Robin was up in a tree when Much finally found him, swinging his legs and leaning back against the bark. He was simply staring up at the sky and smiling like the most content man in the world.
"You'd think you'd get too old to be climbing trees," Much hollered up, squinting through the branches.
Robin laughed. "You would think that, wouldn't you?" With a final swing of his long legs, he jumped out of the tree, landing beside his manservant with a smug expression, reminiscent of when they were children and Robin was about to drag Much into one of his ill-conceived plans. "I know something you don't, my friend."
"Really? Well, I know something you don't," Much replied, folding his arms. "I know that I have been looking for you far and wide all over Locksley. I know that my legs are sore and my breath is gone and I have a stich in my side. . ." Much stopped. Robin wasn't even looking at him. His master was laughing silently up at the branches above them, apparently very amused with something. "What?"
"I was just thinking about how much you will enjoy living it up as the earl of Bonchurch." Robin plowed on despite the glazed look coming over his manservant's face. "Sleeping late in the mornings, eating as much as you wish, bathing every other hour and, best of all, no errant master to chase all over the countryside at a moment's notice."
Much had broken into an astonished grin at some point in the middle of Robin's tirade. "Bonchurch? Me, an earl?" Robin grinned as his friend seemed to settle back and enjoy the scene he imagined. "Lord Much," intoned the manservant happily. "I like that. I like that a lot." Then his expression flickered and the happiness disappeared entirely. "But . . . why? Where are you going? Why won't I be chasing you all over the countryside?"
"That's the thing, isn't it?" Robin winked. "Now you must promise not to tell anyone. I don't think Thornton would approve, or Edward . . . or Marian, even."
"This isn't another one of your 'plans', is it?" Much asked warily. "Because if it is, I'm going to hit you." He raised a fist and brandished it under Robin's nose. "I swear, I will hit you and knock you onto your scheming . . ."
"Relax, Much," Robin lowered his friend's hand gently and took him by the shoulders. Only after scanning Much's face for a moment (and for Much an extremely anxious moment), did he divulge his secret. "This is a plan, my dear friend. The biggest, best plan I've ever come up with. And I'm going to need your help to see it to fruition."
Much groaned. "We're not going anywhere near the Nottingham prison again, are we?"
"No," Robin lowered his voice even further, loving every moment of the suspense. Much, on the other hand, was detesting it. "This is something much, much more daring."
"Just tell me already," the manservant grunted, dislodging himself from Robin's grip, taking a step back. "I don't like that look in your eye and I can't stand not knowing so hurry up and tell me."
"I am running away, Much."
"Running away . . ." Much scoffed. "From what?"
"Not from what, Much, to what. I'm going to the Holy Land. To fight for King Richard. For England." Once again Much was left gaping, and once again Robin hurried along, giving no indication he had seen his friend's dumbfounded face. "I've made all the arrangements. There's a ship leaving from London the day after tomorrow. I'm all packed, my sword is sharpened, and all I need is the help of a friend to get me out without Thornton or Edward – or Marian – noticing."
"You want me to help you run away to the Holy Land," Much repeated. Upon Robin's solemn nod of affirmation, he exhaled loudly and shook his head. "No. I won't do it. It's dangerous. Master, what are you thinking? Do you realize how many people die out there? In the heat and . . . and sand . . ." He shook his head again and fell silent, unable to even comprehend the other dangers and discomforts awaiting his master across the ocean. "No. I won't."
Robin blew out his lips and looked heavenwards. "You know, you always do this."
"Throw cold water," complained Robin, indignation scrawled all over his features. "You just . . ." He threw up one arm and let it drop again. "You never just go along with it. You always have to make such a big deal of everything. Every little thing!"
"Little?" sputtered Much. "You call running away without your guardian's permission or knowledge to fight in another country's war in a godforsaken desert against heathen barbarians little?"
"Look. All I want is for you to help me. Just make sure the horses are ready tomorrow morning and make up a reason why I'm not at Locksley. Keep up the pretense until the day after tomorrow, by which time I should be safely on my way." Robin paused, biting his lip at Much's stubborn face. "I could be ordering you to go along with me! And what would you say then, Much, eh?"
"So instead you cart me off to Bonchurch Lodge and expect me to sit peacefully and accept your bribery –"
"Yes, bribery. You are only giving me Bonchurch because you know I would not help you in something so ridiculous otherwise, and that even if I did help you I would want to come with you. Unless I had prospects here. In Locksley. You want to cage me up and tie me down so I don't follow you."
Robin, laughing now with incredulity at Much's statement (which in actuality hit too true to the mark for comfort), turned and began making his way down the hill. "I thought you would be happy for me," he shouted over his shoulder. "I thought I could count on you, Much."
"You can, to make sure you don't get into trouble," Much shouted back, making no move to follow. Robin didn't answer, and Much turned to the trunk of the tree. "Damn you, Robin," he whispered in frustration, and slammed his fist into the tree bole, then shouted when he bruised his knuckles.