As each of them rode silently, immersed in their doubts about the changes they had brought onto themselves, they missed the telltale signs of prior visitors to the area. Robin, irritated that Marion was once again lagging behind, decided to dismount and sit on a log. As he did so, his boot triggered a hidden string and an arrow with a black pouch attached to it whizzed past his body, hitting the log and detonating instantly. The force of the explosion sent Robin’s body sailing through the air and he landed with a sickening thump.
Immediately after the explosion, Marion, startled into reality, frantically looked up and commanded her horse to catch up to Robin. He had been at least fifty feet ahead of her. She found him, lying face down on the ground, and his own stallion was bolting off into the distance. Marion dismounted hurriedly and tried to gently roll Robin over onto his back. She gasped as she realized the extent of his injuries. Then her practical nature kicked in, and she scanned the area, thinking of possible places to hide. There was only one man who could have set that bomb - Master Ika!
And, knowing how he loved to observe his handiwork, Marion knew he would be close at hand. He must not see Robin like this! She frantically removed her cape and laid it on the ground next to Robin, then rolled him over onto it as carefully as she could. She used her whip to anchor his body and tie it to the saddle of her horse. She then slowly coaxed the mare up a path on a hillside, by walking in front of the frightened beast.
She felt every bump that riddled through Robin’s wounded body as if it was her own pain, but could not lift him single-handedly onto her horse. So, she pressed on, as slowly and carefully as she could. She kept an eagle eye out for any more traps set by Ika. She wondered how many more he had set in Sherwood Forest and if anyone else had been tricked and injured?
Eventually, she found the cave that she remembered was there from earlier years, and it was deserted. She led the horse close to it, and then stroked
its face gently to stop it and calm it. She untied Robin from the saddle, and pulled him by reaching from behind and under his arms. He was like dead weight, and she strained to get him inside the cave.
After much effort and some choice words to no one in particular, Marion finally succeeded in her aim. Robin was inside, safe from his enemies, for the moment. Marion set to work immediately, and distracted by the sight of Robin, so helpless and hurt, she forgot to secure her horse. When another distant explosion detonated, the skittish animal bolted away and Marion was left without horse or any gear, which was still attached to the fleeing animal. Marion cursed the vile ingenuity of Ika, and her own stupidity. She fought back tears of frustration, and wondered how many times she would have to see Robin fight for his life? How long would she have to constantly worry about his safety? How long could she endure the continual threat of danger to this man that she loved with every fiber of her being?
Every time he was hurt or threatened, another part of her felt like it was dying, and she grew weary thinking about the endless battles ahead. Wherever Robin went, he had enemies. And both she and he were in danger. When they were younger, the danger hadn’t seemed important. It was just another obstacle, no - a challenge. Now, it was a threat, a blockade to any future happiness. She was tired of the challenge, and spent from the anxiety.
Holed up in the cool, damp cave, Marion nursed Robin as best as she could, and kept vigil hour after hour. He lapsed in and out of consciousness, moaning in pain. His right leg was broken, and a long gash marked his right arm. An enlarging bruise covered his right cheek and temple, swelling around his eye. His clothing was singed and torn from the force of the blast. She did her best with crude materials from the surrounding area to staunch the wound on his arm, and bound it carefully with a piece of cloth torn from her cape.
She was leery of setting the leg, so tried to place it as straight as possible, until he moaned again and she stopped. After dark, she quickly and quietly raced to a nearby stream, and drank her fill of water. She desperately looked for something to collect water in, but could find nothing except large leaves from a catalpa tree. She fashioned a makeshift bowl, and brought the meager portion back to the cave for Robin. She managed to get a few drops onto his lips, but lost most of the precious fluid in the attempt.
She never started a fire, so as not to draw attention to them. She was hungry, tired and sick at heart. She dreaded leaving Robin to search for help on foot, but knew she did not have all that she needed to truly help him. Finally, as Robin remained unconscious and she admitted defeat in their current circumstances, she allowed herself to cry. At first, the tears welled up and dripped one by one over her cheeks.
She tasted the salty bitterness, and then the floodgates opened and she wept. Great sobs wracked her body. She stifled her voice, so as not to disturb
Robin, and turned away from him. She stood, stooped over, and made her way to the opening of the cave. There was no sign of any help, or hope. For now or forever. She despaired of ever seeing her dreams of being with Robin, which she had so recently allowed herself to acknowledge, come to reality. She prayed for some miracle to happen, to save Robin from sure death, and her from constant anguish.
She then returned to Robin’s side and lay down next to him. She covered him with her cape, and put her arm around him in a feeble attempt to warm him. She felt his strong heartbeat and listened to his regular breathing. There was no sign of fever, yet. The irony of their being alone together, but completely separated by circumstances, struck her. This was not how she had pictured their first night alone together... Finally, she fell into a troubled sleep.
In the outer bailey of Sir Guy of Gisbourne’s castle, Guy was deep in conversation with what looked to be a farmer. So intense was their conversation that neither was aware of being observed.
"What do you mean she and Robin never returned to the camp? You fool; I am paying you to watch Marian. Tell me what you know about this" Guy demanded of the young man.
The man proceeded to tell Guy what he knew of the day’s events starting with Robin’s plan to interfere with Prince John’s tax collectors up to the point where the outlaws began to return to camp.
"The plan was for the outlaws to take separate routes back to camp to throw off anyone pursuing them. Marian apparently went with Robin and they never returned. My cousin is more than a little concerned. He plans to go searching for them if they do not return by morning." Guy threw a small pouch into the man’s hands.
"Keep a closer watch in future if you want to see more of that," he informed the man. "Now begone!"
Will slipped back into the castle. Sir Guy found him in the great room lounging by the fire, a glass of ale in his hand, a contemplative look in his eyes. "And where do your thoughts take you my good friend" he asked of Will. "At one time I would have guessed after some pretty wench, but now, I can’t be sure. You’ve changed my friend. What happened to the devil may care ne ‘er do well, ladies man. You are becoming a dull man in your old age, my friend."
"Not so Guy, not so."
Will knew, however, that what Guy said was true. He didn’t want to talk about it though so he asked, "Care to tell me about your spy friend?"
Guy who was pouring himself a tankard of ale, almost spilled the liquid, so shocked was he at Will’s words. Quick to recover he retorted, "doing a little spying of your own Will"?
"Just went out to get a bit of the night air when I chanced upon you and your friend. I did not want to intrude, but one can’t help but hear things."
Guy stared at Will for sometime, taking a long draft from his mug. Finally, he began to tell Will of his chance encounter with the spy. One day as Guy was returning to his castle from a trip to the next county, the skies became dark and the threat of a major storm loomed large. Guy sought shelter from the storm in a local tavern. There he witnessed an argument between two men, one proclaiming to know Robin Hood, the other clearly not believing him. The name instantly caught Guy’s attention. Guy, who considered himself to be a good judge of a person’s character, took the boastful man to be a lazy conniver, someone who would do just about anything to earn some gold. Guy stayed to observe, already formulating a plan to use this man to his advantage.
"How do you know Robin Hood?" someone shouted. "Me cousin works for him."
"And who’s your cousin, Lady Marian?" Everyone in the room began to laugh and shout out names at once.
"It’s John Little now known as Little John. I can join with them anytime I want."
Guy now pacing the room, stopped and looked at Will. "You know I have always loved Marian Fitzwalter. Well she was almost mine, she would be mine now if not for Robin Hood. I plan to get her back and saw this Brian, cousin to
Little John, as a first step in doing just that. He has been keeping me posted as to the daily events of Robin’s little group. It seems there is some tension between Marian and Robin of late. I will bide my time until the moment is right; and then, my friend, Marian will be mine. You of all people can understand this Will for I am sure you would stop at nothing to obtain what you wished. At least the old Will wouldn’t." With that said, Guy bid Will goodnight and left the room.
Will sat staring at the roaring fire, pondering all Guy had said. True, at one time he would have felt as Guy did. He would even have considered helping him. Lately, he was restless and bothered by the underhanded dealings of his friends. Matters at his own home were also causing him many restless hours. For the first time, people started to matter. He began to notice the needs of those dependent upon the manor for their livelihood.
The events of the last year, the death’s of his beloved mother and brother, his sister’s marriage and his father’s withdrawal were taking their toll on Will. He didn’t care to admit to these feelings and he certainly didn’t know how to deal with them. He was determined to push these thoughts and feelings out of his mind. For now, he would stay close to Guy and watch and wait to see what developed with the King’s ransom and the winning of Marian.
End of Part Five