – you are one of Locksley's men – you wear his badge around your neck. You are an outlaw."
He turned his attention to the young woman in his grip and grabbed hold of her face mercilessly.
"Where are you from?"
Djaq said nothing, hatred boiling in her.
"You are Saracen. What is Locksley doing with Saracen wenches? His treachery knows no limits."
"No matter, we will find out soon enough." He turned to his right, addressing his lieutenant. "Kill him, bring her with us." With that he walked away.
Panic rose within her. "No" she thought, shaking her head. Already the two soldiers holding Will were dragging him away, as he struggled, kicking out. Two others were going to help, while she was held back.
Djaq felt the world closing in on her. In a fleeting instant all thoughts were of Will Scarlett and how he must not die. She struggled against the men holding her, trying desperately in a vain attempt to get to Will. "If he dies so must I" the thought flashed through her mind so quickly that she had no time to contemplate its consequence. All instincts screamed survival at her – but how could she live knowing he had died?
"No!" This time she screamed the word out as she was being dragged away from him, glimpsing the drawing of a dagger. "No – wait, wait! I know how to make the black powder" she was desperate.
The tall figure stopped, turned and regarded her with interest.
"Let him go and I will go with you willingly…"
All activity stopped, Will was held by three of them, one of them holding a dagger to his throat. He looked at her in shock, his heart pounding. What had she said – something about black powder?
The man's face broke into an evil grin. "I've just found your weakness my dear" he said and turned away. "bring them both" he called as he continued on.