They had cremated Allan in the middle of the siege of Nottingham castle. They hadn't had the time to bury him, to dig the hole in the ground and fill it up again, to cover it with rocks and mark it with a headstone. And Much regretted not giving his friend that. Burning the outlaw's body like so much refuse tossed into the communal dump because they had better things to do. He felt guilty.
And now they wanted to burn Robin's body as well. Tuck was attempting to explain to the remainder of the gang the merits of cremation as opposed to burial. Kate was nodding in her defiant, tight-lipped way, and Little John was gripping his staff and looking submissive to the monk's will. But Much would not allow it. He simply would not. In that one moment, he wanted nothing more than to sweat and to work. He wanted to dig into the soft earth that Robin had loved so dearly, turning up the soft moss and the fresh black dirt at the foot of the tree where he had watched Robin bury Marian's ring. He wanted to lay Robin in the arms of the tree itself – making up one last bed for his master to lie forever in.
"Much, just try to see it from my point of view," Tuck said suddenly, laying his hand on Much's shoulder and drawing the other man out of his reverie. "Robin was a legend, the burning flame of the English spirit. Don't you think it would be fitting for him to go out in the glory in which he lived? Burning. Burning with a passion that none of us could understand . . ."
"I understood," Much said with a tight, vacant expression.
Tuck raised his eyebrows. "Of course," he amended quickly, as one would to a child whose feelings an adult did not want to hurt. "Of course you did, forgive me. But what I am saying is we have to look at this from Robin's point of view."
"Stop saying that!" Much shouted suddenly, wrenching away from the monk's grip and backing away from the others' incredulous stares. "Don't you think I know? Don't you think I'd know what Robin would want? Well, I do. I know that he'd want to be buried here. In the forest. With his trees and his earth and his . . . his . . ." He stumbled over the words, tears and frustration closing his throat. He pointed at Tuck. "You've been telling us what to do since we took you in! This is your fault, this whole thing! You pushed him into this whole glory of England thing, pushed us all in, and now he's dead. He's dead," Much said again in a strangled voice, the shaking anger gone from his voice. "So now I want you to shut up."
"Much," snapped Kate. "Just stop."
"This isn't the way," Little John stated, eyes on his feet. "Fighting, the moment our leader is dead."
"I'm not fighting anyone," Tuck said softly. "I respect Much's opinion, but . . ."
"But you want this done your way," Much finished, nodding and then shaking his head. "But he's my master, he was my friend before he was anyone else's, and I know what Robin would want."
"He's right," a new voice said from behind Much. They turned to acknowledge Archer, who had walked off into the trees after they had set the bier down to discuss funeral arrangements. Now he stood behind Much, jaw set. "Robin told me about the Holy Land during the siege. He told me about Much, about his service and his loyalty. And he communicated to me his wish that Much be placed in a position of authority if anything were to happen to him. We do this his way, Brother Tuck. That is what Robin would have wished."
Much felt his heart swell painfully inside his chest. He turned to Archer, eyes going red all over again. "Thank you," he whispered, gripping the man's hand and forcing a grin. "Thank you."
And so they buried Robin of Locksley, committed his body to the ground that he had defended with his bow and with his life. A subdued Tuck led them in a final prayer, and Much picked up the shovel to fill in the hole. As the clots of earth fell onto Robin's shrouded form, he tried to imagine it was just another blanket he had pulled up over his master's feverish body during Holy War. He tried to imagine it was no different, that Robin would wake up and throw off the blanket and stride around on his long legs with his cheeky look of superiority and mischief. But it was not to be, and Much knew it in his heart, and he covered Robin's face last of all.