Marion turned to Tuck. "We have to follow them." Glancing back into the room, she noticed that Lord Carrington and his daughter were still in a heated argument while the innkeeper stood there wringing his hands. "Let’s go while we still can. They don’t seem too interested in us right now, but I don’t want to stick around to find out."
Nodding his head in agreement they quit the room and headed downstairs. Soldiers were everywhere in the main room and more were mulling about outside. Taking advantage of the disorder the two stole out the back door heading for the barn.
Little John had been hiding behind some bales of hay when he heard the barn doors open. Crouched in an attack position he waited. "Little John?" he heard someone whisper. Cautiously standing up he squinted in the dim light to see who it was. "Marion, is that you?"
"Yes. Where are you?"
He came out from behind the hay to meet his friends. "What’s going on? There are soldiers everywhere."
"We know." replied Tuck. "It’s a long story and right now we don’t have time to fill you in. All you have to know is Robin’s in trouble and we’re going to have to help him."
Robin in trouble was all the big man needed to hear and he started for the door. Tuck and Marion put restraining hands on him. "Not so fast Little John." exclaimed the friar. "We must wait first till the soldiers are on their way, then we can follow them."
The threesome found a crack in the wall of the barn and peeped out to see what was happening now. The bound Robin was being shoved over to one of the horses and then hoisted face first over the beast. The men all mounted up and waited. A short time later Lady Allison and her father appeared and they too mounted. As Lord Carrington took the lead the others followed and they headed down the road at a steady pace.
The lurking outlaws watched the departure until the horses disappeared around the bend. "It’s time." ordered Marion. Little John threw open the big double doors and ran to his horse. Marion led her mare out and vaulted onto the saddle with Tuck and John doing the same. Digging their knees into to flanks of the horses, the three were off.
Robin estimated they had been on the road no more than an hour when the horses came to a stop. Turning his head he observed the men getting off their horses and then felt rough hands haul him to the ground. He tried to ease his cramped muscles, grimacing at his efforts. Looking about he quickly took stock of his surroundings. He was in the inner yard and a large castle stood before him. On the steps to the huge stone structure was Lord Carrington. He look over to Robin as if he were an after thought.
"You know what to do with him. Lock him up and I will send a messenger to Prince John." He then disappeared into the building.
Two soldiers propelled Robin to a side entrance and down a dim passageway that led to the dungeon. Having seen a few dungeons in his time, he still crinkled his nose at the scents that surrounded him. Nothing compared to the foul stench that a prison held. The odor of stale urine, sweat and blood of past occupants lingered in the air, making it difficult to breath.
The cell door was opened, Robin was pushed inside and he heard the click of the lock. The room was small, with not so much as a pallet to sit on. It was dark, since there was no window to let in light or fresh air. Picking a wall he slowly slid down till he was seated on the cold floor. Crossing his arms, laying them on his raised knees, he leaned his head against the stone wall. This was not how he had planned to spend his day. His friends and he were suppose to be on their way home. Instead here he was locked up, no doubt on his way to Prince John’s and not sure if the others knew where he was. He tried to recall what had gone on the night before but the memories were fuzzy. All he did know, was he had been set up and royally.
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Even as Robin languished in his cell, Marion, Little John and Tuck had stationed themselves in the woods not far from the castle. "Looks pretty well guarded." observed Tuck.
"We can’t leave Robin in there. We’ll just have to come up with a plan." stated Little John.
"No, but I’m sure we’ll think up something."
Marion had remained silent during their brief discussion. She now moved farther back into the woods and sat down on a fallen tree limb. The two men joined her and said nothing. All three of them rested their chins on their hands, brows furrowed in deep concentration.
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Robin had spent the better part of the day contemplating his fate. There was no chance of escape on his own. The best he could hope for, was that his friends would come up with something. From his short time outside, he noticed the castle seemed well fortified and would be hard to breech. Lost in his wanderings he was startled when he heard the dungeon door creak open. He slowly rose to his feet, tense, as he waited to see who his visitor was. Surprise showed on his face when a young woman came into view.
Lady Allison approached with deep apprehension. She still wasn’t sure why she ventured down here. She just knew she had to speak with the prisoner. No, that wasn’t entirely true. She knew why-guilt, pure and simple. Now that all was said and done, she felt terrible for all the trouble she caused. It was selfish and cruel and now this man would pay for her foolishness. Moving closer to the cell she saw him standing there and again she was taken a back. He was so attractive, with long dark hair which fell to his shoulders. Wearing a well kept goatee that gave him a dashing appearance, and even fully dressed, his lean muscular form was evident. It was his eyes though, that held the most attraction for her. They mirrored the man inside and she felt even worse. For in their brown depths she could see a man of integrity, courage, and more importantly, honor.
Finding her intense appraisal of his person discomforting Robin asked. "Lady Allison, correct?"
She couldn’t believe he said this with a small grin. "How can you smile? You are locked up, soon on your way to Prince John and it’s all my fault."
He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "I’ve found in times likes these it’s always better to keep one’s spirits up." Crossing his arms in front of his chest he leaned against the bars. "So why do I have the pleasure of your company yet again?"
She blushed at the comment, knowing what he meant by again. "I don’t really know, I just feel so bad about what I did. At the time I thought it was a simple plan to get my way and control my father. Now with the deed done I feel wretched. I’m truly sorry Mr. Hood."
"Robin" he corrected. "Why don’t you tell me your reason for wanting to be....well compromised."
Giving a dejected laugh she related the reason for her rash actions of the night before. She finished by saying. "Now rather than being forced to marry, my father has decided to send me to a convent instead. I have made a bad situation worse and I don’t have a clue on how to change it."
Seeing the tears in her eyes along with genuine regret Robin reached out through the bars to take one of her hands. Softly he asked. "Why not tell him the truth? Tell him you acted impulsivley and that nothing happened."
"No, it’s too late for that now. Too many people know of the indiscretion, he will not relent on this. It’s no more than I deserve I suppose." Withdrawing her hand from his she stepped back with a puzzled expression. "You have been extremely understanding in all of this. I thought you would despise me, here you are trying to help me. You’re like no other man I have ever encountered before."
He titled his head giving her a roughish smile. "I was young and impulsive once. Sometimes it helps to remember those times and the reckless stunts I pulled. Still, I wish your reckless act hadn’t put me here."
"I know and I’m....." She never finished the thought, because the door of the dungeon banged open. In marched her father, disapproval clearly written on his face.
He glared down at her. "What are you doing down here young lady? I couldn’t believe it when Sir Brian informed me of your destination."
Stiffening her back she looked him right in the eye. " I felt horrid for what I have put this man through and wanted to apologize. He doesn’t deserve this."
"Doesn’t deserve.......Allison the man is the most famous outlaw in all of England. He should of been arrested long ago. Not only that, he has compromised you beyond all repair. He’s fortunate I don’t hang him from the nearest tree."
He held up his hand, halting any further words. "Not another sound from you, do you hear me. Not another sound!" as she opened her mouth to say more. "You will leave this place immediately and never return. Is that understood?"
She didn’t answer him but nodded her head. Turning she gave Robin one last sorrowful look. Before Robin could offer a response, Lord Carrington had her by the arm escorting toward the exit. The door closed after them and Robin was again alone with only his thoughts to keep him company.
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Stomping up the stairs behind the man who had fathered her, Allison fumed. When they reached the landing she headed for a door which led outdoors. "Where are you going?" he demanded.
"Out for a ride before I go stark raving mad!" and out the door she went. Stepping out into the sunlight she took a long deep breath letting the cool fresh air fill her lungs. She needed to be free, to feel the wind in her hair and put everything behind her if only for a little while. Making her way to the stables she instructed the groom to saddle her favorite mare. In no time she was saddled and ready to fly. She took off as soon as she cleared the castle walls. It felt wonderful to run away from it all, even though she knew the groom would not be far behind. She was never allowed to ride with out alone, but she wouldn’t let it damper her ride. He always kept his distance, giving her the freedom she so desired. Unfortunately the fast paced ride was short lived as the forest was up a head. Pulling on the reins she forced her horse to slow then eventually stop and she dismounted.. Deciding to find a peaceful place to think she wandered into the forest greenery. Her groom noted where she was going and took a vigil just before the first line of trees.
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Marion, Little John and Tuck had not moved from their advantage point in the woods. Spending all morning and most of the afternoon devising a rescue plan. They had a plan in place, all they had to do now was wait for the cover of darkness to put it in motion. Leaning against a large oak tree Tuck was quietly dozing, while Little John was whittling on a small piece of wood. Marion too was reclined against a tree, her eyes closed, but she was not the least bit tired. Instead she kept going over their plan in her mind trying to locate any flaws.
The serene sounds of the forest were interrupted and replaced by the sound of something or someone disturbing the dense foliage. Marion sprang to her feet as did John who gave Tuck a quick jab with his boot. Slowly opening his eyes, Tuck was about to protest when he saw the larger man put a finger up indicating silence. The noise came again and Tuck was also on his feet. The three quietly took cover behind some bushes and waited.
It wasn’t long before a woman came into sight. As she drew closer Marion recognized her immeaditly and looked over to Tuck who confirmed it. Slowly she unsheathed her sword while the two men watched her expectantly. She crept quietly along the leave covered ground till she was right behind the trespasser. Then in a lighting move she emerged placing the tip of her blade in the other woman’s back.
The young woman let out a shriek and stood perfectly still. "Not another sound!" ordered Marion. "Now-turn around very slowly." Doing as she was bided the woman turned until she was facing the lady outlaw. "Well, well, well, who do we have here? If it isn’t the Lady Allison herself."
Allison had never been so frightened in her life. She knew this was one of Robin’s friends, she remembered the woman being at the inn. Allison also recalled the expression, the other woman wore at the sight of Robin laying next to her. "Please, listen to me. I’m terribly sorry for what I’ve done, if I could change it all I would, you must believe me."
Tuck and John had come out of their hiding spots, taking positions on either side of Marion. Neither of them looked in a very forgiving mood. "But you can’t change the past can you." sympathized Tuck. "What’s done is done, all we can do now is make sure Robin is freed."
"I say we take her hostage and exchange her for Robin." growled Little John.
Tilting her head, Marion lifted her sword to the other woman’s neck. "You know Little John, that’s not a bad idea."
Allison’s eyes grew to the size of saucers when she saw the glint of steel so near to her neck. "Wait" the word came out as more of a squeak. Taking a big gulp and licking her dry lips she tried again. "Wait, I can help. I know of a secret entrance to the castle that will take you right to Robin." She had thought of this hidden door earlier but had no notion on how to put this knowledge to use.
Pressing her weapon closer to the girls throat, Marion arched an eyebrow and sarcastically replied. "Why would you be willing to help us? It’s your fault were in this mess to begin with."
Not daring to move for fear of being injured, Allison answered. "I told you I felt wretched for what I have done. If I can help make things right again I will."
Tuck reached out to touch Marion’s arm. "I think we should listen to what she has to say. If what she says is true, we can sneak in, get Robin and sneak out again. Hopefully without anyone being the wiser and not incurring Lord Carrington’s wrath by holding his daughter hostage."
Little John had been mute during their exchange, but now spoke up. "I have to agree with the friar. I know the hostage idea was mine, but this plan is better."
Marion hesitated a moment before she backed off taking her sword with her. "All right we’ll go with this plan." Then pinning the other woman with a piercing glare. "You better be sure this works, because if it doesn’t , I will use this." and she twirled her sword for emphasis.
Now that she was not in any inmate danger, Lady Allison relaxed a little. Retreating further away from the outlaws, she closed her eyes hoping to gain back her composure. Just as she felt her control return, a voice called her name in the distance. "Drat." she muttered.
"Who is that?" snarled Marion.
"It’s my groom Toby. I completely forgot he accompanied me on my ride. He was waiting for me, when I didn’t return he came searching ." She gave them an apologetic smile.
Frustrated at another dilemma Marion did some quick thinking. "Ok, you." Pointing to Allison. "Call out to let him know where you are." Allison looked at her confused. "Just do it!"
"Toby, I’m over here!"
"Good, now John be ready, when her comes near, take him out." Giving her a nod he stood in anticipation, legs spread wide, fists ready. Soon they heard the rustle of tree branches and John tensed. The instant the young man step into sight he met with the big man’s fist. All it took was a right to the jaw and the groom went down in a heap.
Going to one knee, Tuck examined the young man. "He’ll be fine, but his chin will be sore for a while."
"We have to make sure he stays out of commission till after we free Robin." commented Marion.
Pulling on a long vine that was hanging from one of the trees, Little John bound the boy. He then placed the boy against the same tree Tuck had been using earlier. "There, that should keep him out of our way for a bit."
"Good. Let’s hope we don’t have any more surprises." said Marion as she tossed a meaningful look to Allison. "So where is this secret entrance of yours?"
"It’s on the south wall of the second tower. It shouldn’t take us long to reach it from here."
"Then let’s get started." Marion lifted one hand, indicating the other woman should lead.
End Of Chapter Three