Fables and the Emergent Dusk
Robin has no head for planning. The patience, timing and thoroughness required of the plotting mind are quite unfamiliar qualities to my master. This flaw is as visible as an approaching leper; a problem easier to sidestep than to cure. Unfortunately, like leprosy, his flaw is contagious. I've tried and failed to wash off the lingering odor of his disasters. Robin revels in his mess as a swine in mud. And he splashes me every time. In all my fifteen years of life, I have already known far more aggravation than is likely healthy.
Robin's half-plans are already becoming legend for their catastrophic failings, though neither of us is old enough to achieve such fabled status. The other lads snicker when Robin gets caught, not that eliciting such a response troubles my master. In truth, the village boys seem embroiled in jealousy at Robin's liberties. The privilege of money, they say and look to me for agreement. I'm one of them, after all; a lowly worker sweeping up the careless dust of my superior.
Never has one caused so much havoc and then been so entirely forgiven. The world and all its harshness becomes a mythical storyland at Robin's whim. It is that grin of his; the one which, on my own face, appears acutely idiotic. Truly, that angelic façade is a weapon of the devil's design. Mind you, I'm quick to reap the benefits of Robin's perception of freedom's boundlessness. Yet I shall surely groan every second of each undertaking. One of us must present reluctance before diving into mayhem. Certainly, we are both too swiftly approaching adulthood to venture backwards into childish deeds. And yet…
It is in the sincerest show of friendship that I aid in carrying out his schemes, despite the knowledge that he rarely allots a proper thought to the likely outcome. And no consideration whatsoever for the consequences. Were I consulted during the planning phase, I would gladly point out the cracks in the foundation. Being the wiser of us, I would plainly direct his attention to the weak spots that will later bring his house crumbling. But the builder must build, my uncle always said. Of course, he also preferred Robin over me. It's that cursed grin again.
Over the last few weeks, Robin has given disturbing effort to appearing imbecilic. Not a challenging leap from my perspective. Figures are his vexation. While he possesses a passable understanding of tallies, the activity is greeted with all the enthusiasm of an hourly bath. Conquering sums is a task of focus and time, but the gradual process of solving is unacceptable to the wandering mind. Gratification must come on swift heels to keep his interest. Thus Robin declared that he would strive for incompetence, thereby being excused from all mathematical endeavors. We nearly fell into the gaping holes in that strategy. I could have told the builder of the splits in the mortar, really. Surely I would have. But any objections are customarily met with all the deafness of rocks; the sort which currently serve as the contents of his head. My master believes in his own infallibility. I believe he is delusional. As if years of proof weren't enough, the current plan naturally achieves the opposite effect, manifest in the additional hours of numerical study being forced upon us both. Yes, I reap the benefits and the punishments equally. And since the order came from his father, it will be obeyed with no further escape attempts. Robin's devastated pout holds still my gloating tongue. No friend rubs salt on wounds, even the preventable ones.
The noble Earl of Huntingdon has such trust that his son will become a leader of men. No amount of exasperating lectures can deter the elder Locksley from this conviction. But who would follow a trail blazed by immaturity? Robin sets fire to such trails and we who march behind, our loyalty dragging ever after, too often get singed. Mind you, the path he forges provides interesting, even stimulating, scenery. I hardly know a soul who can better coax adventure from tedium. Still, I'm running out of excuses and I am not at all certain when that became my job.
Robin has a job too. But he rebels against every instinct to perform as his station insists. Conformity, my entire aim in life, Robin cites as a ship sinking to the ocean floor of boredom. Even this morning, as the tally lessons wore on, Robin drew up plans to strangle the teacher with his own riding whip. Half a plan, of course, as the whip tended to remain in old Lord Gooden's skeletal grip while he paced. A warning no doubt. As I crushed the paper he'd handed me, I understood yet again how little chance Robin has of approaching the footstool of respectability. A leader of men indeed. If the Earl wants a leader, he might look to one blessed with more common sense. Not that I would brag, but clearly if there is a cloth from which leaders are cut, I feel daring enough to claim a corner of the fabric.
Then there are the games of old that become as new to the master each day. Namely tormenting others with a vigor that should be sold in casks to the elderly. Or better still, applied to his studies. Truly, how many bits of wood can one boy throw at the backs of adults before he wearies of the prank? This is yet another rung on his ladder of legend, something the townsfolk muse over as if ridiculousness were a virtue. The poor girl, Marian, will grow up quite jaded for Robin's joyful torture. By some rare combination of toughness, poise and possibly saintliness, Marian endures the jests, even grants smart return to the insults and tumblings. A natural born boy, that girl. I can see her becoming a demure court flower as readily as I see Robin emerging as a scholarly nobleman. If there was a measure of maturity and the rate at which it should be achieved, Robin would be deemed too slow to rule in his father's stead. He holds onto youth as though the grip only can stave off the prying attempts of responsibility. I've seen clinging like this before, only the hand belonged to an infant.
But the playing stops the moment the weapons instructor rides onto the estate. I swear Robin can hear his distinct, uneven hoof beats of his near-lame from the edge of the village. With the swiftness of a passing storm, Robin can dredge up a convenient capacity for adult attentiveness. The teacher is of foreign blood, a matter which displeases the old Earl's pride-laden sensibilities. But the skill of the man, coupled with the studiousness he brings out in Robin, prevents his father from seeking a home-grown teacher. I will admit to dismay at the weekly activities the teacher devises. I'd prefer useful skills, such as house upkeep or land maintenance. When shall I need to draw a sword upon another? England's air is heavy with fragrant peace and we breathe not contempt breezes from other lands. Fighting each other in the fields is a pastime for the local children who dream of distant glory. Only the affairs of court have Robin and I to look forward to.
And yet we lunge, thrust and parry like warriors, no longer playing at was as our younger selves had. When the childish wooden implements were traded in, gentleness went with them. To be sure, I am equally intent on the task as Master Robin, but only because my limbs have known few mercies when he is engaged in the exercise. Distraction is his breath and yet in the course of weapons training, the singular concern is the plotting of his opponent's demise. Which means me. Here, the half-plans are made whole. Here, the pranks have no home. The instructor talks of heroes and deeds of valor and Robin hears every syllable as though they were a message from God. Sometimes such a look crosses his face when he has me at a disadvantage, I must wonder if he seeks a way out through weaponry. And I admit I am moved to anger.
There is every advantage in this life; the future earldom, the scope of vast lands and the rule of a village. Involvement in court, while not ideal, at least ensures he helps make rules rather than be subjected to them. Noble prospects await him and yet they are regarded as a burden. As if he has no concept of the alternative. Being Robin's friend makes me no less his servant. And he does not recognize what that means for my limited options. Should he choose, I would be his manservant for the fullness of days. Should he grant freedom, I would still follow. What else do I know? What more can a servant expect in a land where lack of birthright is insurmountable? For Robin to hold contempt for what should be greeted as an honor angers me. I tell him sometimes to be grateful for all his father will give him. But right now, he only sees what he cannot behold; the rest of the world.
Perhaps he sees some faceless enemy when I, his dearest friend, strike at him. Swords in hand, we eagerly forget our numbers and vaguely remember to avoid bloodletting. This day, he has countered my attack by forcing my sword to the left, releasing his right hand from his own sword to reach for my throat. A quick jab to my neck causes my legs to stumble back and his sword, returned firmly to both hands, finds its way to the vulnerable spot beneath my chin.
Yet while his focus is honed on victory, I sense an approaching defeat. Because the nature of fables is to gain lessons through mistakes. The air in England changes around us as metal catches the orange rays of a falling sun. It is the emergent dusk of our fading childhood and suddenly I worry we are maturing too quickly. We are neither ready nor willing to step into the dark of adulthood. And Robin cannot take his fabled antics with him into maturity. While an end to childish practices has long been craved, something within me also seeks to dissuade him from whatever new goal is burgeoning in his mind, the one that arrived bundled with sword and bow.
Because myths are easily forgotten. Heroes die. And I've never met a legend I admired.