The Robber and The Princess

CHAPTER 1

THE BOY

It was around dusk when they brought the boy before him. He looked not a day older than fifteen years and pretty innocent. There were no signs of a struggle for his simple peasant clothes were intact, as was his rather slight person.

Robin Hood looked into the boy's eyes, as he always did when sizing up a stranger, and was surprised to find sincerity in there and perhaps a bit of urgency. Another thing he was surprised to find was that the lad's eyes were of a deep emerald colour, thus complimenting the coppery hair that escaped his grey hood, and they appeared out of proportion large and quite beautiful.

Meanwhile the boy didn't seem to eagerly take in his strange surroundings, as did most anyone who was invited to the Merry Men camp in the heart of Sherwood Forest. On the contrary, he seemed intend on observing and even memorizing every detail of the Master's face. So mesmerized did he appear, that Robin had to laughingly ask him twice about his name.

"My name is Stuart and I work in the castle yonder, good sir", he said, with a voice that sounded surprisingly gentle and a pronunciation that was suspiciously clear. His appearance however stated clearly his humble origins and Robin concluded that the young lad had taken to imitating the speech of his elders.

Looking into large, impatient eyes, he smiled and said kindly:

"Listen, lad, you are too green to join my band of Merry Men. Honored as we all are, I am sure, I would have you come back a few years hence with a couple of summers on your back and then we will talk about you becoming an outlaw. Until then go help your father and be wary of the evil Sheriff in whose service your family is, I understand." For the "castle yonder" the youth had referred to was the residence of the much-hated and much-feared Sheriff of Nottingham.

"No, no! Sir, that is not the reason I seeked you out."

"'Sir'? You are aware I am no gentleman, boy, are you not?" He raised a dark eyebrow in mock surprise.

"You are to me, sir."

Now both eyebrows went up and in Robin's intelligent eyes the flicker of a doubt appeared.

"What do you want then, Stuart of the Castle?"

The boy smiled in delight at this informal christening.

"I wanted to speak with you, to warn you."

"To warn me! Now that is a bold aspiration for one of your years. Come, sit with us while we wait for the meal to be prepared."

The boy sat quietly, his eyes taking in everything, while Robin Hood went around the camp, greeting his men and asking about their deeds during the day. They all knew that they had to wait until after the meal to hear of their leader's own adventures. Soon enough he came to where Stuart was seated and offered him a drink of water.

Stuart accepted it and started:

"You see sir when one lives at the castle, one cannot help hearing things, especially if one tries." He smiled mischievously. "So I heard something today, which I think may –must be of interest to you. I believe the Sheriff intends to pay a visit to the nearby town of Lewes in the next day or so."

"And when you say visit, you mean, tax collecting and administering a few beatings…"

"And burning a few homes, yes."

"Good Lord, I thought we had finished with these visits for this month. Are you sure about this?"

"Yes, sir."

"I find the fact that you call me sir a but unnerving, Stuart of the Castle." Robin's eyes were sparkling with humour, but there seemed to be sincerity in his words, as well. "And you claim to have gathered this information from the proximity of the…"

"Stables." His voice sounded a bit unsure, but Robin looked in the boy's eyes, and they seemed clear like water from a spring. They had an odd colour he noticed, a very exceptional green color, and an even more unique shape. He would grow up to become a handsome man, he thought. That was a strange thought to strike him at the moment, but the youth seemed to have already found a place in his heart.

Too bad there was no way he could believe him.

"Come on, Stuart. Let's get something to eat. You will find that our cooking may excel even that of our good Sheriff's kitchens."

"Thank you, sir, I am sure it is. It certainly should be better for the heart, at any rate."

Robin turned to look at the boy in surprise for the third time in the course of the evening. He could have sworn that it was not possible for such a young mind to contain such deep thoughts on the world. But somehow it was.

"But since I have nothing more to tell you, I think it would be best if I were to go back before I was missed." With these words, the boy stood up to leave, a serene smile of satisfaction on his lovely face.

Suddenly the thought was unbearable to Robin that this fragile youth should have to brave the dangers of the forest amid the gathering darkness.

"I'll take you", he said before he had time to think.

Stuart's eyes seemed to have gotten incredibly round with surprise and alarm.

"No!" he almost shouted.

"What I say goes here, little boy. This is my territory, I will have you know."

"I know it is your territory, Robin Hood. But you would be a fool to even consider going near the direction that I am going."

He liked the sound of his name on the boy's lips. Odd, that. Anyway, he somehow had to persuade him to accept his protection. His feelings of protectiveness allowed him to do no less.

"Come, I will take you only as far as is safe, I promise."

They rode in silence for a while, and then the boy spoke:

"I can't believe I did it!"

His voice sounded so enthusiastic and childlike, that Robin couldn't help but smile.

"Did what?" he asked.

"I managed to come to you and warn you. I may have saved all those poor people!"

Robin pulled on the reins of his horse and put out a hand to his companion's horse, too.

"I don't say that it wasn't incredibly brave of you to seek out a band of outlaws in the forest. But whoever sent you, you should let them know about the foil of their plans." He tried to sound gentle, for somehow he was loath to quench the excitement he heard in the lad's voice. However he was angry at those who picked a mere boy as their envoy fro the trap they meant to set him. It was the act of a coward and a sloth and it infuriated him. "I have to say though; this is not a very promising beginning for the life of a youth such as you. I hope in future you can choose your advisors more carefully."

The boy that called himself Stuart looked at Robin, incredulity written on his face. Then, as understanding slowly dawned on him, he said in a trembling voice, as if he had difficulty crediting the words himself:

"You… you don't believe me!"