The silence was abnormal, thought Will as he spooned another bit of squirrel stew into his mouth. It wasn't like they'd never not spoken while eating before- there had been times when they were so tired from outrunning guards that it was all they could do to focus on placing their meals into their mouths instead of just falling into their bunks from exhaustion. But even during those times there had been some sense of accomplishment, of pride in themselves and their ability to work together. This was completely different- their whole perception of "together" had been shattered that day.
So profound was the lack of any noise whatsoever that Will was almost afraid the action of looking up from his bowl would cause a disturbance. But he supposed the others were too absorbed in their own thoughts to pay any notice. Much and Little John sat on the ground near the fire. Little John was looking into his soup as though it held the answer to all of their problems; Much was staring into the fire with seemingly the same thoughts about its omniscience. Will himself was sitting on his bunk, as Djaq sat on hers. Like John, her eyes were cast into the contents of her bowl, but she did not even try to give the allusion that she was actually eating. Robin had removed himself from the rest of them, and was sitting at the far edge of the camp, near the concealing door that Will had built, his face hidden from them by the growing shadows as he contemplated the dark events of that horrible day.
Much's voice broke so loudly through the silence that Will jumped.
"Well, it certainly is quieter now. And no one's complaining about my cooking!"
Much's eyes roved around the camp with nervous expectation, obviously searching for some form of agreement with this observation. His face fell when he found none. Will turned a stormy expression upon him; Djaq looked both horrified and hurt. Robin glowered dangerously from his removed location, and John accompanied his own angry glare with an emphatic "Shut up, Much!"
"But surely you must all be glad he's gone!" Will wondered if he was the only person who heard Djaq's shaky gasp as Much spoke these words with conviction, and he found himself internally begging, for her sake, that this speech not continue. But, as it always was with Much, this was not to be so.
"I mean, think about it- now we don't have to worry about Gisborne finding out our plans anymore. And all Allan ever really did was drag us down. Drag us down and then sell us out for money! We're much better off now, without him."
There was a soft choking noise from the direction of Djaq's bunk. Will turned to face her in time to see her, in one rapid, fluid motion, cast aside her untouched bowl of stew and vanish toward the stream.
"Now look what you've done!" Little John growled at Much, who was staring in the direction Djaq had vanished with a confused expression. Will tossed the former manservant a disgusted look as he got to his feet to follow her.
She was exactly where he thought she would be. He paused for a moment just to look at the tiny figure that sat near the stream bank between the two white oak trees whose trunks grew outward in almost flawless mirror images of each other. For a moment, it was daylight again, and he could feel the sun's rays dance playfully and comfortably across his face as he sat with his back leaning against the tree on the left. Djaq lay facing upward between the two enormous trees, her hands folded beneath her head; she was laughing gaily as Allan, who lounged up against the trunk of the other oak, related some animated and cheeky tale of guard thievery, which they all knew he had fabricated, mischief and joy shining in his bright blue eyes.
The thought of the traitor sent Will spiraling back to the night, and the warmth of the sun turned to the burn of his anger and the cold of his feeling of betrayal. The cheerful, contented expressions were gone, replaced with the sole figure of Djaq by the bank, her knees tucked up against her chest, petite body motionless, rigid.
He rustled leaves on purpose, so she would know he was approaching. But even as he came to stand next to her, she did not turn to look at him, made no sign that she was even aware of his presence.
"Djaq?" His voice was not even a whisper.
"It is painful to watch someone digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole, isn't it?" He could tell she was fighting to repress the shakiness in her voice, but nothing else about her moved as she asked the question; her dark eyes remained hidden from his view, fixed upon the water that would have sparkled gently had there been a moon that night.
"Much doesn't know when to shut it." Will shook his head in repulsion.
He jumped as she suddenly whirled to face him.
"You think I am talking about Much?"
Now Will could see her eyes, and the volume of pain in them all but knocked him off of his feet. He yearned to be able to sit down next to her, to hold her, but the shock of that pain kept him motionless, helpless.
"Didn't he know we loved him, Will? He's never had a family before, we were his family- why couldn't he see how much he needed us?"
"Because he decided money was more important." Bitterness infused itself with Will's words, and tasted like bile upon his tongue. "Because he cares more about his own sorry self than he does about the poor, or King Richard, or us." He could feel anger rising up in his chest now, a flame that licked at his heart and sent fingers of deep orange across his mind's eye. "Well, I say fine. Let him have his own life, let him search for something that's going to make him happier. He'll look his whole life, but he won't find what he had here, not anywhere, not ever." Will was breathing hard now. "And do you know what? I'm glad. I hope he spends eternity searching and never finding. After what he did to us, he deserves it!"
He felt a dark satisfaction leap within him for a moment when he said this, only to have it compromised by the horrified expression on Djaq's face.
"That's not true, Will. He just didn't think we understood him. He was frightened, pushed into something that he didn't know what to do about." Her voice began to raise in volume and intensity. "And all of you, with your accusations and angry talk, you made it worse! You are all so bitter and hostile, you refuse to accept that he might have made things right if you would have just given him the chance!" She ceased rather abruptly in her outburst and turned back to face the stream, running her arm across eyes, her thin body trembling. Giving in to instinct, Will knelt down next to her and gently, hesitantly, wrapped his long arms about her and drew her close to his chest.
"I could have helped him. I should have listened." Her whisper was full of tears against his shirt.
Will did not believe that this was true, but he knew that it would not be reassuring to Djaq if he told her this. But as she sat shaking against him, he felt his anger cool into the ice of hatred.
Allan A'Dale would suffer for what he had done to Djaq. This Will would see to.