The FiresWithin

 By Virginia Cavazos

Chapter 3

“Now then,” began Robin.  “I think the most important thing we have to do is find out who is setting the fires.”

“Yes, even if it is Prince John. We have to find out who he’s hired,”  Marion cut in.

Robin nodded at Marion’s reasoning. Turning to Will, Robin asked. “Will, this is the land you grew up on. Do you have any idea why the fires are concentrated in the north?”

“I don’t even have to think about that Robin.”  Will returned. “The northern estates  are the richest farmlands in England. Most of what is sold in the markets come from my father’s and  the Beauforte’s estates.”

Robins right eyebrow went up at this new information.  “So Prince John is burning up the richest farmlands.  Why?”   Robin looked to his companions for answers.

“To get the land for himself?”  Little John asked.

Robin shook his head no.  “Then why burn the land? He would be receiving damaged property.”
Little John nodded his head in agreement. Robin was right, Burning the land would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  “Any other suggestions?”  Robin searched into his companions faces.

“I have one,” a small voice hesitantly said.

“What is it, Chloe?”   Robin asked. Robin liked to encourage all to give their opinion.

“Maybe Prince John is using the burning to raise the prices of food?”  She then cursed herself, that was a silly reason.

Robin rubbed his thumb on his chin in thought. “You just might have something there, Chloe,” Robin softly said.

“Yes.”  Will joined in.  “This is near the harvest time. All the crops are ready to be taken in.”

Tuck also decided to give his opinion.  “If Prince John manages to burn all the crops, then he can raise the prices of what is left.”

“And in raising the buying price,” Robins lips curled to a dimpled grin,  “That also raises the taxes being paid.”

All agreed that this was the reason. Robin gave Chloe an admiring look.  Noticing her hesitation before, he softly said to her, “Here in Sherwood, everyone is free to express an opinion. Never be afraid to speak out here.”  He warmly smiled at her. Chloe felt good inside with his kind words. Glancing around, she could see the admiration for Robin in the others eyes. He was a good and kind leader. Something that Chloe was not used to.   Robin rubbed his hands.  “Now we know why, we have to try to stop it.”

All nodded their heads, mumbling their agreement. Robin once again asked  Will’s opinion. Will blushed as he noticed that Robin seemed to be doing that a lot lately.  “Will, where is the best way for a small group to enter the northern woods undetected?”

Will had to pause to reflect on this. He imagined his father’s land,  going over every rock and hill.  “I think it would be best to come in through the east side.  There’s a large thick wooded area there. My father had it left untouched for many years.”  Lowering his voice he added,  “It was to have been mine and my brother’s.”  Will tried to avoid the pity he knew would be in his companions’ eyes.

Robin remained silent for a few seconds, allowing Will’s sadness to pass.  Robin, more than anyone there, knew what dark thoughts were going through Will’s mind.  “Well then,  it’s the untouched forest. We’ll make our way through there.  Hopefully we won’t run into any of the Prince’s men.”  Robin stood up, an indication that the meeting was over.

As Marion stood up she added,  “Hopefully, we’ll run into those arsonists.”

Will pulled a dagger from his bright red cloak. “If we do...”  Will flipped the dagger to the blade edge, throwing it at a tree, its blade buried itself in a knot in the tree.

Robin half smiled at this. His bright brown eyes twinkled.  “Did you do that on purpose?”

“Of course I did.”  Will proudly said.

“Another thing you learned in the pubs?”   Little John joked.

“Actually, it was taught to me by an old stablemaster.”

Robin pursed his lips, nodding at Will. “That could come in very handy.”

Will ran to the tree, retrieving the knife. Running back he held the handle to Robin.
“Think you can do better?”   Little John suppressed a giggle when Will said this.

Robin gave Will an innocent look.  “I’ll try my best.”  Robin softly replied. Taking the knife Robin examined it carefully. Frowning, he looked closely at the blade.

“Is it to large for you Robin?”  Will asked. A smile creased his face. He thought he had found something that he was better at than Robin Hood.  Will’s eyes grew as Robin began to spin the blade in his palm. He then flipped the blade in his fingers several times.

“Oh no.”  Robin shook his head. “Actually it’s too light.”  Robin quickly flipped the blade. the dagger flew towards the tree. As it was in flight, Robin pulled out one of his larger dagger. Throwing it, its flight followed the other. Will’s blade fixed itself deep in the tree. Robin’s knife hit the handle of Will’s knife, splitting the wooden handle.   “See, like I said, too light.”  Robin looked at Will sideways, giving him a wink. Will’s smile of amazement at the shot, changed to a grin of respect.  Robin patted Will on the back.   “Now let’s go, Will. We have to stop those fires.”  Will just shook his head. Robin Hood never failed to astonish him.
 

It didn’t take long for the small band to prepare themselves for the ride ahead. Most were used to readying themselves on a short notice. Will and Chloe were the stragglers.  “Sorry!” Will apologized for the 20th time. He tried to rush tying his bed roll down. His fingers seemed to be in the way.  Little John stepped up to him. Will gladly stepped back, relinquishing to a veteran outlaw. It took but a few minutes for Little John to pack Will’s horse. Will studied John, eager to learn more how to be an outlaw.  As Little John turned he gave Will a satisfied grin.  “I see they didn’t show you how to do that in a pub.”

Will laughed shaking his head.  “No, my large friend. But I’m glad  I have a friend who is willing to show me how now.”

Little John returned Will’s warm laugh. Quickly mounting his horse, Will blushed as the others had been waiting for him. Robin, his arms resting on the pommel of his saddle and suppressing a yawn, said,  “Are we ready now?”

“Ready!”  All chorused.
Robin sat back, taking hold of the  reins he exclaimed.  “Then let’s be off!”  Brushing his heels on his horse’s side, Robin urged his mount on.  His companions followed his lead. The camouflage hiding the outlaw camp was pulled apart. Seven horses rode quickly out of camp; the camouflage was then brought back into place, concealing the camp from the Prince’s mens’ eyes.

They rode hard that day, heading straight north. Will stayed near Chloe’s side. She would glance at Will every now and then, giving him a small smile.  He would return her smile with a wink or a nod. Will began to  feel something strong for this woman. He hoped she was experiencing the same feelings. They had ridden for four hours before Will advised them to ride east. Skirting the
forest’s edge, Will searched for a little-used trail he had remembered from his youth. They had to slow down now, as Will did not want to miss the unknown path. It was as they rode on that they ran into some trouble - trouble in the name of Prince John.

Little John was the first to spot the trouble. Or feel it.  “Wait Robin!”  Little John called out.
Robin pulled on the reins of his gray stallion, pulling the large animal around. He rode back to where Little John was standing, for Little John had dismounted.   “I feel something.”  Little John informed Robin.

“What do you feel?”  Robin asked, bending down, over his horse, so that he could look Little John in the eye.

“Its riders!”  Little John exclaimed.  “Many riders!”

Robin shot up in his saddle. Twisting his body around he shouted out, “Scatter! All of you, there are riders coming!”

The seven split up. Will ended up with Robin. They all hid in the forest beyond the road. They waited in silence for the riders,  that Little John had heard coming. Little John was right, as always. A large group of men were riding down the road. As they came to where Robin and his small band lay in concealment, and then the riders suddenly stopped.  “I want five men stationed here,”  the man in the lead ordered.

Robin gazed at the lead rider. He had seen the man somewhere before. He just couldn’t quite place where. It would eventually come to him. It always did.

Five men split from the group. Giving an order to advance, the others rode on. Robin guessed that there were at least thirty men in this group. Hopefully Prince John was cheap enough to pay off only these thirty.  The men that stayed behind began to make camp.

“Great!”   Robin thought. The others were hiding across the road. He had to think of a way  to distract the men. Robin gave Will a sly look.  “I hear you hung around pubs a lot.”  Robin whispered. Will nodded, he had no idea what Robin was up to.  “Think you can remember how it felt to be drunk?”  Robin gave Will a half smile. Will’s eyes sparkled with understanding.

Thaddeus was left in charge. He made sure he was going to do a good job. His
future in the Prince’s army depended on this.  “Stevens!”  Thaddeus bellowed. A young black haired man stepped up to the Corporal.

“Yes sir.”   He saluted the Corporal.

“I want you to set up camp here. We’re to keep any man from entering the Scatlocke’s or Beauforte’s estates.”

Stevens clicked his heels in a salute. He turned to follow his corporal’s orders. Thaddeus was about to remove his bedroll from his saddle when he heard the most horrible singing he had ever listened to in his life. Glancing around, trying to find where the ear splitting sound came from, he saw two men, staggering up the road towards him. They seemed to be having a hard time
holding each other up. One dressed all in red, lost the battle.  Falling to the ground, he landed on
his face. The other, left standing was also experiencing trouble from following his companion.

“What are you men doing here?” Thaddeus yelled out.

The standing man’s long brown hair hung in his eyes. His head jerked to try to find who was yelling at him. With his eyes half open, the man stumbled towards the Corporal, stopping himself so suddenly he rocked back and forth on his heels. Turning, he returned to his companion, stooping down he helped his drunken friend up. Each giggling made there way to the Corporal - or tried to make there way, as they kept giggling and falling on themselves. Thaddeus decided to walk towards the drunken pair. Otherwise he would have waited all day for them to reach him.

“Answer me, man.” Thaddeus grabbed the long haired man by his black tunic.  “What are you doing here?”

The long haired man pulled himself up next to the corporal. Giggling again he made a mock salute to the corporal.  “Sorry, your worshipfullness,” the man slurred.  “But me and me pal ‘ere
were just walkin back ‘ome. We meant no ‘arm I assures you.”  Another barrage of giggles followed after.  The man in red stayed sitting on the ground, nodding his head vigorously.  His head then fell flat on his back. He moaned out loud.  “Ooo, Egbert, better not tries that again.  I think I’ll bring me lunch ups if I keep doin’ that.”

Egbert gave the man on the ground an angry look.  “That’s all right, ‘ortense!”  Egbert stressed the name.

“Stevens!”  Thaddeus screamed out. The private flew to his commanding officer’s side.

“Yes sir.” Stevens saluted.

Egbert saluted Thaddeus, repeating “Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” as he hit his hand on his forehead for the third time he fell to the ground next to his companion. Moaning he said. “Ohh, I sees wot you means, ‘ortense.”

Thaddeus was furious. He screamed for the other men. They would need help picking up the two drunken men.  All five men tried to lift the drunken pair. The men were having a difficult time with the two intoxicated men  hanging loosely in there grip.  “That tickles.” Hortense twitched in two of the men’s grip. The other three had Egbert.  His head fell back. The long hair parting to reveal his face. Thaddeus stared into the drunken man’s face. His eyes grew in recognition, he had seen that face many times before on a wanted poster.

Robin immediately noticed the recognition in Thaddeus’ eyes. Acting time was over. Clutching the two guards that held him, Robin flipped up in the air.  Catching Thaddeus in the chin with his boot, he knocked him out. As Robin flipped up, Will reacted.  He brought a dagger out, throwing it at one of the men holding Robin. The two holding Will were slow in reacting to the new threat. Will took advantage of this hesitation. He tripped one of  the men that held onto him. As he started falling, Will pulled the man into the other, and they both fell to the ground next to Will. Glancing towards Robin, Will could see that Robin took no time in incapacitating the third man.  Will turned to face the other two. He was prepared to confront them. But he found this was unnecessary. The two men laid on the ground, out cold.   Standing over them, with big grins on their faces were Little John and Kemal.

Robin stepped up to Will, patting him on his back. “That was a great job ‘ortense!” Robin said, his smile so big his dimples laughed at him.

“You too, Egbert.”  Will grinned back.

Marion and Chloe were walking out of the woods, pulling there horses behind them.  Friar Tuck was examining the men.

“What are we going to do with them?”  Will asked.

Robin let out a quick breath. “I don’t know Will. We have to find a place to hide them, at least long enough for us to enter your father’s estate”

Will gave Robin a sly grin. He remembered a small hunter’s cabin not too far from here. After they tied the soldiers, they placed them on their horses. Taking them to the cabin, making sure they were well secured, they then made there way to Will’s estate.

End of  Part Three

Chapter Four

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