"DJaq," Allan instructed, handing another coin to his mate, "get us bread. Cider if they have it," he inclined his head to the child, "wine if they have not. We shall be here, waiting."
DJaq did not like the idea of walking away when things had just gotten most-interesting, but she saw the necessity in his request, and hurried along to buy the modest provisions with all haste.
"Have you brought your other men?" Johannah asked, herself as curious to have her questions answered as he was to have her ask them.
"My men?" Allan balked.
"Well, the Turk has lived, yes?"
"Lived?" he asked, his mind finally catching her train of thought. "Oh, right. The mercenaries in Nettlestone. Yes. The Turk, that is, DJaq lives. All live. We got clean away."
"I was not sure but that only you would come."
"Aye. To rescue the lady."
"And why would you think that? Me come, alone, to Portsmouth?" He had, after all, never been one to chase after trouble. Rather, one to run in the calculated opposite direction of it.
"She gave me this, she did. The lady." Johannah reached her hand in among her ragged layers and produced a patch of lace that would have been spotless and fresh, had her own dirty hands not so recently had the use of it. Still, its provenance was unmistakable.
"That is Nottingham lace," DJaq announced from over Allan's shoulder, having returned with the foodstuffs.
Allan spun his head about so that they might share a significant look.
"Where is Marian?" he asked Johannah, no longer bothering, even, to verify that Marian was the lady in question.
"Now sing it back to me, quickly," Marian had told the child. "Allan, fair Allan..."
Johannah did as she was told, fumbling over very few of the short song's rather bawdy lines.
Again, Marian cast about the carriage for something she might leave with the child, a payment, but also a marker, something to prove that it was she who had been here, not possibly another. Something recognizable, connected to her. Something Gisborne and the Sheriff would not notice was missing.
She had no money, no rings or jewelry that had not already been stripped from her to join the coffers of the Black Knights' treasure.
If only she had a shire flower, or paper and ink to craft a note-Robin's ring, as had worked so well in the past. She had to close her eyes at that thought, lest she be distracted from the matter at hand. Robin, his loss, to be buried away to mourn another time. Not this time.
She reached her hands (impossible to raise only one) to the side of her neck and the neckline of her gown, where the lace had begun to pull off, causing her skin to itch. She gave a few scratches, tried to get the gown's embellishment to lay flat and trouble her no further, when she had an idea, and instead of settling it, reached to tear it free, those painstaking stitches that had secured it to the fabric easily broken in the brief act of violence and bid for its mistress' freedom.
"Take this," she told the child. "Show it to vouch for my story. You may keep it, Johannah. It will fetch a pretty penny should you choose to sell it. It is the finest Nottingham lace, made of the rarest Oriental thread. From a skein that was a gift from Queen Eleanor, upon the birth of my mother's first child."
"Do you not want it, my lady?" Johannah's face was troubled.
"It will do me little good, I fear, where I am bound." Out of habit, Marian smiled, as though to brighten the grim prospect of her immediate future for the child. "I will leave it with you, here, that you may find better use for it."
"I do not know," the child confessed to Allan.
"But how can you not know?" DJaq's question rang out, bordering on panic. "You have spoken with Marian? You have encountered her here, on the docks?"
"Easy, there," Allan counseled DJaq, worried she might spook the child. He tried a different tack. "What can you tell us, Little One? 'Bout the fine lady wot gave you that lace piece? Were there men with her?"
"She was left alone, in her carriage, here on the wharf. She did not know where she was being taken, or when." She smiled, "but she knew you would come."
He ignored her smile, and the odd belief she had in him, Allan-A-Dale, as valiant rescuer of Lady Marian.
"And that is all?" DJaq struggled to come to terms with disappointed hopes. "There is no code, no message to tell us how to find her, in all this? Among...all this?" DJaq's mind spun at the seeming impossibility of the task she had believed so close to being accomplished.
"She is no longer here, Lady Turk," Johannah added.
"And how would you know that, my girl?"
She spoke of the wharf gossip that never escaped her sharp ears. "The men with her had contracted ahead for a vessel to be readied with Bendick the slaver. They were only here but scant hours before it sailed for the Holy Land."
Allan closed his eyes at the ill news, as though letting it wash over him, a chilly baptism of truth. Marian, gone, taken beyond their reach. He fought against the urge to re-envision her there in the stable, the last time he had seen her, both of them agreed that he was unable to spare time to secure the key, to devote to picking one of the Sheriff's best locks. Surely they had been agreed, he second-guessed himself. Surely. The Sheriff and Gisborne off to effect the killing of the king. Too late, too late he had stood against it. Without Richard, outlawed forever. Without Marian, disfellowshipped forever. And, his mind recalled to him, rightly so.
"Hours? They have sailed?" DJaq asked hollowly for clarification. "On a slaver?" It was all she could do to choke out the abhorrent word.
Allan simply stood, and reached for the child's hand. "Best come with us for now, Johannah, 'got some lads you ought to meet."
"I do NOT understand," Much fussed and fumed, more than one hardened customer of the Widowed Cob casting a wary eye at his high-strung antics. "Lady Marian is not engaged to Allan, she is not in love with Allan. Why should we for one moment believe she has left a message with this child for Allan? When by the girl's own admission she does not even know the name Robin, or Hood?"
"'Could be one of the Sheriff's tricks," John agreed, also slow to believe the child's veracity. "Might be he and Gisborne are lying in wait for us to make sail from here, in hopes of us falling for this tale-that they are already on the water."
"No, Much," Will addressed the first complaint among the mounting number of them, his eye to Robin at the bar, where their leader stood silent, his head inclined toward studying the worn and rubbed wood in front of him, the outrage, disharmony and scent of possible betrayal swirling all about him among his fellows.
Will continued, "She thinks Robin dead, the rest of us done for. She has no family. Sir Edward is dead. Who else might she expect or depend upon to come for her?"
"But the child knew to ask for DJaq," John dissented.
DJaq broke in, "she has said she was told to ask, but to expect Allan would be alone."
"Then why ask for you at all?" Robin himself queried, quietly, his voice not argumentative, but natural in its pitch.
"It was reasonable to think one of us might have gotten away," Will asserted, throwing a smile to DJaq.
"But DJaq?" Much asked, too lost in his fitting to perceive the rudeness with which he expressed himself. "Come on. Of all of us, DJaq gets away? We're dead, laid out on Ellingham's pyre, or our lifeless bodies dragged behind their horses back to Nottingham, or beheaded onto pikes, whatever-and yet DJaq is free, sky-larking in Sherwood? Rallying Allan to throw out all thought to his own safety and go after Marian? Does she even know how to get to Portsmouth?" With that last jibe, Much seemed to recover his senses. "Sorry," he threw to a wide-eyed DJaq, the beginnings of remorse for his unfair assessment of her beginning to dawn on his features.
"And how was the child found?" Robin asked again for clarification.
"She were singing me song, about Tuxfarne Meggie," Allan offered, truly wishing he were not feeling so compelled to speak up.
DJaq took over, knowing it was probably better the less Allan had to speak in this moment. "The words were altered so that it called for Allan, rather than the tavern maid."
Even amidst the heat of this debate, out of the corner of her eye she saw Will stifle a snigger at her polite use of the word 'maid' to refer to the girl in question. Had she been standing near him she would have sent her elbow into his gut. As it were, she let a glare suffice, and found that much like her, he also could not quite swallow down or fully submerge the persistent euphoria (despite all the darkness that circled about them) with which that long night spent believing they would perish with the dawn had left them.
"How can you trust anything he says, DJaq?" John asked, his attitude fully bitter. "Certainly, he plucked us out from Ellingham's mercenaries, but passing us news of Marian as captured saw us leaving the shire without so much as checking to see if she were not tucked up in her bed in the castle."
"For all we know," Much jumped with gusto on John's bandwagon, "the Sheriff and Gisborne are here only to see to finishing us once and for all-or forcing us to sail to the ends of the earth as a way of ridding themselves of Robin Hood-of us-forever, if not for a generous long while."
"I had not thought of that," Will confessed. "A double-bluff? Could it be true, then, that they might even be using Allan as their tool? His return to us genuine, only, his information faulty?" Here his concern began to show. "Anything could be happening in Nottingham in our absence."
Much, Little John and Will exchanged uneasy looks.
Without thought, at this most-recent slam against not only the genuineness of his earlier repentance, but also his skill at information-gathering, Allan weighed in, his eyes sliding across the dissenting trio, trying to will Robin's to look up so that he might see into them to take their measure. "You've all become rather more chummy than I recall. Is DJaq the only one allowed any longer to have and speak her own mind?"
"You have not been with us, Traitor," Much called out, in the absence of Robin's speaking-up, feeling like he had to defend the gang in its leader's silence. "You do not know what we have been through, what we have seen. In what ways we have...evolved as a gang." His words were near-hysterical in their delivery, but also smacking with challenge. Several in the pub, thinking a coming-to-blows was imminent, looked up from their own drinks and games of chance.
"Yeah, well," Allan slipped into old habits where Much was concerned. "If I had-a been there, I woulda voted against a surprise party in Nettlestone Barn. And if I were overruled I would have at least had the good sense to vet the chap roasting the pig, yeah?" He and Much were nearly nose-to-nose, the blind beggar child all that came between them at present.
"Peace!" Robin ordered, his hands gripping the cusp of the bar as he clenched it to lever himself into a full standing position. "Let us consider for a moment what we know to be true. The Sheriff has taken as big of a risk in leaving Nottingham as have we. He would not do so simply to lure us far afield, when his mercenaries had us like fish in a barrel. He would not risk so greatly unless he felt assured of a generous return. Killing the King would yield such a return. Therefore, I take his and Gisborne's actions as related by Allan to be true."
DJaq reached a hand to Allan's shoulder, to remind him that not everyone present was hostile toward him. At her touch, and remembrance of Johannah at his side, he eased back from his confrontation of Much.
Johannah took out the piece of lace, holding it up where the gang could mostly see it in the afternoon's dim tavern light.
At the sight of it, Much, John and Will froze.
Robin looked as though he might tear it from her hands. He shook his head, addressing the little girl. "You see, small Johannah of Portsmouth," he gave her his hand to hold. "The Sheriff would not be clever enough to leave word only for Allan. It would be Robin of Locksley he would have you singing about, and asking for. The man that would marry the great lady you met. The man whose heart she calls her own." His voice took on a grim cast, "a heart she now bears away with her, according to your word, to Palestine, at the mercy of a treasonous, unprincipled troll and his ogre of a lieutenant bent on the unthinkable: depriving a king of his God-given right to rule, by ending his life."
"And so you believe him?" Much interrupted, sputtering. "You believe Allan?"
"She thinks me dead, Much," Robin replied.
"Well, but, she has done so before-many times-believed you dead, and yet you always came for her. Always!"
"Very well, then," Robin agreed, though not echoing Much's deep conviction. "Then let us take Marian's message and marker," he indicated the girl and the lace, "to hold two meanings. The first, that she is alive, and at present being carried far from England against her will, despite her best efforts at escape. The second," here he paused, his eyes resting, finally, on Allan's, whom they had not met up with since first the black sheep had arrived at the tavern. "...the second, that she trusts that, were we dead, passed out of this life, that Allan would come, alone, if necessary, to fetch her. That she trusts in him to do so, at great personal risk, that even alone Marian believes that he would seek passage to follow her." Robin paused in speaking, but did not avert his gaze, it growing more significant as each moment passed. "I do not know everything that came to pass during your time at the castle," said Robin to his former gang member. "But I do know that you never betrayed her. And I know that more than once she has asked me to seek to forgive, and mend the situation between us. I will not second-guess her faith in you now." He barely stopped for breath. "Much," he beckoned to his mate, "we visit Jakob the moneylender. He will advance us the fares, and find us the soonest upcoming passage before day's end."
Robin and Much were gone, without another rumble or stammer out of Much. John and Will set about securing lodging for the coming evening.
DJaq looked at Allan. The others might not see it (certainly none of them were paying attention to him at the moment), but in the apples of his cheeks, just below the wells of his eyes, she saw a tension there, a strain in those usually smooth, so often jolly, muscles.
"Grace and mercy," she said.
"Wot's that?" he asked, "why you swearin'?"
"Grace," she told him, "receiving things one does not deserve. Like Robin's trust. Mercy. Not receiving things one does deserve. Like Robin's censure." She paused a bit, deciding to re-state it more simply, "like what Much would like to see you get."
He did not reply. She did not expect him to. With the child they made their way back to her patch on the wharf. Once arrived there they stopped as Johannah took up her usual post.
"Here," said DJaq, her hand extending him a tag-Allan looked more closely at it-his tag.
"How's this?" he asked, taken completely by surprise.
DJaq's eyes looked up into his. "I went back for it."
"How d'ye mean?"
"Robin, he had...thrown it into the underbrush."
"Oh," Allan said.
"Take it," she encouraged him. "It is yours. It has always been yours."
"Naw," he said, a slight inflection of his tone showing for but a moment that her rescuing of it touched him, "don't think the others would take too well to that, just yet. Got a better idea."
He reached for the broken thong, oddly wary of touching the actual tag, as though it might hold for him a disturbing sense memory of the last time it lay against his skin at The Trip, and bent toward Johannah, knotting the severed cord together again about the child's small neck. "You have it," he told her. "Keep it for me."
"Until you return?" Johannah asked. "I will wait. Everyday I will be here, waiting for you, expecting you. And her," she said, meaning Marian.
"Tell you what," Allan smiled at her, "D'ye know Portchester Castle yonder?" His own eyes cast toward the spit of land on the Northern side of the harbour. "The Norman church, there?"
She nodded. Two of her brothers regularly trolled for coin nearby its steps.
"Wot say you, one day, when you have a chance," he took out two gold coins, pressing them into her palm, "you go in, perhaps, light a candle? Say a prayer? For Robin Hood's men?"
"For Robin Hood's men," she willingly promised him, adding, as she let her hand rest again for a moment on his bared wrist. "For Allan-A-Dale."
He rose quickly at her calling out of him in particular, attempting to avoid eye contact with DJaq, whose curiosity in his potential reaction was obvious even from the set of her foot against the boards of the dock.
DJaq turned to follow his back as he walked away, craning her neck slightly to call over his shoulder, "it will be a great long time, Allan, before we are returned, you know. It is a trip of...considerable distance."
"Ah," he scoffed at her inference. He did not turn back to answer her, so that she could not see the brief shadow still upon his face from the child's words. "Might as well visit her a church every now and again, mightn't she? What's a blind beggar child got to do, after all, with her time?"
"What, indeed," agreed DJaq, smiling, her tone warm with knowing, with understanding, and far from gloating.
They spoke little after, all her breath necessary to keep up with him and not lose him and the reassuring shade of his tall back in the scurry and kerfuffle that was Portsmouth.
A/N:Hopefully, the song the title is taken from works in two ways: Without Allan (after all, she has been told, and perhaps come to believe, that Robin is dead), Marian 'goes' to the far distant unknown. And without Marian's faith in him as Robin interprets it, Allan 'goes', far from the fellowship and trust of his mates-that which means most to him in all the world.
"This is hard to say, but as I wandered through the lea,
I felt for just a fleeting moment that
I suddenly was free of being lonely.
Then I closed my eyes and saw the very reason why.
I saw a man with his head bowed low
His heart had no place to go
I looked and I thought to myself with a sigh:
There, but for you, go I
I saw a man walking by the sea
Alone with the tide was he
I looked and I thought as I watched him go by
There, but for you, go I
Lonely [people] all around me, trying not to cry
'Till the day you found me, there among them was I
I thought as I thanked all the stars in the sky
There, but for you, go I." - Lerner & Lowe's Brigadoon