The camp was lit up with a pale pre-dawn light, and yet the men were already armed and ready for the task ahead.
Robins execution was set for midday, but their plan meant hat they had to be in place befoe then, to assure their positions. Even now, it would take the better part of the morning to reach Nottingham, even taking the shortcut though Sherwood. John sat and watched as the man filed out of the camp, leaving him behind with those who also had no part in the plan. He glared at the others in te camp, letting them know his frustration, before eventually getting up and grabbing a knife. He stormed across the camp into the woods, shouting about a hunting trip, and knew that the men would be glad to see him go.
He grinned to himself.
Stage one of his plan completed. Now he wouldnt have to worry about the men, knowing that they would not expect him back for the better part of the day. He laughed out loud to himself, and set off towards the village he visited the other day, ready to get the rest of his plan in motion.
Robin grimaced at the ache in his head.
The pain in his side had become a constant companion, and as such, he rarely noticed it, aside fom sharp bursts whn he twisted strangely.
His arms, too, were aching from the position that they had held for the better part of the past few days, aside from when he was given food and water.
None the less, he savoured every moment of it, knowing that he had not long left to do so.
He had accepted that he was going to die, and found a strange comfort in the fact that he could not prevent it. He aso found comfort in that his capture had helped his best friends, and had caused yet another problem for the Sheriff.
He had long since given up on trying to decipher his words or actions during the brief visit he made.
Robin sighed, and glanced up at the tiny sliver of daylight, visible from a small bared window at the top of his cell. He noticed the slight change in colour and realised that it meant dawn had arrived. He shook his head, trying to clear it, he had had a constant headache since he first woke up in the cell, and had figured out that it was from a knock he had taken to the head. None the less, it was unsettling as it had dulled his thoughts and senses considerably.
The fact that he was a hunter and he relied upon his senses made this even more unsettling for him and wanted more than anything to clear the dullness in his limbs, though he knew that it was unlikely to happen. He looked up at the light streaming in, and resisted the urge to shield his eyes.
He would make the most of the time he had left and damn the consequences.
John arrived at the village and was welcomed by a flurry of activity.
His plan was simple. Get a group of men together and get to Nottingham. Just to keep an eye on thing and to lend a hand if need be. He looked around at the seven men accompanying him and grinned. Make that several hands.
He only wanted a few men, and had had to turn down many of the volunteers. The less men they had, the less chance of discovery there was. He accepted the bow and quiver of arrows that he was handed, and put on the floor length, brown cloak they gave him, stashing the bow beneath it and happily discovering that it easily concealed the knife at his waist. Though it was not uncommon for men to carry them, he did not want to draw any attention.
The other men were likewise dressed and armed, though only Arthur carried a bow.
John had discovered most of Robins story and how he came to be in Sherwood Forest, so was happy to be accompanied by what was obviously one of Robins lifelong friends, though he could tell that he had been loved and respected by th entie village. He grinned to himself.
Not bad for someone who had only just reached manhood. He asked if they were ready and was met with nods, yes' and other affirmatives. He set off out of the village, towards Nottingham, sure in the knowledge that his plan was going perfectly, and that he and Robin would be laughing under the oak in Sherwood by sundown.
It was nigh on noon, and John was settld in a position near to the scaffold. He had regulrly been checking on the positions of the men with him for the last half an hour. He once again scanned the crowd, before turnng to face the scaffold again, secure in the knowledge that they were in position.
He looked at the figures stood next to the steps and froze, as one person met his eyes.
"Damn it to high heaven" John cursed, panicked, as the figure started to walk towards him.
"Hello there lad," the man said. "You are the last person I expected to see. After all, outlaws normally avoid huge crowds."
John stared at the man he had known since childhood, and relief swept through him as he gave a rumbling laugh.
"Ya need not worry, my son, the lord does not call upon me to administer undeserved justice, now tell me, why are you hear."
John let out a beath he did not know he had been holding, and motioned to the men with him that all was fine, watching as they settled back into their positions. He marveled for a second at how they had been so willing to come to his aid, and the speed at which they had done so. He turned back to the man and smiled.
"Hello friar Tuck" he said, using the name by which he was often known.
"Now lad, ya nay be needing to be so formal. Whatever happened to te young boy who called me tucky?" John blushed slightly at this, before his face took on a serious expression.
"I grew up, friar." John looked around, and noticed that the guards seemed to be taking an interest in them. He hastily told the Friar of why they were here. "So friar, I ask you to keep my presence a secret, for not only my safety rests upon this, but also that of many others, who would feel honour bound to come to my aid."
He looked at the friar, waiting for his reaction. He may have been willing to keep Johns presence a secret, but that of countless others, he could not be sure. He need not hav worried, however, as the friar replied.
"John, I have seen many false judgements occur within this land, and many punishments have I seen that were undeserved. You need not ory that I wil betray your secret, in fact, I have a mnd to help you in this venture of yours. I see little enough excitement as it is."
He seemed to think things through for a few seconds.
"Lad. If it be agreeable to you, I will tell this friend of yours that you are here, and to be prepared for trouble. Though I am sure he feels he is in trouble as it is. After all, I do have the ability to administer the last rites, which are often done upon the scaffold."
John could not believe his ears.
"But friar, if you are caught, if they associate you with us... They are already suspiscious of why one such as you is talking to me. They have been looking at us in a manner of interest for some time."
The friar smiled and patted John on the shoulder.
"Then I had best be off. And you need not worry John, the lord is with those who fight for a just cause. This, as I see it, is one such cause to fight for. Things will work out."
He started to make his wa back to the scaffold, talking to one of the guads as he arrived. John was relieved to see their faces lose the suspiscion they had been harbouring and only give him a cursory glance befoe settling into their positions. John barely had time to sigh in relief and motion to the other men that he was fine before the drums began beating.
Robin knew that the crowds would have been growing, and resolved to show no weakness to the people to whom he had become a hero, showing defiance to the Sheriff until the last moment. This, coupled with the acceptance of his coming ordeal gave him the strength to stand on his own when the shackles were removed.
The pain that racked his body nearly made him stumble, but he snarled at the guard who tried to touch him and took tentative steps, pleased to find that his legs could support him. His hands were bound and he was led up through the twsted corridors of the dungeons.
Just before the doors opened to the courtyard, he caught sight of his reflection in a full length mirror.
He did not recognse the person he saw, the young man with defiance in his eyes and apparent through every inch of his body. The bloody shirt he wore, showing his injuries, along with the slight limp showed how much pain he was in, and yet he refused to bow to it. The indifferance on his face, the dirt on his skin. He looked like a survivor, a man.
Someone who was worthy of the title Hooded Bandit.
Someone who was worthy of being called a hero.
He straighted his pose, ignoring the pain, and turned to face the daylight as the doors opened.
He was not aware of much during the walk to the scaffold, only focusing on keeping one foot in front of the other. The short climb nearly sapped him of his strength and will, so much was the agony from his aching body, but he managed it. He managed it and stood up straight. He saw the awed expressions on peoples faces, the respect, the sorrow.
He ignored those from Nottingham, focusing on the villagers, the peasants, those who knew him an respected him. He saw his defiance reflected onto them, and a sense of pride washed over him.
He was barely a man, but he had done this. He turned towards the friar stood to his left and had to work hard not to look surprised as he heard what the man said.
"Be ready, the men are here." He turned to the friar, shock in his eyes, and just managed to catch his last words,
"John was right, you are special."
Robin fought to keep his expression unchanged.
John? The men? They would risk this? For him?
The thoughts swirled around in his head, and he once again cursed the dullness of his mind. He needed to think straight.
He had no time left to think on this, however, as the hangman lifted a noose to tie around his neck. He never managed it.
Robin heard a familiar twang and saw the executioner fall to the floor, grasping his leg, coverd in blood with an arrow protruding from it. The four guards at the foot of the scaffold followed moments after and all hell broke loose. Screams rent the air and Robin felt his wrists being freed.
He turned to find Will stood behind him.
"John has a bow for you," he shouted hurriedly, "He is with others from your village, but the rest of the men don't know he's here. I'll give you the details later." He looked at Robin's injuries. "Time for us to save you, eh brother?"
He grinned and swung to intercept a guard that had reached the scaffold. Robin heard his name bieng called and stumbled towards the edge of the platform to where John was waiting. He took the bow and jumped down to the ground, crying out in pain as agony ripped his side. He looked down to see that it had begun to bleed again, and looked at John in despair.
"I cant fight like this," he told John, "but I can shoot."
He felt hands grab him and tuned to find himself face to face with Arthur.
"No way," John told him, "We didnt go through all thi to see you die from blood loss."
He turned to Arthur and the two men next to him.
"Take him." he said, and ran to support Will, who was fighting two guards with a sword he had stolen from one of the guards who had been shot.
Robin only had tme to see him stoop to grab a sword from another fallen guard before Arthur started to help him away. They reached the edge of the courtyard with little trouble, but by then, the place was empty aside for the guards and the men.
He turned to Arthur.
"They need help, they are outnumbered."
He saw the determination in Arthurs eyes and knew that he had to convince him.
"Arthur, We cant get away, we'll get caught with me this slow. I can shoot, you know I can. I can help." He saw Arthurs resolve waver and pressed on. "Arthur, they're my friends."
He head Arthur groan and knew he had won. Arthur told the other two men to help and helped Robin to a stack of crates.
After making sure he was okay to stand, he ran off to join the fight, leaving Robin to his own work.
Robin took an arrow from the quiver John had given him, and was momentarily worried that his aim would be off, but he need not have feared. The moment he notched the arrow, his head cleared and he felt the dullness in his mind seep away. He fired the first arrow and saw a guard fall.
He fired again... and again... and again.
Whenever he fired a guard fell.
Their numbers quickly diminished, as man after man collapsed to the floor. By the time they had realised who the real threat was, the men had the upper hand and had nearly reached the entrance.
Robin reached for another arrow and was dismayed to find that he had only three left.
He fired one, hitting a guard that was just about to stab one of the men in the gut, and was just about to fire another before he felt a hand tug on his shirt.
He spun around, preparing to fire, but was relieved to find Will looking up at him.
He flinched as Robin span but let out a relieved sigh as he lowered the bow.
"Come on, time to go." Robin jumped down, and nearly collapsed as another burst of pain racked his body.
Will, however, caught him before he reached the ground and helped him make his way over to the entrance to the courtyard.
He realised that the men had finally reached the entrance and were waiting for him.
They had just begun to pass beneath the arch when the gate began to fall.
Robin realised that a few of the men had been situated on the wall and had pulled the lever to close the gate when the men were near enough to pass under it. Nearly all of them had passed beneath the arch, though Robin could see that many of them had injuies and some were being nearly carried by their comrades. John was one of the last to pass through, but was hindered by one of the guards.
He soon fought him off, leaving Robin wondering where he had learned to use a sword, and ducked under the gate, just missing the sharp metal points on the bottom. Robin saw several guards running for the gate house, obviously intending to open it.
"Get back" he shouted to the men on the wall, who immediately saw the danger and used a rope to slide to the ground, using thick gloves to avoid burns. They had just reached the ground when the guards reached the rope. Robin told Will to let go and pulled another arrow from the quiver, letting it fly and severing the rope so no guards could follow.
The men took off, through the streets of Nottingham.
Several grabbed horses from the stables, helping thir injured comrades to ride.
No-one stopped them and they made it to the entrance of Nottingham in a matter of minutes. Will and John had helped Robin onto a horse and had mounted their own, riding swiftly through the town. Robin had stopped to grab a piece of parchment and had quickly scrawled something on it, not telling Will or John what it said. They had just crosed the bridge when they heard a clatter of hooves, and saw several guards mounted on horses, accompanied by the Sheriff. They had nearly reached the bridge and Robin grabbed the last arrow in his quiver. He jammed on the scrap of parchment and let it fly, severing one of the ropes holding the bridge together.
He was pleased to see the men stop, worried as to what he had done and unwilling to follow. He urged his horse on, and before long they had reached the edge of Sherwood. Keeping to the well worn tracks, they rode the horses to a clearing before getting off and guiding them to a little known stream, where they could rest safely. Robin reached a tree and collapsd against it, gasping in pain as the adrenaline in his body wore off.
In reply to what he had written on the parchment, he only said,
"The Sheriffs Nightmare."
The Sheriff was livid. Robin had done nothing to damage the bridge, only play on their fears.
He read the scrap of parchment once more.
"Hello Sheriff, happy hunting. Robin of the Hood".
He scowled and scrunched it up, throwing it to the floor. Robin Hood it was.
Dusk had fallen over the city when a young child picked up the scrap and took it to his father. He read it and laughed, passing it on to his neighbour, and thus the city. Before long, everyone would know of the outlaw, the hero. Robin Hood.