Title: Much Saves The Day
Spoilers: Set during season 2
Notes: Originally written in 2006 as a Yule gift for my sister, who wanted a fic where Much was the hero we all know he could be.
It had rained all night. Much pulled back the branches, covered in cloth, that Will had rigged to give them some shelter. A pool of water ran off the cloth and soaked his sleeve. He bit back a curse.
Djaq stirred, woken by the draught he'd caused.
"What are you doing?" she asked sleepily.
"Someone has to get breakfast," Much snapped.
The Saracen closed her eyes and went back to sleep. After the storm, the sky was clear and the air chill. The sun was just starting to rise and it was going to be a nice day, unless you were the one with a wet sleeve and breakfast duty.
Much gathered up some firewood that he'd had the good sense to stash in the hollow of a nearby tree. He made up a fire under the cooking pot and then returned to the sleeping quarters and took a flaming brand from the low burning fire they kept going all night to avoid freezing to death. He used this branch to light his cooking fire in what he thought of as his kitchen, and busied himself getting the porridge cooking.
"Porridge?" Robin complained a few minutes later, stretching the kinks from his back. "Again?"
Much scowled. "There's no exactly a surfeit of bacon and eggs," he pointed out. "It's porridge until I get time to collect supplies, and with yesterday's escapade I didn't have chance to stop off for bread and milk let alone bacon."
Robin batted at his long fringe which was falling into his eyes. "It was hardly an escapade."
"You're not the one who had to dress up as a girl," Much said, readjusting his woollen cap. The memory of the bonnet wasn't one he relished. "I mean, Djaq's a girl, but who ends up in a dress? Me."
"I thought you were very fetching," Will offered, joining them. "I think that guard kind of liked you."
Much stirred the pot, sulking as they enjoyed a laugh at his expense. Nothing new there. He wondered, if he left, how long it would be before they noticed. Probably just think it was bit quiet, right until they needed feeding and there was no-one to cook or fetch water from the stream.
Despite complaining about the porridge, Robin had two bowlfuls. "Right," he said, tossing his dish aside – and guess who'd be expected to clean the dishes? – "I'm headed up to Worksop."
"Worksop?" Much asked, confused. "Why?"
"The rebellion," Little John told him. He ate quietly and quickly and this was the first thing he'd said since joining them.
"We talked about this yesterday," Robin told him.
Djaq shook her head. She was at least rinsing her own bowl out. "Much was out collecting firewood before the rain soaked the whole forest," she reminded their leader.
"Oh. Well, I'm off to Worksop," Robin repeated. "Rumour is there's a plot to overthrow the Sheriff, so I'm going to check it out. Either the rumour is false and there's nothing to worry about, or the rumour is true. And if it's true, I either agree to help, if it is a good plan, or I put a stop to it if it isn't." Robin picked up his quiver. "Any harm comes to the Sheriff and Nottingham burns. So I have to make sure these rebels, if they exist at all, don't have any ideas about permanently removing Vaisey from his ill-earned seat."
Much stood. "I'll come."
Robin clapped a friendly hand on his shoulder. "I'm going alone," he said firmly. "Easier for one man to find his way into a secret society."
"Fine," Much said. "Don't blame me if you get into trouble."
"You worry too much," Robin said and headed off.
Little John picked up his staff. "I should be going too."
"Where?" Much shrieked. He was starting to feel abandoned.
Little John gestured out into the trees. "Taking supplies out to the drop point near the caves at Cresswell," he said.
"We'll starve if you keep giving all our food away," Much protested, helpless to prevent Little John taking most of the rest of the cheese and the last loaf of bread to add to his satchel.
When John had gone on his errand, Djaq helped Much clear up, which he was grateful for, though he didn't show it, being too upset about Robin's refusal to take him along.
"Robin will be careful," she said. "It's probably nothing."
Much gave a non-committal grunt. "And what are you two doing today?" he asked, glancing over at Will.
"Making women happy," Will quipped.
Djaq looked at Will reprovingly but she was smiling when she explained to Much. "We're going out to Clun. Will has promised to carry out some repairs – roofs that leak. After last night, it is more important than ever. There are so many widows with no man to help them fix their homes and no money to pay for anyone else to do so."
"And you're what? Chief hammer holder?" Much snapped. He had his suspicions that Djaq and Will might make a stop off for personal business on the way to Clun, and probably on the way back too.
She put a gentle hand on his arm. "You can come too," she offered. "Many hands make light work."
Much liked Djaq. She was intelligent, and pretty, and probably the only one who ever remembered that he had feelings. For half a moment he thought he might go, help out for a while and then see what provisions he could acquire. Yet he was still smarting at the thought that everyone had plans except him, and that while she was being attentive now, Djaq would soon be deep in conversation with Will as they rode to Clun. Laughing at each other's not very funny jokes while he rode behind, getting hit by the branches that his companions had brushed past. Not a chance.
"No. I've got work to do here," he said stiffly.
She shrugged and soon she and Will were also gone. Much tided up the camp and put out the fires. He was even starting to miss Allan, who'd have said something like "I'm not being funny, but it's rude to make plans without you." Except Allan would probably have had something planned too.
Alone and miserable and still damp, Much picked up his knapsack. Someone had to go and get food or they'd all starve and what use would they be to the poor then?
"I'm not being funny," Allan said, "but it sounds like a trap." He looked at his now empty plate with regret. Breakfast was one of the most important meals of the day, and while he never let a meal go untouched – he'd had too many days spent going hungry for that – Guy had barely eaten.
Guy nodded. "That's why I'm not going alone," he said.
"But I'm your right hand man. Your lieutenant. Your second in command," Allan protested. "I should come and watch your back."
Guy shook his head. "You stay here and be my second in command today. Do my duties for me." Truth be told he wanted a day away from Allan. The man scrubbed up nicely enough – to be honest, he was challenging Guy's dark good looks now that he too was wearing black ensembles with decorative buckles – and he was a good swordsman, and a persuasive talker.
The problem was that he was a chatterbox, and didn't ever shut up. Yesterday when that…that strange woman; that is, the person in the dress – Guy's mind shut down at the memory of the beard under the bonnet – had kicked Guy in the groin, Allan had been too busy commenting on it to do any chasing.
"That's below the belt," he'd yelled, without any hint of an intended pun. "Get back here and fight like a – a – "
His inability to decide on the gender of the scruffy peasant had been the first silence from him all day. If only it had lasted. Despite a warm bath, Guy had still been sore when he went to dinner. Marian had asked with seemingly genuine concern what was wrong; Allan had only been too happy to tell her, relating the event complete with embellishments and sound effects. Marian had been so shocked she had almost choked on her venison and spent several minutes coughing into her napkin.
Yes, a day without Allan would be a blessing. Besides, if Worksop really was planning a rebellion it would be better to go in without someone who'd cheerfully point out the flaws in the peasant's plan and offer suggestions for improvement.
"Stay here," Allan repeated, stroking his beard. "And, like, be you?"
His blue eyes met Guy's dark ones and a moment of realisation passed between them. Guy leant over the table. "Look after Marian," he hissed, "but don't lay a finger on her."
"Yeah, sure, fingers off," Allan agreed, rambling again. Guy stood and strode off into the stone corridor.
"Got out the wrong side of his bed," Allan muttered, helping himself to Guy's leftovers more out of habit than hunger. Living in the castle had its advantages and the cooking was one of them. Probably have been porridge if he'd been back in the camp. Soggy porridge at that.
A short while later, he went to find Marian. She was in her chambers, apparently sewing. She looked up from her needlework. "Oh, it's you," she said.
"Don't be like that," Allan begged.
She shrugged. "What do you want?"
"Guy's gone off to Worksop," Allan said. "And the Sheriff's not to be disturbed in his chamber. Counting his gold or something. I just thought you might be bored and want to do something."
"Like what?" she asked, but not uninterested.
He gestured with both hands. "The world's our oyster," he declared. "Whatever you want. As long as we're back before Gisborne is."
Marian smiled despite herself. "You'd escort me outside the castle?" she asked.
"Sure." His blue eyes twinkled. "You're the boss today."
It would be nice to get out in the fresh air…"I want to go riding in the forest," she announced.
He bowed. "After you, my lady."
Much trudged through the forest, cursing when he stepped in a particularly deep mud patch. He skirted the edge of the Locksley estate and helped himself to a few vegetables; as far he was concerned, the estate was still rightfully Robin's and so everything on it belonged to him and, therefore, the outlaw gang.
He then headed back into the woods and for the river, hoping to find some berries and to refill his canteen.
The river, swollen by the overnight rain, was especially rapid and frothy white water poured around the rocks protruding from the riverbed far below. Some brambles and tree branches had been ripped away from the surrounding landscape and tossed into the rapids where they'd caught on both each other and the stones, almost damming the river in places.
Despite the damage, there were still plenty of blackberries just waiting to be picked. Finally something was going right. Much took off his knapsack, propped it open, and then crouched down and began collecting the juicy ripe berries. He stopped only when he heard the approach of horses' hooves. He decided to remain concealed and peered over the bushes.
Marian, in a heavy woollen white dress and dark cloak was riding alongside the river bank. Next to her, on a darker coloured horse, wearing his black jacket and trousers, was Allan. Much wondered what they were up to.
Suddenly Marian's horse slipped on the sodden bank and in its panic to regain its footing, Marian was thrown into the river. The water, deep and fast flowing, quickly drenched her already heavy gown and dragged her into the current where she fetched up against the debris.
"Marian!" Allan yelled, dismounting in one leap. "Marian!"
She couldn't answer, because her dress was caught on one of the brambles below the surface and she was barely able to keep her head up above the water.
Much ran forward to help, almost crashing into Allan as he too skidded on the wet ground. If Allan was surprised to see him, he didn't show it; in fact he was relieved to have help.
"Marian!" was all Allan said, desperately pointing. "I need a branch to reach her."
Much had been about to plunge into the river but had to concede that it would be no use two of them drowning if he too got caught in the current. He pointed to a tree. "Here, this branch."
Allan pulled out his knife and began to saw desperately at the indicated bough. Much tugged at the other end, trying to keep it stiff to help with the cutting when suddenly he felt the entire tree move. While the branches were still healthy greenwood and reluctant to part from the main trunk, the shallow roots had been exposed by the miniature landslips that had occurred along the riverside. Before Much could even yell a warning, the whole tree toppled and it was all he could do to avoid being crushed by it.
Allan wasn't so lucky, falling heavily into the mud with the tree landing on top of him, pinning his shoulder to the ground and sending his knife flying from his hand. He yelled in pain but Much was more concerned about Marian's fate.
Much glanced over his shoulder, absentmindedly readjusting his hat in his panic. Marian had grasped hold of the wood that was both stopping her from being washed away and trapping her in the water. Her knuckles were white with the strain of trying to lift herself out of the river and she couldn't hold on much longer.
What would Robin do? Much knew exactly what foolish reckless thing his master would do. So he did it too. Much flung himself into the water.
The river was icy cold and it took his breath. Ignoring the pain of the freezing torrent, Much focussed on swimming towards Marian without getting into the same predicament she was in.
With strength borne of his determination to save the only woman Robin had ever loved, Much managed to get behind Marian and get his arms underneath her, lifting her head completely free of the water.
"It's all right," he gasped as she spluttered. "I'll save us." He tugged at her, but she was stuck fast. No branch would have helped free her, he knew now , thankful he'd jumped into the water when he did.
For a few desperate seconds he trod water, thinking. Then he moved to hold Marian securely in his left arm, with her head propped against his shoulder as he ducked lower in the water and drew his knife. With the blade in his right hand he desperately sawed at the brambles that were imprisoning Marian.
"The dress," she told him. "Cut the damn dress!"
She must be terrified so use such language, Much thought, but he obeyed her, risking cutting closer to her body to free her. He tried to swim back against the current, exerting the reverse pressure needed to stretch the wool just as he'd tried to hold the bough in the best position to cut it.
At last the resistance to his effort to move backwards was gone and Marian was free in his grasp. He headed for the bank and she kicked out with her legs in an effort to help him.
Much and Marian finally gained the bank, slipping and sliding in the mud. They lay for a moment, catching their breath, Marian coughing and spluttering.
"Are you all right?" Much asked finally. His lungs were still straining to take enough chilly air and his toes were numb while his fingers were throbbing and burning as the blood began to flow back through them.
Marian managed to sit upright and nod but she was more upset than Much had ever seen her. In fact she began to sob. Much supposed she couldn't get herself much more wet.
"I almost drowned!" she shrieked. "Of all the stupid, stupid things!"
Much nodded helplessly.
"It's these stupid clothes," she howled, tearing off the cloak that stuck to her shoulders, and shaking the sodden, torn wool dress. "It wouldn't have happened if I had been the Night Watchman!"
"Women's clothes are stupid," Much agreed.
She shot him a tearful look. "What would you know?"
"Well, it pinches," Much began. "And the skirts get in the way when you want to knee someone." There was a choking sound and he stopped, worried Marian was still coughing up water.
In fact she was laughing. Hysterically, perhaps, but still laughing. Much began laughing too. It was good to be alive, even if they were wet and cold.
"That was you," Marian choked out through her laughter. "Yesterday. You kicked Guy!"
"Right in the codpiece," Much agreed.
Marian laughed until she did begin coughing and tried to get herself under control. She wiped her hands over her dress, adding to the muddy stains, and then rubbed at her face. Much took off his hat and squeezed the water from it. He stuffed it in his pocket and got to his feet. His boots squelched.
Marian wrung ineffectively at her hair and then gave up. She took the hand that Much offered her and staggered to her feet. "Look at us," she said. "Lord and Lady Muck!"
Much laughed and she tried to stand without his support but slipped on the mud. Much grabbed hold of her, pulling her close. She looked up at him, her blue-green eyes meeting his in a sudden tender moment. She reached out and gently tucked back a strand of Much's wavy brown hair. "Thank you, Much," she said softly. "You saved my life."
Much could feel himself trembling and not from the cold as she pressed two soft if chilly lips to his dirt streaked cheek. He felt obliged to break the sudden tender mood.
"We better get you out of those clothes," he said, wincing as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
Luckily Marian giggled as she managed, this time, to stay upright and make her way up the bank. "Camp is closer than the castle," she said. "I'd like to dry out and I have a spare dress and cloak there."
"Camp it is," Much agreed.
"Help!" came a faint voice.
Marian looked around. "Allan!" she yelled. "Where are you?"
"Oh, yes, he's stuck under a tree," Much informed her. He'd forgotten all about the disloyal minstrel until now. At her questioning look, he felt compelled to explain. "It fell on him when we trying to get a branch to help fish you out."
Seeing Marian's growing horror, he added, "He's alive. I say leave him there. Traitor."
The lady turned a fierce stare on him. "He's only trapped because he was trying to help me," she retorted. "If you're going to be a hero you can't start making moral decisions on who lives or dies, Much. If you can save someone you should."
She thinks I'm a hero, Much thought delightedly. "Fine," he sighed. "Over here."
Allan was, of course, exactly where he'd left him, pinned under the fallen tree. Marian hurried over, scrambling over the branches to check on the trapped man.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"Well, except for the whole tree fell on top of me thing, I'm great," Allan told her. "Oh, and the freezing to death part."
Marian looked around her desperately. "We need to get something to lever it off him," she said.
"A big branch," Much supplied. "Which is how this happened." He pointed out the thick bough, with deep knife marks already scored in it. "That was one that I was tugging on." He took out his knife again and began to saw the branch off near to the trunk.
Marian was crouched by Allan's head. "When we lift it, do you think you can move?" she asked worriedly. "Maybe I should stay here and try to pull you out. Perhaps I should go and get help."
"No, we can do this," Much said, not wanting to encourage castle guards to roam around the forest. "Right, Allan?"
"Yeah." Allan didn't sound convinced.
Finally the branch came free of the trunk. Much held one end tightly and poked it around under the tree trunk until he found a suitable place. "Ready," he called. "One, two – " He pressed down with all his weight and the tree started to move. It wasn't enough and he was worried he would have to stop, risking dropping the heavy object back onto Allan.
Then Marian was there, face grimaced in concentration, helping Much apply pressure to the makeshift lever. At last the tree lifted enough that Allan could slither out from under it, rolling away as fast he could manage. The moment he was clear, Much and Marian released their hold. The tree slammed back into the mud and everyone panted with the exertion.
Marian stood bent over with her hands on her knees. "Is everyone all right?" she gasped.
Much could only nod, one hand on a strained hip. Allan moaned from his position on the floor.
"I'm bruised all over," he said.
"We have to go to the camp," Marian said.
Much hesitated. "You can come, but him?"
"He knows where the camp is anyway," she pointed out.
Sighing, Much helped Allan to his feet. Allan rubbed at his shoulder. "Thanks," he said with more sincerity than Much ever recalled hearing from him before.
Allan picked up his knife and Much collected his knapsack, the only thing he had that wasn't soaked through. They found the horses and led them by the reins; partly because Marian didn't it think it fair to ride while Much walked, and partly because Allan didn't feel up to clambering onto his mount just yet.
They made their way back to the camp and Much got the cooking fire going, and poured three mugs of ale. Marian ducked behind a tree and pulled on her spare clothing while Allan settled for shivering at the fire, trying to warm his hands. Marian returned and ran expert hands over Allan's shoulder, tugging at his arm and wrist.
"I think it's just bruised," she said. She winced at a cut above his eyebrow and he shied away as she probed the skin around it. "Let me bathe that."
Much had been warming water for this purpose and handed out some rags. He didn't like the idea that any more water was really the answer but the warmth was comforting and he was glad to get the dirt from his face and hands. There was even mud in his ears.
Marian gently cleaned Allan's face, which made Much feel annoyed, and jealous, and think about the sort of things Robin would do to them all if he came home now and found this going on in the camp. Then Marian cleaned herself up as best as she could and took up the mug of ale Much had poured for her.
They sat in exhausted silence for a while. Finally Marian looked up at the sky. The days were short at this time of year and the best of the daylight was already past.
"I ought to be getting back," she said. She looked at the two men. "I don't think we should mention this to anyone."
"Yeah, Guy'd be furious that I let you get in trouble," Allan agreed.
"Robin would be furious that I let Allan in the camp," Much said.
Marian nodded. "Robin and Guy would scold me for almost drowning," she said. "Pact of silence? All in favour?"
"Aye," Much and Allan agreed.
Much had managed to change into his spare clothes, wash out the muddy ones, and even get his favourite hat dry again by the time Little John came back. He was in a good mood as he always was when he felt he'd helped the poor, and he even helped Much chop extra vegetables for the stew that was now simmering in the cooking pot.
Djaq and Will weren't far behind, bearing gifts of cheese and bread from the grateful villagers. As evening drew in, Robin arrived. He must have ridden hard and fast to make Worksop there and back so quickly.
Robin accepted the bowl of stew and hearty chunk of bread gratefully. Between mouthfuls he told them of his day in Worksop. Some greedy Lord of the Manor had decided things would be simpler without either the Sheriff or Robin Hood, and had started the rumour of rebellion to draw them both into a trap. Robin's realisation of the danger had given Gisborne the half a second he needed to avoid an arrow in the back; in return Gisborne had pretty much allowed Robin to get away while he and his men finished off the armed guards.
Little John, Djaq and Will all related their rather less exciting achievements while Much poured extra ale.
"And what about you, Much?" Robin asked, leaning on one elbow, his eyes shining in the dancing firelight. "What did you get up to today?"
"Oh, the usual. Washing clothes, dishes, and everything else in this pig sty you call home."
Robin laughed good naturedly. "And we appreciate having a good meal to come home to," he said. Everyone agreed and Much smiled to himself as he helped himself to seconds of the stew.
All in all it hadn't been a bad day's work.