The Healer and the Thief

Part 1: Nottingham

The small picturesque town of Nottingham was uneasily quiet, as it rested near the trees of Sherwood Forest. Smoke billowed up toward the blue skies, from small cooking fires in the various homes, as the daily lives of the peasants continued for another day. But for one woman in particular, this was no normal day. This would be the last day she saw her home, the last day she could call herself 'free'.

The woman's name was Josephine. She was the town's healer. A nurse for the sick and weary, she used medicinal herbs to aide her patients. Today her clinic was unusually busy, with people complaining of headaches and sore muscles. She responded with the right herbs for the pain, and a bit of good advice. "And try to rest for a while." She would add, as the patient left to return to their home.

Later in the day, around dusk a man rushed in, frantic and bearing an expression of great concern. Upon seeing the healer, he quickly approached her. "Josephine! The sheriff, he's on his way here." He warned, in a rushed tone of voice. "He said he'd arrest you, and any who tried to help you!" The man's eyes were wide, as he told her the news.

Josephine looked into the man's eyes. He was telling the truth! She then looked to her many more patients. "My friends, return to your homes!" She announced. "I will see you all, tomorrow." With that she thanked the man for warning her, and left out of the front door – but it was too late!

The sheriff, as the man had warned, had come to the clinic, accompanied by several soldiers, some bearing lit torches. The burly, arrogant man sneered, and gave a crooked yellow smile. "Josephine Anna Jameson." He addressed the woman.

"Aye." She raised a narrow eyebrow, as she replied. "Can I help you?"

"You are under arrest, by decree of Prince John, for the use of witchcraft." He announced, reading from a scroll, which he then quickly rolled back up, afterward, facing her, as his smile dropped into a serious expression, almost a glare. "Please come quietly, or we'll use force."

She looked toward the soldiers, a few of whom she had helped with her 'witchcraft'. She then faced the sheriff, with her dark grey irises. "What proof do you have of witchcraft, sir?" She asked, looking him in the eyes.

"Proof?" He retorted. "Look around you! People come here, sick and almost dying, and come back, fit to work the next day." He observed. "That ain't right." He concluded, locking eye contact with the woman.

"And what's not right about it, sheriff?" She questioned, still keeping her place, arms crossed, on the wooden front steps of her clinic.

At this the sheriff became enraged, as he handed a torch to the soldier standing next to him. "Burn it!" He commanded.

As the soldier moved to carry out his order, Josephine moved to block him. "No!" She knocked the torch from his hand, landing it in the mud, as it was immediately extinguished.

"You dare keep a man from his orders?" The sheriff sneered, again showing his tobacco-stained teeth. "Arrest that woman!" On these words, several of the soldiers closed in to take her into custody, to the protest of several men and women.

"Free her! She has done nothing wrong! She has cured us! Free her!" The peasants shouted and yelled at the men, as Josephine walked behind them, in shackles. She forced a smile, as she faced the peasants. "Do not worry, friends. I'm sure this is merely a misunderstanding." She assured them, as the soldiers escorted her, all the way to the castle.

The castle was immense, being the home of the royal family, and so the way to the king's throne room was relatively long, especially for the healer, as she was still chained. Her expression was one of determination, as she tuned out the myriad of insults spat at her by the sheriff and the soldiers. Once they finally arrived in the throne room, they were greeted by the sight of Prince John, sitting on the throne of his brother, King Richard. The prince smiled, as he commanded. "Bring the prisoner forward."

"Aye sir." Replied the sheriff, as he motioned for the soldiers to present the Prince with the healer. She was walked toward the throne, and as she refused to bow to him, she was roughly and violently shoved to his feet, with a soft grunt of pain.

"Does the prisoner know what she is here for?" Prince John asked, watching the woman.

Josephine was silent, as the sheriff replied. "Aye sir, witchcraft."

Prince John smirked. "Yes, witchcraft."

At this, Josephine raised an eyebrow, now a bit confused. She finally spoke. "Are you to tell me that I am here because I use plants at my clinic?" She was immediately struck down by the sheriff's heavy hand. "You will speak when spoken to, wench."

"Now, now Sheriff no need to be harsh with the girl." Prince John protested, sarcastically. "And to answer your question, girl, you are here because you have broken the law of King Richard."

"And what law might that be, O Prince?" Josephine returned, glaring toward the corrupt leader.

"The use of witchcraft and sorcery is strictly forbidden, by King Richard. And you have been found guilty of such." He concluded. "Now, your sentence is to spend three nights at the stocks, and afterward be hanged from the neck, until dead." He paused for a moment. "That is, unless you'd like to do me a favor." He continued, smiling in a most perverse way.

Josephine cringed slightly, before giving her reply. "I'd rather die." She said, quite truthfully.

The Prince scowled. "Well, that can certainly be arranged." He looked from the prisoner to the soldiers. "Guards, take the prisoner to the stocks, and make sure she doesn't escape. I have plans for Miss Josephine Jameson."

With the 'trial' over, Josephine was then escorted to the center of the little town, and released from her shackles, only to be imprisoned in the wooden stocks, to be mocked by the sheriff and his posse. During all of this, Josephine did not waiver. Instead she prayed that God would forgive them, and that somehow she would get out of this. "King Richard, where are you?" She whispered, as they secured the iron lock. She was silent, as all but one soldier left her to stand in the bent-over position forced on her body by the contrapment.

As the moon rose in the night sky, the soldier who had been keeping guard over Josephine began to grow weary. Soon after he began to yawn, another guard arrived, bearing a spear. "I've been sent to relieve you. Get some rest, friend." The first guard nodded, before leaving the post in the care of his replacement. "A little early, but alright." He shrugged, as he picked up his spear, and left.

After he was sure the soldier had indeed left, the second soldier smiled softly. "Idiot." He then turned to Josephine, who was still quite awake, unable to doze off, in her current position. "Are you awake?" He whispered, hoping not to draw the attention of anyone who may be watching. She tilted her head a bit, doing her best to face him. "What do you want?" She demanded.

"To help you." He replied, holding up a set of small iron keys. "I know you're not guilty, and what the sheriff and Prince John are doing is wrong, if not blasphemous." He continued. "I know you can escape from them." He assured her.

"How?" She asked, now interested.

"By going into the forest." He concluded. "If you enter Sherwood Forest, they're sure to loose your trail." He explained. "The last of the sheriff's dogs died, a few weeks ago. Without them, you're sure to escape."

"But escape to what?" She returned. "This is my home." She concluded. "The only place I've ever known."

"Would you rather stay here, and be hanged?" He asked, holding the key to her freedom.

She was silent, as she thought for a moment. "Do I really have a choice?" She returned, facing him.

"No, not really." He concluded, as he unlocked the stocks, releasing the healer. She immediately stood up, stretching, before turning to her savior. "Thank you. I owe you my life."

"Go! Before someone sees." He urged, still whispering. And with that, she ran to the clinic, hurriedly packing a small sack with the essentials, before heading out of the small town of Nottingham, and into the dense trees of Sherwood Forest.

So ends the first chapter of my second fanfic. Please comment, and rate.