A Few Final Words
Much was the first to see the figure, a dark shape emerging from the forest and heading straight for the city. Standing alone at the gates, the outlaw coughed up what felt like a handful of dust and rubbed some more limestone out of his eyes before taking another look. It was a man. Much watched his approach with more curiosity than concern. After all, they had won. Nottingham was theirs and one man wasn't going to be able to change that. The man stumbled several times but continued to run towards him with an unstopping determination.
It was the clothes Much recognized first, than the hair. Allan… Much smiled as he felt some of the guilt knotted in his stomach untightening, thankful his fellow outlaw wasn't still rotting, tied up alone in the camp like he'd thought. Heading out to meet him, Much made it half-way across the wooden bridge before realization hit and he stopped his face falling. What was he supposed to say to a friend who he'd just treated as an enemy, whom he'd refused to trust even after everything they'd been through? The guilt began tightening once more. Shame burned in his cheeks as he looked down at his boots.
It had been a mistake, obviously, but it was an understandable one, wasn't it? Allan had betrayed them before. Much could still recall the anger he'd felt upon finding out he'd sold them out. But that had been a while ago and they had been through a lot since then.
This whole thing hadn't felt right from the beginning. The sudden pardon from Isabella hadn't felt right. Tying up Allan and leaving him alone in the camp while they went off to fight definitely hadn't felt right. Much had wanted to believe Allan when he said he was innocent. But the memory of his previous betrayal had returned and that little bit of doubt insisted on niggling at him stopping him from standing up for his friend. He couldn't help wondering how many times Allan would have to prove himself before all doubts about his loyalty disappeared.
Bracing himself, Much looked up once more. He was expecting to be greeted by outright anger or cold fury. He wasn't expecting the smile or the expression of relief that washed over Allan's features as he recognized Much. Finally arriving at his destination, Allan slowed down staggering slightly as he did so his feet slamming loudly against the wooden planks of the bridge.
"Much…" he said breathing heavily.
"Allan," replied Much, swallowing. "I'm glad to see you're not… I mean… I'm glad you… We… Well, I guess we…"
Thankfully, Allan interrupted his stuttered babble. "Where's Robin? I have to warn him…"
Much gestured towards the city. "He's back there giving a speech. What's…? Allan?"
The desperate strength that had powered Allan's race to the city seemed to be fading. Another stagger almost brought him to his knees, but Much caught him before he could hit the ground.
"Are you…?" Much's question was stopped cold as his eyes fell on Allan's bent back. Buried deeply through the leather and into his body were the shafts of three arrows. They stuck out upright and ugly.
"Oh, God." Much's face was pale, his eyes large as he let out a frantic cry towards the city. "Robin!" Carefully avoiding the arrows, he wrapped an arm around Allan taking his weight as whatever force that was keeping the wounded man upright quickly began to disappear. Much couldn't understand how Allan managed to stand let alone run with such injuries. "Take it easy."
Allan shook his head. He continued to gasp for breath but insisted on trying to speak looking at Much with his blue-green eyes wide and desperate. "He's back. He…" Allan was forced to stop as he coughed. "'Has a whole army. They'll be here any minute. We have to…" What little colour was in Allan's face drained away and Much was suddenly forced to sink to his knees as he found himself holding all of Allan's weight.
"Robin!" Much screamed again as though if only Robin would show up he could make everything better.
Allan coughed once more this time leaving a red trail down his chin.
"No, no, no, no," whispered Much. He searched around frantically for something he could do to help, but came up with nothing. He was never happier to hear the resolute tread of his former master's footsteps then when he heard it approaching the kneeling pair.
"Allan! I'm so sorry. We…" Robin's voice broke giving away the exact moment he realized the condition Allan was in. Looking up, Much saw a shocked expression on Robin's face slowly being weighed down by guilt and grief.
Many more footsteps could be heard as if half the city had followed Robin. There was a cry of anguish and the whole bridge shook as the large form of Little John landed on his knees beside Allan and Much. The old outlaw took Allan's hand in his grasping it tightly. Allan tried to give John one of his patented smirks but it faltered, weak and full of pain. Kate stood behind John frozen, her face a mix of disbelief and confusion as if she couldn't quite understand what was going on or simply didn't want to believe it. Tuck ducked around them intent on checking Allan's injuries.
"Who did this?" demanded John.
"The Sheriff," Allan croaked.
There were several confused glances towards Isabella who was busy being guarded by her brother.
Allan shook his head and coughed again. "The old Sheriff. Vasey."
"He's dead," insisted Gisborne. "I killed him myself."
"No offence but maybe you should practice your aim a little more. Last I knew, dead men didn't ride horses or lead armies," Allan replied hoarsely before turning towards Robin with an anxious look. The leader of the outlaws crouched down next to him. "He's got three hundred men at least. They'll be here any minute."
Robin looked towards the forest as if expecting soldiers to start pouring out on cue. When none appeared, he turned to Guy. "Man the battlements. Get the city ready for a siege."
"We'll need to close the gates."
"In a minute. Just go!"
Gisborne gave Allan a last look marked with a shadow of sorrow and regret before he set off shouting orders and dragging his sister behind him. Archer and the gathered townsfolk followed leaving the outlaws alone.
Robin met Tuck's gaze over Allan's shoulder. The monk shook his head. Jaw clenching, Robin closed his eyes and bowed his head.
Much, his arm still encircling Allan as he knelt beside him, could feel the shudders going through the man's body each time he fought for a breath. A tear fell from Much's red eyes as more blood escaped the corner of Allan's mouth. He heard a chocked sob and looked over to see Kate place a hand over her face as she tried to contain her tears, but for once Much couldn't care less about her feelings.
"Allan…" he began, but just knelt there mouth open unable to think of anything to say.
A corner of Allan's mouth twitched. "Are you just going to sit there gawping then?" he asked.
Much laughed even as more tears fell down his face. "I'm sorry," he finally blurted out through the tears. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you. I wish this had never happened. I wish…"
"Yeah, and if wishes were horses, we wouldn't have to keep stealing them." Allan tensed suddenly his eyes closing as his face grimaced with pain. "Don't worry about it," he gasped out pulling himself together once more. "Hey, we all make mistakes. I should know." He snorted. "I just hope… I've been able to make up for a few of them."
"You have," declared Robin staring intently at Allan with red, shadowed eyes. "Each of the countless times you risked your life for us, for England, for the poor. We should have never doubted your loyalty. Go knowing you have done good and you will be avenged."
"You were a brave warrior," added Tuck placing a hand on his shoulder. "And you never gave in. I'm proud to have known you."
"You were our friend," said Kate with a sad smile. "Always looking out for us." She let out a little laugh. "Even when we didn't want to be looked after."
"You're family," said John his voice even gruffer than usual. He cleared his throat chocking back his own tears. "And you know what rubbish I am with family. I let my feelings get away with me. I'm sorry. I know I can't make up for what happened…"
Allan shook his head. "Don't let it eat away at you," he insisted. "Please… I don't want that. I love you, all of you."
"We love you too," Much said sniffing. The others nodded and John was forced to wipe away the water that finally escaped from his eyes.
"Just do me one favour," said Allan his words falling to a whisper as the air wheezed out of his chest. "When you tell Will and Djaq… don't tell them I died like this. Make it… more heroic. Tell them… I was protecting a houseful of orphans… from twenty, no fifty… armed soldiers… and a lion…"
"And you took the lion and half the soldiers with you." With a sorrowful smile, Robin nodded. "I promise."
"Be at peace," said Tuck.
"Not being funny," said Allan as his eyes slowly closed. "But I think maybe… for once… I will be."
As they watched, his chest fell a final time and went still.
And so surrounded by his friends, his family, Allan A Dale passed from this world.