A Case of Mistaken Identity
by Ness Ayton
I was clearing out some scraps of writing and came across this short story which I'd forgotten I'd written, based on the fact that Michael Praed appeared in "Carousel", and here it is.
Leaving the sounds of clashing metal far below Robin followed the strangely garbed figure. Dressed predominantly in white, the man beckoned him ever onward and he obeyed meekly until, at last, he came to a high wall. Set in the red brickwork was a gate made from a material unfamiliar to the young outlaw. It shimmered in the pure clear light that was all around them; blues, pinks and whites all swirling together.
Beside the gate an old man sat on a log with a basket at his feet. As Robin watched, the equally strangely clad man picked an object out of the basket and started to clean it. The outlaw realised, with surprise, it was a star that the ancient was handling so carefully.
His guide crossed over and stood behind the old man while Robin looked round curiously.
"Where am I?" he asked at last. The old man looked up at him.
"You're in the backyard of heaven," he replied and waited for the reaction. As none was forthcoming he continued, "And those are the back gates – the mother-of-pearly gates, you know." He eyed Robin seriously, breathing on the star and giving it a final rub.
The outlaw looked perplexed, knowing that a response was expected of him but unsure of what to say.
"That's nice," he ventured finally.
The old man turned and handed the star to Robin's guide.
"Be an angel and hang the star up for me, Jonathan."
The younger man took the shiny object and made his way over to where several silver threads hung down from the blue above.
"No not there, a little further north," the old man instructed him.
His task completed, Jonathan returned to his place at the old man's shoulder and whispered something in his ear. Abruptly the ancient bent, picked up a large book and glanced sharply at Robin who had been watching all this in silence.
Thumbing his way through until he came to the page he wanted, he then cleared his throat and advanced a couple of paces towards the outlaw.
"Now my boy, I have to ask you this. Is there anything you've left undone on Earth?"
"Oh yes!" Robin started eagerly. "The poor still have to be fed; the oppressed, freed; the greed of the bishops and abbots, diminished; Belleme, defeated; the forests given back to all; the king made to see sense; Nasir returned to his own land; Will to find peace in his heart; Much to grow up; John to return to his flocks; Tuck to find sanctuary; Marions' father restored to his lands….." He stopped to draw breath before continuing his catalogue of wrongs to be righted.
"Oh shut up; that's quite enough. I know we have oodles of time up here but we don't have all day!" The old man was firm and Robin bowed his head in shame at his un-natural garrulousness. The Starkeeper eyed him sympathetically for a moment and then laid a kindly hand on the young man's shoulder.
"We do have a small problem, son," he confessed. Robin glanced up at him but could see no sign of Herne in the ancient's face.
"Yes?" he prompted, puzzled.
"Well, you see, you haven't really done enough good to get in you know; even through the mother-of-pearly gates."
"Oh I know," Robin sighed sadly. "I have tried, but it hasn't been enough."
The quiet acceptance caused the old man to step back in surprise. He had obviously been expecting an entirely different response.
"Well, I must admit, you seem to be taking all this remarkably well," the ancient observed.
"Only because I'm rather surprised to be here," Robin admitted. "After all I did worship Herne not God."
"Herne? Is he still going?" Jonathan asked.
"Yes, he is," Robin retorted. "Well, at least, I followed and did his bidding."
"All gods are one, my son."
"I accept that," the outlaw murmured.
"So let's get on with it, shall we?" the old man said, consulting his book.
"When you committed suicide…."
"Yes, I suppose I did."
"You left behind a wife and daughter."
"A wife and daughter…"
"You mean Marion's…..?"
"Marion?" The old man shot him a quizzical look, consulted his book again and then passed over the anomaly. Meanwhile Robin had fallen into a reverie and was looking over a starry bridge down onto the world below.
"Do you want to go back for twenty four hours and try to do some good?" the old man asked gently.
Robin watched as a blond haired youth kissed Marion tenderly and with love. He shook his head.
"No," he whispered. "She has Albion, life down there has moved, there's nothing I can do now."
The Starkeeper shrugged.
"It's your choice, Billy boy."
"Billy?" The outlaw swung round on the old man. "Billy?"
"Well, that's your name isn't it?"
"No? You're not Billy Bigelow?"
"Sorry, I'm not."
"Jonathan you've got the wrong one!" The Starkeeper hit his assistant over the head with his book. "In that case who are you?" he demanded of the young outlaw.
"Robin? Delighted to meet you, my boy. But you should have gone in through the front gates."
"Oh yes, certainly you should. Jonathan do the honours, please."
As the Starkeeper's assistant led Robin around the wall the young outlaw could hear the old man muttering about not being able to get the right help these days and grinned.