A steady stream of rain fell across the battlefields. Every destroyed house, pillaged village and desolate body, almost cleansed in that lulled downpour.
But the war was far from over.
This eerie silence could come from only one thing. Death. The death of a hero. And with him, the death of hope.
One man remained, running desperately towards the outer edge of Sherwood Forest. Every movement burned with agony. The agony of his wounds as well as the agony of what he had just witnessed. Each rasping breath felt like daggers tearing at his throat but the voices behind him kept him running. The blood pumping in his ears resulted in their words being distant and vague. But occasionally he could make out the threats. Wavering for a mere moment meant death but all he wanted to do was crumple upon the forest floor and welcome it.
But something made him continue. The will to find others. With this in mind he sprinted perilously onto that familiar path.
The rain suddenly worsened, wind roaring until it was practically screaming. Every tree seemed near to tearing up from their roots and soaring on high. The force of the wind sent the poor man almost flying sideward as he dodged countless parts of the undergrowth that were sent flying with the wind. And the storm raged on. The thunder was close behind, creating that ever echoing banging. Anything and everything seemed set on stopping this man. But still he ran.
His vision was blurred with both raindrops and his own tears but somehow he made out that familiar waterfall. He had arrived. Not a moment was spared thinking of the possible danger. Surely people would be waiting. But he cared not and rushed on. Already he saw that rocks had been thrown away as the small opening was now a gaping chasm. Enough to fit an army through.
The next evidence of a struggle was obvious. The entire camp had been destroyed. For so many years, this space had harboured countless outlaws, all fighting for that desperately sought justice. And now it was nothing. Burnt down cabins swayed in the wind, daring a single gust to topple them down. Such wreckage was utterly devastating. It was once a home, a livelihood. Now it was nothing. Smoke still rose from embers before the rain could fully destroy them.
It took everything he had not to crumple down onto the forest floor. A slight amount of movement was maintained as he stumbled across camp. Even as he watched, the few upstanding foundation swayed in the wind, one completely giving way and collapsing, joining the rest of the rubble. It brought him to his senses a little. Staggering backward, he near tripped over the remains of what looked to be a large club. Bending down to pick it up, his fingers stroked the small-carved symbol, drawn at the bottom. A great force had near snapped the whole thing in twain. And there was blood. Some crusted deep into the grooves of the wood. Some dripping onto his hands. Precious few things had been left behind. The remains of a wooden box lay nearby, the lid still slightly clinging to the hinges. His fingers ran over that familiar floral engraving. A nearby tankard had obviously been trampled. The handle had clear been snapped away. But one could still make out that familiar shape. That of a lion. A broach sparkled slightly in the light of dusk. One single jewel remained, glowing red, almost like blood. It was severely cracked and covered in dirt.
Stopping down, his hand found two final items. The first was a leather band, matching the one secured around his own wrist. This however was torn apart, obviously pulled with force from the wrist of another. There was no way of knowing from whom. His other hand grasped upon a small silver ring, the blue stone still intact. It was then the tears threatened to cascade.
And suddenly, everything was real.
He was gone. They all were.
Somehow, he found it within him to leave that place. At that point he was little more than a shadow, gaiting about in a state of sheer confusion. He had no control. His body may have been moving step by step, but his mind was numb to everything. And he didn't care in the slightest. It wasn't as if he had anywhere to go. They would find him soon. And he too would be killed.
From somewhere across the trees, a voice could be heard. "Allen," it bellowed. Turning, he saw that familiar dark-skinned face running towards him.
There was still so much danger of collapsing and Will clutched him by the shoulders. All Allen could was mumble, "they're gone Will. They're all gone."
Wits were yet to leave Will as he refused to show emotion. "Get to the Church now! Friar Tuck can help."
Allen's objecting murmurings were cut off by distant shouting. "He went this way! Quick! We can still gut the bastard!"
Will stared unblinkingly at Allen. "Go!" he said, with such force that the other instantly obeyed. In almost a blink of an eye, Will was gone. He ran back to greet the voices. To give his friend a head start. Allen quickly heard the sound of metal clashing and something inside him awoke, spurred on by the sound of Will's cries. Fumbling at his belt, he realised that he had lost his sword. A quick reach to his back proved that he had also lost his quiver. Not that he had a bow anyway. And not so much as a stone to throw. He was completely and utterly defenseless.
And suddenly there was silence.
He stood stock still, listening for something. Surely, if Will had become victorious he would call out. His stomach dropped with the realisation. And then the voices began. Through a pant, someone spoke, "Search everywhere. Find any others. Go!"
Allen stumbled back, trying desperately to be silent. The shock of it was weighing heavily and he wasn't thinking straight. Multiple cracks of breaking twigs came from his movement and footsteps began to pound against the mud.
With the sound of a drawn bowstring, it was all over.
"Allen A. Dale," a voice said and Allen turned to face their leader.
He paused, trying to place the face. But he didn't say anything. Words were far beyond him. Something about that cruel face was familiar. His graying hair was plastered down with the rain but nothing could hide those sharp features. His eyes conveyed so much, mainly the malicious joy of victory. But there was something else there too. Fear.
"What? Nothing to say?" the man dismounted and strode towards Allen. "No pleas? No begging? Well this is no fun. Come on. Be the coward I know you are. Just like your friends. Do you want to know how they begged? Each and every one of the Merry Men I saw killed were exactly the same. All whimpering. All terrified."
"Lord Frederick," Allen muttered, more to himself as he came to the realisation.
"You know of me?' he said with pride.
"All that talk of begging and whimpering brings back the memories," Allen said, with the faintest hint of a smile.
Lord Frederick responded with a sharp blow to his lower stomach. And then another. "It was on the very road you know! It was here that you robbed me. And then you laughed. You had the nerve to laugh! At me! You and that, Robin Hood. Well look at where you are now! Who's laughing now?"
And with that Allen felt a sudden burning in his side. Looking down, he saw the hilt of a dagger. And blood. His own blood. "I've waited too long for this," Frederick whispered in his ear. "My only regret? Not being able to do the same to your precious leader. But no matter. He got what was coming to him. Like all of you filthy dogs. You did this. You did this to England. I hope you enjoyed watching her burn. And now? Now it is time for a new age! An age where power shall be with those who really deserve it. Power to me! Power to-"
He stopped suddenly, his eyes wide in shock. Taking a few steps backward, everyone could blatantly see the arrow protruding from his chest. This was quickly joined by another. And then another.
His eyes were still wide as he opened his mouth in astonishment, clearly trying to say something. But only blood came out. And then he fell forward, making the figure behind him apparent. The figure had his hood pulled high, so no one could quite make out who it was. But such aim made the group of men uneasy. "It can't be," one muttered and for a moment, Allen's heart soared. But he knew his best friend and could tell by the stance alone that this was not him. The others seemed set on the assumption as well and advanced, all branding weapons. Whoever it was, they were completely outnumbered. But he did not show the slightest hint of worry. In a flash he sent out countless arrows around the group and more men fell to the ground with grunt and yelps of pain. The ones spared paused in panic, a fatal mistake. They too were shot.
Allen was struggling to remain upright. He could feel blood gushing from his wound and began to wonder if this was it. He was strangely accepting. Looking up, he saw the figure had approached him. "You?" he said in shock.
And then his eyes closed.
When he awoke, the pain hit him instantly. That sudden twisting and burning almost sent him straight back into unconsciousness. The rain continued. And now there was darkness. Struggling into a seated position, he found his wound had been partially tended to. He had also been dragged deep into undergrowth, hidden almost completely.
He knew that he had to continue on, despite how the forest blurred with the pain. Nausea came also and each step seemed to take an age.
One phrase remained in his mind, "Friar Tuck."
There was no way of telling how long the journey back to Nottingham lasted. But once again, to stop meant death. So he continued on, clinging desperately to trees for support. The rain that still pelted down now seemed a blessing as it kept him slightly alert. A particular briery branch caught the flesh of his hand and tore. The deep gash that ensued saw him clutching at his hand, wondering in amazement how anything could possibly add his accumulated pain. The universe was a horrid thing. But he had no time to dwell on this. He didn't care anyway. Only one thing mattered.
Finally, Nottingham came into view. Or at least, what remained of it. The fires of war still burned.
The swaying began again, daring him to lose conciseness. But he was so close. That desperation and drive caused him to stumble onward to the Church. He near rejoiced as his fingers brushed against those solid wooden doors. And with a great push, he forced them open with a bang.
The crash caused quite the bang, startling the monk knelt at the altar. He turned, lowering his hood and something about Friar Tuck's familiar face made everything seem real.
"They're dead," Allen whispered. "They're all dead."
The last thing he remembered was the look on the monks face. That mixture of confusion and horror.
And then the pain, shock and exhaustion took over and Allen collapsed onto the cold stone floor.
Time is a fickle thing. Allen had no idea of how long he simply lay in that numb state. He could have sworn it was years. Decades.
There was nothing he could do. To leave meant death. But what could he do in hiding?
And besides, he had no wish to leave. Venturing outside meant for the return of reality. Reality stated that his best friend was a traitor. Reality stated that his friends were dead.
But as days turned to weeks. And weeks dared to turn into months, those four walls seemed to enclose upon him.
So finally, he saw the quill. And he the parchment.
And so he wrote.
Robin Hood was the greatest man I have ever known.
He died a hero.
This is our story