Sherwood Forest. A beautiful place, draped in thick greenery, built of strong, healthy trunks and branches, and full of the sweet blossoms of spring. There were birds singing in the trees, the sky was free of any clouds, the air was warm, but not muggy. All in all, it was the perfect morning to go strolling through the woods.
Francis- or, well, Prince Francis, if you wanted to be proper about it- was missing all of it. Sprawled gracefully across the seat of his enclosed carriage, with curtains drawn over each of the windows, he was focused solely on the chest of gold in front of him. He twirled a coin between his fingers, trying to ignore the way his crown slipped down over his forehead slightly. The gold glittered in his hand, and he smiled down at it. It truly was a lovely thing. Those peasants couldn't understand its beauty, couldn't appreciate gold like he could. He ran his other hand lovingly across the chest. It was so-
The sharp tap on the covered window jolted him out of his trance. "What?" he snapped, dropping the coin back amongst its brothers in the chest. He hadn't even noticed that the carriage had stopped.
"There are two women by the road, sire," the strangely childish voice of the Sheriff of Nottingham replied. "They seem to be gypsies, and they say they have items to trade."
Francis snorted. "Gypsies. Nothing they might have could possibly be of any interest to me. Tell them to-" He stopped abruptly, then flung the door open, nearly slamming it into Ivan's face. "Do they do fortunes? I'm in the mood for having my fortune told."
"Dearie me, is that His Royal Highness I hear?" A high-pitched cackle drew Francis' attention to the two women standing a few meters behind Ivan. One of them was shorter and seemingly younger, with a long scarf holding her hair back from her dark eyes. The other, the one who had spoken, was doubled over and leaning heavily on a gnarled walking stick. Her face was shadowed by the rags wrapped around her head, but Francis could tell that her eyes weren't focused on him- she was blind.
He nodded, even though he knew she couldn't see. After a moment of silence, Ivan added, "Yes, you are talking to His Majesty."
The old woman cackled again and waved her finger in the vague direction of the younger gypsy. "I told you we'd meet someone important today, I did! My fortunes are never wrong!"
"Yes, yes, Grandmother, you did," the young woman soothed, laying her hands on the older gypsy's shoulders. She blinked those dark eyes up at Francis, and he was struck by how androgynous her face was. Why, if she wasn't dressed in skirts and if her voice was any less feminine, he wouldn't have known her gender. "She is very good at palm reading and tarot cards, Your Highness. I do not think she has ever been wrong."
"Really." Francis raised his eyebrow, intrigued. He didn't believe it, of course, but to have a blind fortuneteller read his future… It would be interesting. "Gypsy, I would like you to read my fortune."
"Me, read the fortune of His Royal Highness?" The old woman placed a hand over her heart. "Why, I'd be honored." She hobbled forward, her feet shuffling across the ground beneath her skirts. Ivan caught her arm and redirected her steps when she started off the wrong way. She patted his elbow in thanks before feeling her way to the carriage door.
Francis watched the old gypsy carefully climb into his carriage, not offering any help, before turning to the younger woman. "I would like to speak with the fortuneteller alone. The Sheriff will stay with you out here."
The young woman curtsied. "Of course, Your Highness." She cast a distrustful glance at Ivan, but said nothing more.
Slamming the carriage door shut behind him, Francis arranged himself carefully across the seat and inspected the woman perched across from him. A tuft of hair was hanging down from under her rags now, and though he couldn't be sure in the darkness of the carriage, he thought it might be blonde. Odd, for such an old woman to still have blonde hair, but he was the prince, and he didn't have time to dwell on pointless things like the hair color of gypsies. "Well?" he demanded impatiently. "Are you going to read my fortune or not?"
The old woman inclined her head respectfully. "Begging your pardon, Your Highness, but I need to feel your hand to tell your future." She held out her own hand, in slightly the wrong direction.
Francis let out an annoyed sigh, reaching out to place his hand on her palm. His many rings glinted in the dim light. The woman's hand felt rather smooth and unwrinkled for her age, but before Francis could think further on the matter, the gypsy had grabbed his hand and flipped it over in order to run her fingers over his palm.
"Hmm, hmm, Prince Francis, that's you," the old woman muttered. "The fourth son, yes, of the old King, bless his soul. Your two eldest brothers died… strange circumstances, hmm. You journeyed over from France and took the throne when your brother Richard left on a Crusade. Interesting stroke of luck for you, there-"
"Gypsy, my brother is far away. Do not dare mention his name in my presence again," Francis hissed.
The gypsy bowed her head again. "No offense meant, Your Majesty. Just saying what I find." Her fingers swept across his palm again, moving upwards towards his fingers. "Hmm, you're a very rich man, Your Highness, very rich indeed. Whole rooms full of gold."
Francis allowed his eyes to wander down to the open chest on the floor between them. The beautiful shimmer of gold brought a smile to his lips. Oh, yes, he was rich. "And?"
"Your future… hmm. Hmm. Very interesting." The gypsy woman paused, her fingers hovering over his palm. "It looks like there's a lovely little surprise waiting for you! Something very good."
"A surprise?" Francis leaned forward, tearing his eyes off his gold to stare at the gypsy's shadowed face. "What kind of surprise?"
"I can't quite tell yet… Let me see. It's a very good surprise, believe me. I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
"How far away is it? A year? A month?"
"Why, it's right up ahead! It could be happening any moment now!"
"Any moment!" Francis yanked his hand away from hers, jumping up to tear the curtains open, as if he expected the surprise to be standing there staring inside. All he saw was empty road. Ivan and the other gypsy woman must have moved out of his range of sight. He frowned, though he could still feel the excitement bubbling up inside him. "This surprise, does it have anything to do with my riches?" he asked without turning around, eyes watching the road.
Behind him, the gypsy chuckled. Except it didn't quite sound like the cackle he had heard before. It was deeper, for one thing, in a very masculine way, and it certainly didn't sound old. In fact, it was almost like-
"Oh, believe me, Your Royal Phoniness, it has a whole lot to do with your riches."
Francis whirled around. The gypsy had thrown off the rags covering her body, and now she wasn't a 'she' at all. Instead, there was a young man sprawled carelessly across the carriage seat, long legs propped up against the wall. His hair was as brilliant as gold, his sparkling eyes were as blue as the sky, and that toothy grin was plastered on 'Wanted' signs all over the country. "Alfred Jones!"
Alfred's grin widened. "Oh, please, no need to get yourself all worked up over me. I'm not even close to being as important as you, Prince Francis the Cheat."
"You- You-" Francis stared at him a moment longer, trembling with rage, before he turned and flung the door open. "Ivan! Ivan!"
"Don't bother," Alfred said airily from behind him. "Kiku has already taken care of the Sheriff."
"Jones," Francis growled, obviously struggling to maintain his composure. He was well known for running from battle, after all, and his instinct to flee was threatening to overpower his legs. "What do you want from me?"
Alfred clapped a hand to his chest, slumping back as though wounded. "Want from you? What's the world coming to, when a man can't just stop by to say hello?" He let out a heavy sigh and pulled himself to his feet, stretching as much as he could in the cramped space. "Ouch, bending over like that really takes its toll on your back."
Francis stepped backwards out of the carriage as gracefully as he could. He'd never been this close to the infamous outlaw before, and he'd never realized that Alfred was taller than him. "Jones," he said as forcefully as possible, "I order you to leave this area immediately!"
"Alright, I'll take my leave." Alfred leaped out of the carriage, landing gracefully on his feet and bowing low. "It was wonderful talking to you, Prince Fake- oops, sorry, slip of the tongue. I meant Francis, of course." He whistled loudly, and within moments the young gypsy woman- who wasn't really a woman either, Francis thought bitterly- appeared by his side. "Ready to go, Kiku?"
"I am." The shorter man nodded briefly, a smile flitting across his lips.
"Well then, Francis, I guess we'll be on our way. Farewell for now!" Alfred gave one more mocking bow before turning away and nearly skipping off into the foliage lining the road. He paused for a second, right as he was about to vanish into the trees. "Oh, Francis, have I ever told you how much I like your taste in jewelry?"
Grinning, Alfred held up one hand. There, glimmering against his tanned skin, were several very familiar rings. Francis blinked at them, then down at his own hand. His fingers were devoid of any kind of jewelry. But he hadn't even felt Alfred take them. How…?
"They look pretty good on my fingers, don't they?" Alfred inspected his hand, snickering. "I bet they'd look even better on the hand of a poor housewife, though. No, I know they'll look better on some poor woman's hand." His grin settled into something softer as he looked down at the rings. He slipped them into a pouch hanging from his belt, patting it fondly. "Thank you for the gift, Your Phoniness. I'll be sure to tell the women who I got these beautiful gems from."
Before Francis could say a word, Alfred was gone, disappearing into the undergrowth of Sherwood. He couldn't even hear the outlaw's footsteps. Kiku hung back a moment longer to cast a small smile in the prince's direction. "You might want to fetch a knife, Your Highness. Your Sheriff is rather tied up." And then he was gone as well.
Francis stood there for several long minutes, unable to look away from the place where the outlaws had vanished. When he finally managed to move his feet, he didn't immediately go to look for Ivan. The man had gotten himself into whatever tangle he was in- honestly, Kiku's head barely reached Ivan's chest- and he could deal with it himself for a while. Francis stalked back over to his carriage, flinging himself inside and practically collapsing onto his seat. He rubbed at his forehead with the palm of his hand. Damn those outlaws. Damn them and their insistence on stealing from him and his nobles. Damn them for-
He froze. Slowly, very slowly, his gaze moved down to the chest on the floor of the carriage. The lid was closed. Swallowing down his sudden anxiety, he bent down to carefully lift the lid.
The chest was empty.
Birds took flight at the volume of his roar. "Alfred Jones!"
Sherwood Forest rang with the sound of the answering laughter.
A/N- Merry Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza/Yule/etc, unaccompanied_g! I hope you liked this. For your final prompt, the fairytale one, it seemed like you were going with Disney films, so I tried to do one that no one else has done before (as far as I know, and I might be wrong).
For anyone who doesn't understand, this is the USUK version of Disney's Robin Hood, with some changes thrown in here and there from my own artistic license. Arthur hasn't appeared yet, but I hope you can figure out who he'll be! Oh, and Francis is intentionally somewhat OOC. He needs to be in order to fit the role of Prince John, and I do so enjoy having him to use for a punching bag like this. 3
Again, Happy Holidays! Hope you enjoyed! The next chapters should come out pretty quick- this is fun and easy to write.