A/N: Couldn't bear to see Robin Hood end as it did in Season 3 and I bet it's the same for a lot of you so I'm writing something of a Season 4. Here's hoping it turns out to be a doozy. Hoping for comments and ideas from you guys to feed the muse!
The Grave in Sherwood Forest
It was time.
Robin had never imagined that the cold hand of death would creep up upon him like this and yet here it was, wrapping its cold fingers around his heart slowly and squeezing little by little but oh so quickly all the same. He could feel the air leaving his lungs and his stomach twisting and writhing. Though his heart pounded furiously, his movements became slower; more sluggish. He didn't even realise he had collapsed at the base of an old oak tree until it was after the fact but he supposed it was as good a place as any. Indeed, it was a good day to die.
The sun glinted daintily through the leaves of Sherwood, casting pretty patterns all about the forest floor that wavered with the wind as Robin looked about him for the final time. His vision was fading but he took in what he could, trying to memorise what would surely be the last scene he would ever see of the forest that had come to be his home. When he and Much had walked into Locksley all those months ago, he never would have thought that within three days he'd give up all he'd ever known, flee into the forest and become an outlaw. It just went to show that a man could never predict where his destiny might take him.
A figure appeared, weaving through the trees towards him. Robin felt his heart lighten for he knew who it was. It had been many long and lonely months since he had last cast his eyes upon his beloved and fair Lady Marian. Her beauty had not faded in the least.
The pain was becoming distant now and she was becoming all too real as she came to stand before him, a vibrant smile gracing her fair features.
"Marian," he murmured. Her smile deepened as she gazed down at him fondly, her blue eyes drinking in the sight of him just as he did in return. "I have waited for you. I knew you would find me again."
"It's time," acknowledged Marian softly but no sadness lingered upon her face; only joy. She extended her hand.
Robin hesitated only a moment as a brief memory of Much and the others flashed before his eyes but there was nothing he could do. He was going to die and he had waited so long to see Marian again. He took her hand and allowed her to help him to his feet. The feel of her fingers was just as he remembered. Though she might be a ghost or some figment of his imagination, she felt too real to doubt her presence in this moment.
He reached up a hand, cupping her porcelain cheek within his calloused fingers. "My wife," acknowledged Robin.
Those two words lit up Marian's eyes like Robin had never recalled seeing before. "Now and forever my love," she replied, leaning in towards him. Her soft lips met his and Robin felt peace fill his being; beautiful, glorious peace that he had been denied for far too long. This was where he wanted to be. This was where he should be and he could not believe how long it had taken to find his way back into Marian's strong but loving and tender embrace.
He drew back, laughter filling his heart and Marian's too because she laughed aloud and her voice was beautiful and happy. With such wondrous feelings enveloping him, Robin could not help but pull Marian into his arms and spin them around together. His wife laughed more loudly and his voice joined hers. Nothing was more perfect in his life right now then the feel of Marian so close and the sight and sound of her all about him.
Finally, at last, Robin Hood was a free man.
They buried Robin in a coffin John and Much had managed to source and build together. They had no tomb stone but Much had insisted a simple cross bearing Robin's name and his wooden tag would suffice as well as anything. Robin had never cared overly for himself and Much said it wouldn't matter to him what they did with him in the end. It was the people that mattered above all else.
Robin's grave lay nearly a mile away, at the top of a small ravine he had often frequented when wanting time alone – or so Much said. In any case Archer decided, it was much too close. The camp would have to be abandoned. Too many painful memories would linger and if they were to have some chance of continuing on doing any good for the people, they would need to at least find the strength within themselves to continue their self-appointed mission and being here would not help anyone.
Just plain old Archer (as he'd always been called) did not like what he was getting himself into. He was an opportunist, a man out for only himself and not a damn hero. He knew in his heart that what he was doing was the right thing but as he looked around at the gloomy faces before him, he really did wonder. To still fight against the man who would be King, Prince John, was a fool's quest. Though the Sherriff of Nottingham was dead and the treacherous Isabella as well, the Prince would just send someone else as cruel and heartless as those two had been. And if King Richard was really being held to ransom like the Sherriff had claimed, well, there would certainly be no helping any of them, let alone Nottingham, for quite some time.
Looking about at the others who sat about their secret camp with despondent expressions upon their faces, Archer knew that despite their pledge over the lifeless form of his half-brother Robin, the men of Robin Hood would fall apart. Without their leader, it would not be long and Archer had no intention of becoming that next leader. In the brief amount of time he had known Robin, he could say with absolute certainty that he was nothing like him and would never be. He was not the sort of man to inspire hope in others. Yet all the same, he had said he would help them and so for the time being, he would but first thing was first.
Slowly and somewhat reluctantly, Archer stood. He knew what needed to be said but he didn't like the thought of how it was probably going to go down with the others. Tuck and John stirred and raised their faces to look at him as he stood up. Kate barely spared him a glance before her dull gaze returned to her lap and Much did not even seem to notice at all.
"We need time," began Archer slowly. "You need time, time to grieve."
"Aye, we need time," agreed Little John softly.
"Some time but not too much," added Tuck tiredly. "There is still work to be done."
"Tuck," said Kate, a dangerous tone layering her voice as she turned her gaze to him and glared.
"Not now, please," interrupted Archer before things could become heated. Of all of them, he sensed Kate would be the most likely to explode given a moment's notice. "We need time," repeated Archer, "so I am suggesting that for now at least, we part ways."
"Part ways?" asked Tuck, disbelief clouding his features.
"Only temporarily," answered Archer quickly. "I think it's best if we go our separate ways for now. Go home to our families, take time to ourselves and reflect on what's happened."
"We know what's happened!" snapped John. "We were there! We buried Robin not an hour ago!"
"I know!" shouted Archer and winced. That had been louder than he had intended. "I know," he repeated more softly. "But for now, the Sherriff is dead and most of his army with him, not to mention Nottingham Castle has mostly been destroyed. It'll be a month at least before Prince John sends a new Sherriff. In that time, I think the people will at least be able to take care of themselves and we should take that time to take care of ourselves too."
"So that's it?" asked Kate. She moved fluidly to her feet and suddenly Archer found her standing, hands on her hips before him and eyes snapping with anger. "We just take off on our own? How do I know I'll ever see any of you again? Especially you!"
She poked Archer hard in the chest with far more force than he would have thought such a slender woman could hold in one finger.
"You are nothing but a money grubbing thief. You almost got the lot of us killed with your stupid little scheme to get a few measly coins out of Isabella!" accused Kate. "Did you even care? Did you even care about Robin at all?"
She might as well have slapped him Archer concluded. He had heard many things directed at him over the years but he'd learnt to ignore it. People would always say things and one person's opinion didn't much matter anymore than the next one's did. Her words though, shot him to the quick in a way that no insult or accusation ever had before. He'd never had a family and he certainly didn't know how you should feel towards one but in the few short hours he'd known him, Robin had done something no other man had ever done before: he'd earnt his respect. Robin Hood was just as human as any other man but no man could struggle so hard, nor endure as much and still come out laughing like he could. If there was ever a man he would call brother it was Robin; him and Guy both.
He clenched his jaw, if only to refrain from hitting a woman he knew to be deeply wounded by the loss of a man she loved. "I'm not like Robin or any of you," he admitted but his voice was so low that they could all easily hear his anger. "I'm a poor man and I make the choices I do because nobody ever cared about me and if I wanted something, nobody but myself was going to get it for me. You might call me greedy and selfish but you at least have a family who's there to help, protect and love you. And you want to know something?" asked Archer, bending down to press his face close to Kate's, his eyes boring into hers. "I finally got what I wanted and even if it took me a little while to recognise it, I liked Robin. I liked him very much and I would have liked to have known him as my brother. Yet in one day, I lost him and Guy. Both of my brothers! Of course I bloody care!"
He held Kate's gaze, feeling his anger simmering just below the surface until she finally lowered hers. The camp was silent as he drew back from her. He was vaguely aware that his brother's men were staring at him but he hardly cared. They could stare all they liked. Even Archer of Nowhere could get upset over something. Not even he could laugh off the death of two men he barely knew but had come to like anyway. He turned away from them and braced himself against John's bunk. This was proving to be more difficult then he'd previously thought. He couldn't be the leader but just this once he had to get them to listen. The tension was too high. The smallest thing could shatter what little they had left at the moment. They needed time, needed time to grieve and strengthen their resolve to see justice done.
"Well you should care about Robin," muttered Kate from behind him after several moments of silence. "Guy though, was nothing more than a murderer."
"Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't," agreed Archer. Despite the spiteful words, he gathered his will and clamped down on his feelings. Now was not the time. There would be a later point to argue for the brother he didn't really know. For now though, Robin's men needed him to be calm and to keep his cool. Someone had to be and Much didn't seemed particularly inclined to lead in his Master's stead just yet.
"For now though, I think we should go our separate ways and return here in exactly a month," proposed Archer again. "It won't be easy to leave here and it won't be easy to come back but we owe it to ourselves and to Robin."
No one said anything for several moments. It was Tuck that finally answered. "I think you are right my friend. We should use this grace period given to us to strengthen our hearts and renew our resolve. King Richard will come back one day soon and how could we call ourselves Robin Hood's men if we did not fight for the country he so loved and did not protect its people?"
"Aye," agreed John with a weary but rueful sigh. "Robin would clap us about the head and have a few words to say to each of us if we let all his hard work go to waste." The thought brought out a small smile on the giant's face and he shook his head. He looked to Tuck and then Archer and surprisingly, Archer found himself smiling back but it felt good to smile despite the heavy lump of grief sitting in the bottom of his stomach. For some reason that heavy burden felt just a little bit lighter afterwards.
"Where will you all go?" Archer found himself asking. He didn't really care or at least he'd thought he wouldn't.
John shrugged. "That's easy. I'll go find Alice and Little Little John."
"I'll go to Kirklees, to the Abbey," answered Tuck. "I have been away from the Church for some time now and it is time to to go back and repay my respects to God."
"Kate?" queried Archer after a long stretch of silence that followed.
The blonde woman huffed irritably. "Back to Locksley of course. My mother has been missing me."
"And what about you, Much?"
Robin's former manservant didn't seem to hear Archer's question though. His blue eyes were lost within his own internal world of pain.
"Much!" shouted Archer, leaning forward to give Much's shoulder a little shake. The man jumped, startled by Archer's voice. "What?" he asked dazedly.
"Where will you go?" repeated Archer.
Much blinked uncomprehendingly but before he could form any sort of answer, Tuck answered for him. "He'll come with me to the Abbey for now. Perhaps he will find some peace within the walls of the Church."
Much didn't seem to know what to say but after a moment, he gave a short and sharp nod. "The Abbey, yes, I think I will. Thank you Tuck."
"Don't mention it my friend," replied the dark skinned man of the Church.
"Well, as for me," began Archer. "I think I'll take a little look around. I haven't been back in Nottingham for years. There are some places I want to go and some people I want to see."
"So that's that then," said John. "We go our separate ways and come back in exactly a month."
Kate snorted. "I don't expect one of us to come back," she said with a meaningful glare at Archer which he determinedly ignored. "But you can count on me to be here on July the 12th."
As one, Robin Hood's men rose to join Archer and stand on their feet in their sparse but comfortable camp that had come to mean so much to them over the long, hard months they'd endured in Sherwood Forest.
"So this is it then," said Tuck solemnly.
"I guess it is," replied Archer.
There were several stiff nods to Archer and hugs amongst the others before finally John proclaimed with a shaky breath, "alright then. I'll see you lot soon."
"Yes, soon," agreed Kate softly who's anger finally seemed to have wilted away once again in the wake of Robin's passing.
Archer stood and watched as one by one, each man and Kate turned away and set out into the forest. He remained standing where he was, watching them depart and when he could finally see them no longer; he set about dismantling the camp. None of them would find any trace of it when they returned but Robin's grave would be there and they'd find their way to it eventually where Archer had decided he would wait for them. It took him the rest of the day to pack everything up and hide it in a small cave that he found near Robin's grave which looked like it'd been used from time to time to store loot Robin's men managed to steal. By the time that was done and the last traces of the camp wiped away, it was already dark.
Casting one final glance over the area in the gloom of twilight to make sure all previous traces of human occupation had been cleared away; Archer nodded in satisfaction to himself, turned and began to walk. It was a random direction, one he thought John might have headed in but that suited him fine. At this point in time he had no clear direction other than to get out of Sherwood. Something about the trees and the darkness seem to press down upon him; as if Robin's ghost already wandered these trees, guarding the woods he'd taken refuge in for nearly two years. It was an eerie feeling and Archer was content to linger no longer. Sherwood might have protected outlaws once but it didn't really feel like the woods wanted to anymore and Archer wasn't about to hang about and find out the truth of that particular superstition.
Robin frowned. Something felt strange. Something was different. Though he held the love of his life in his arms, somehow it didn't quite feel like this was really so.
"Robin," she replied and suddenly she slipped away from his arms.
"Marian, what's going on?" he found himself asking. "Marian!" He moved to embrace her once again but she shook her head and retreated from his reaching hands.
"I'm sorry Robin," she said, her face suddenly sad and regretful. "I thought ... but it appears it isn't so."
"I don't understand Marian," protested Robin, beginning to feel panic clutch at his heart.
She gave him a small smile, one that didn't reach her eyes. "It was wonderful to see you Robin but I'm afraid it's not really your time yet."
"What are you saying?" demanded Robin. "I'm dead ... aren't I?"
Marian shook her head slowly, tears suddenly gathering in her eyes. "I love you Robin!" she called out to him.
The forest was darkening all around him and Marian was becoming blurred and her words hard to hear. Robin tried to focus on her but it seemed the harder he tried the more she seemed to fade away.
"Marian!" Robin shouted.
Stars burst before his eyes and he fell back onto the wooden floor. He clutched at the wounded area, his mind wondering bewilderedly how he came to find himself lying on his back. And what the devil had he just smacked his head against?
Opening his eyes and blinking away a few watery tears, he looked about him but there was nothing to see. Darkness enveloped him on all sides. He couldn't remember ever having been enclosed in such all encompassing blackness.
As the pain retreated, he began to feel about himself. It didn't take long to conclude he was in a box of some kind but what sort it was, his mind couldn't quite seem to fathom. Thoughts were clambering in the back of his mind. He felt he should know what was going on but whatever was happening just hadn't quite seemed to click just let. He'd been with Marian only a moment ago. Was this some trick? Some little amusement she'd cooked up for him. He knew Marian found delight in odd forms of entertainment from time to time – usually at his expense but this was just bizarre.
Something brushed against his questioning hands as he moved them and a familiar scent came to him. It took Robin a moment to place it; it was the smell of lilies. A few stems were lying beside him and after a moment, something else also came to mind: they were often referred to as death lilies because they were a common flower to be found throughout England and those with no money for expense often buried their loved ones with a few of the pretty wild flowers to adorn the chest of their loved ones.
Robin stilled, suddenly beginning to understand what he hadn't before now. Slowly he reached his hand up and paused, hesitant to place it upon his neck but he must know, he must!
He touched the sweaty and grimy flesh and just as he'd suspected but dreaded, the cut the treacherous Isabella had given him was still there. He'd thought it gone, a mere memory several moments ago when he'd believed he had died but this wasn't one of Marian's little tricks. He really was still alive and if his guess were correct, it was a coffin that he lay in.
For several long minutes Robin lay still, trying to absorb the fact that he was very much alive and hadn't really died. And yet Gisborne! Gisborne had said!
"It's a scratch! It's nothing!" snarled Robin, not at all daunted by Isabella's taunt.
"No, no, no; you should be careful," argued Isabella and she seemed so sure of herself that Robin paused, a cold dread striking him abruptly. There was something so certain about those cold blue eyes of hers. Something malicious lingered in their very depths. "I mean this blade it could be rusty or even worse ..." she trailed off meaningfully but Robin still didn't understand. Gisborne though, lying mortally wounded upon the ground seemed to however.
"What have you done?" he demanded despite his agony.
With not a trace of guilt, his sister answered, "I used your poison on the blade."
And suddenly Robin understood.
"A few drops flowing through your blood stream," sneered Isabella. "I'd say you'll be dead by sundown."
No! Surely it wasn't true? Robin's eyes found Guy's, seeking the truth, seeking some small shred of hope that this was merely a cruel bluff on Isabella's part.
"Is this true?" asked Robin softly.
Guy looked as if he might hesitate to answer but only for a moment. Grimly he nodded and Robin felt despair rise up to swallow him.
Clearly however, Gisborne had been wrong and Isabella really had been bluffing but that did not explain his supposed 'death' nor the fact that his gang quite obviously believed him dead if he were actually in a coffin. Surely, surely they had not gone and buried him. Had they?
Tentatively Robin tapped on the lid of the coffin but only a dull 'thunk' sounded back, the kind of 'thunk' wood made when a good deal of weight was pressing down from the other side.
Robin groaned and pressed his fists to his eyes, even if the action was somewhat ridiculous lying as he was in the darkness. Well that settled it, he really was alive. Not that he was sure how he should feel about that. He'd been quite happy to accept his fate beforehand and seeing his beloved Marian had filled him with such euphoria, he didn't think he'd experience anything quite like it ever again.
Even though he'd been happy to see Marian, the thought that he was still alive did not disappoint him as much as he thought it perhaps should. He would never love anyone as deeply as he'd loved Marian but his men had come to mean so much to him and if the King really was being held to ransom, Robin couldn't bear the thought of going on until he'd freed him and dealt with the treasonous Prince John. He decided that even though he didn't fear death and now at least he knew for certain Marian was waiting for him; he was somewhat relieved to find that he was very much alive, albeit not for long if he couldn't find a way out of his current predicament.
Suddenly feeling more than a little claustrophobic, Robin began testing the strength of the box that currently trapped him. It was of a simple design – nothing fancy and probably easily broken open through brute force alone but the weight pressing down from above was another matter entirely. If they'd buried him too deeply he'd probably never be able to find his way out not to mention he could very well suffocate trying to claw his way to the surface. By God though, he was going to get out of this. The former Sheriff would kill himself all over again from sheer laughter if Robin Hood's very own men were the ones that killed him in the end.
He kicked and he heaved at the lid but the timber was solid and the nails hammered in well. It would take more than a little while to find his way out of this particular death trap but now that he knew he was still alive, Robin wasn't about to give up so easily, especially knowing what kind of state his men were probably in right now. He only hoped Archer or Much had the sense enough to keep them together although that was more likely to be found in the former. Robin suspected right now Much was probably the quietest he'd ever been in his entire life.
It felt like hours that Robin bashed away, trying to escape to freedom. His knees and fists soon became bruised and bloodied so when the wood finally did crack down near his knees, Robin could have cried out in relief. A few more kicks broke off a section and a shower of damp earth poured inside. Robin kept beating at the wood and slowly but surely, the crack spread along the length of the coffin towards his face. Dirt tumbled in to cover the lower half his body but not so much that it crushed him. The remains of the lid somewhat still protected him. When the dirt finally started to cover his stomach, Robin lay back and took several deep breaths and tried to gather his flagging strength. He'd been at it for a very long time now and it would be rather ridiculous if he managed to break himself out only to lack the ability to dig his way back to the surface.
When he deemed he'd recovered enough, Robin began punching at the wood above his chest, doing his best to ignore his painful knuckles. Slowly the split increased and once it had but a bare foot to go, Robin rolled over onto his back and pushed upwards as hard as he could. The wood held for a moment before giving way to Robin with a low wrench. Dirt fell down to enclose him and Robin barely managed to snatch one last mouthful of precious air. The soil was loose though and despite his fear that he wouldn't be able to dig himself out, Robin managed to claw his way free in a few desperate swipes. He broke through the surface and hauled himself out of his grave to lie panting in the grey twilight of pre-dawn. He breathed in the rich air of Sherwood Forest and decided that this was by far his greatest escape from the clutches of death.
After awhile he pulled his legs from the grave and stood as the sun began to rise over Sherwood Forest. Now that he'd freed himself, first thing was first: he needed to find his men. He turned away but a thought struck him almost immediately. The Sheriff and Nottingham were destroyed but that wouldn't stop the Prince rebuilding the castle and sending someone just as cold-hearted and cruel as Vaisey to rule over the county. He'd find out soon enough what had happened in Nottingham and he'd also know Robin Hood was dead. Or at least, that was what he and everyone else would believe.
Robin had been accused many times by Marian that he was a show-off and he'd always denied it but to a certain extent, he knew it to be true. The thought of using his supposed death to make an entrance and the look on Prince John's face when he found out that Robin still lived was too grand a thought to pass up. There was also the notion of just how much damage he could do to the Prince because he wouldn't actively be looking for him anymore. The new Sheriff would merely believe he was just another outlaw at first and it would take some time to build a reputation as large as his last one. Things had been so much easier before Vaisey had decided to take him more seriously. Something akin to regret also reminded him that Gisborne was no longer around either to make his life difficult although that had hardly mattered in the end.
Despite the many years of bad blood between them and the knowledge that he had killed Marian, the woman they had both loved so deeply, Robin really couldn't find it within himself to hate Gisborne any more. The man had proved to be a good ally and something of an unexpected friend in the end. Robin was truly sorry that things had happened as they did. Had not that fire occurred so many years ago, things might have turned out very different between the two of them although he doubted they would have ever stopped being rivals.
He shook the memories away though and turned back to the grave. It didn't take him long to fill it back in and smooth the surface over until it looked like it hadn't been disturbed at all. With that job completed, Robin quickly set off. It took him only a moment to realise where he had been buried and recover his bearings. Having done so, he headed in the direction of a nearby stream. He was absolutely filthy but not dissuaded by the chilly water as he pulled off his jerkin and shirt and cleaned himself as best he could.
By the time he redressed himself and made it back to their camp, it was nearly mid morning.
At least, he thought he'd found his way back to camp.
When he arrived however, there was nothing to be seen. He was certain he had the right place and when he checked, he found the camouflaged lever still within the stone wall on one side of the low ravine but of the camp itself, there was simply nothing there. Even the footprints that might have remained had been cleared away.
Robin stood in disbelief, unable to believe his eyes. Had his death really broken his men's spirits that badly that they had simply walked away leaving Nottingham to its fate? He would expect it of Archer and probably Kate. They were not held back like the others were because they had certainly not learnt what it was Robin fought so hard to protect but Tuck would never turn away and nor would little John. It was only Much he wasn't really sure about. His former manservant had cared deeply for him, Robin knew that and staying might have been too hard for him but that deep love Much had might also keep him there until he'd finally achieved his friend's vision: to wipe injustice forever from the land of England.
Still, Robin found himself puzzled by the fact that even if they had left, why had they dismantled the camp? Wouldn't they just walk away and leave it to the elements instead?
Robin frowned but no answer was forthcoming and it really didn't matter. The question was where were they now? Where had they gone? Home? Or had they moved on together? The former idea was more than likely.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't a ghost. Hood? Robin Hood isn't it?"
Startled, Robin turned around to come face to face with probably the last person he'd expected to see after the day he'd had.
Author's Note: Ha ha! My first ever cliffy. I was reading somewhere that you should always end a television show with a cliff hanger and I thought, 'what the heck? Might as well apply that to some, if not all of my chapters.' None of you will ever guess who it is. Go on, I dare you to guess!