The forest returned to silence well before the noon hour, when the troop of soldiers finally packed up their camp and returned from whence they came.
The shouts and crashing through bushes and trees that disrupted the dawn had caused the natural inhabitants of the woods to hide. Maniacal curses and the cracks of a whip rent the air sometime later, followed by the raging of a lunatic. "This is not over between us, Robin Hood! I will find you! I, Josiah Planter, will hunt you down like the rabid cur you are and kill you!" The birds took flight and panicked animals escaped further into the forest.
Only the animals at the log remained, silent, unmoving, ever vigilant. The human underneath his cover of fur, leaves and branches never stirred. Though no longer asleep, Robin heard the soldiers thwacking away at the underbrush, so close at times that he could smell the unwashed stench of their bodies. He was certain he was only seconds away from being discovered. He heard Planter shouting in the distance, raging totally out of control. Robin had no doubt that, should he be recaptured, he would pay dearly for this humiliation.
Time dragged by, yet, the panic and raw fear that had so unnerved Robin earlier were curiously absent. He felt as weightless and free as a cloud, without a worry in the world. Yes, he fully comprehended his situation. Yes, he knew he could have been killed at a moment’s notice, if not recaptured, tortured and publicly executed after Planter had had his fun with him. But he was at peace now. Death no longer terrified him. He was ready.
"I’ve looked everywhere. Where is he?"
"I couldn’t find any trace of Robin."
Tuck, Marion and Little John met back in the clearing, disappointment and worry weighing heavily on each of them.
"The soldiers must have taken him. We’ll have to follow their tracks."
That said, Marion strode towards her tethered horse. Tuck reluctantly followed, not sure what else to do.
They were mounted and ready to go before they realized Little John had not moved from the clearing. He stood there, his eyes closed, sniffing the air.
"Little John. What are you doing?"
It took several seconds for Tuck’s question to penetrate John’s concentration. Without opening his eyes, Little John answered. "I just can’t leave yet. Robin is out there somewhere. I feel it."
"Little John, we’ve been at it for hours. We’ve searched everywhere."
Marion agreed. "Tuck’s right, Little John. If we wait any longer we will lose the light and have to wait till morning to track. It may be too late by then."
Still, John didn’t move or break his intense concentration.
Tuck dismounted and walked over to his friend. Laying a hand on the taller man’s shoulder, Tuck tried one more time to make John see reason.
"John, we want to find Robin as much as you do. But, at the same time, we must be realistic."
No response. Tuck looked at Marion who motioned for him to try again.
Little John swung around so suddenly, Tuck stumbled back. His well-padded rear hit the ground with a resounding thud.
"I will not leave this place until I find Robin," John growled through teeth gritted in anger. "You two go on ahead and track your soldiers. Robin is here and I will find him."
By this time, Marion stood at Tuck’s side and, after much huffing and puffing, Tuck managed to get to his feet with her help.
"John, we have to work together on this. He’s our friend, too."
John swung on Marion with a look of such fury on his face that she involuntarily stepped back a pace.
"I will not leave him!"
Suddenly, John’s eyes widened and he very cautiously worked his way towards his friends. "No sudden moves," he whispered as he blocked them with his body.
"John, what is it. What’s wrong?" Marion peered around John’s shoulder and froze. "Oh my God."
"What?" Tuck whispered as he looked around John’s other side. "Oh."
Standing not ten feet away from the startled trio was a huge white wolf and a smaller, gray female. Neither human nor beast moved but continued watching one another.
Seconds stretched into minutes. "What should we do?" Tuck whispered.
Little John took a step towards the wolves. Both Marion and Tuck grabbed his arms. "Little John, are you out of your mind? Don’t go near them!" Marion begged.
Ignoring her, John took another step and stopped as if waiting for the wolf to make the next move. Through a corner of his mouth, he whispered, "I have a feeling about this. Don’t worry. And don’t move."
John stepped closer, never breaking eye contact with the animal. The male turned toward the forest, stopped and looked back at John, then walked into the grove. Although he would never be able to explain how he knew what the wolf wanted, Little John followed without hesitation. The she-wolf placed herself between John and the others.
Well into the copse of trees, John began to doubt his reasoning. Maybe he was crazy. Still¼ his gut told him to continue. The wolf finally stopped at a moss-covered log. John stopped and looked around. Disappointment knifed through him. Nothing. Robin isn’t here. How could I be so wrong and so stupid!
He wearily plopped down on the log and instantly sprang off it when he heard a groan behind him. A groan? The wolf was now standing on the other side of the log, joined by his mate and two cubs.
Good God! Was he hearing things now? It was probably the wind rustling the leaves.
The sound was louder this time, yet still barely above a whisper. John?? JOHN??
John ran around the log to where the wolves stood guard. There, covered with twigs, leaves, and a wolf cub on his chest lay Robin. He was alive!
John crashed to his knees beside his friend and touched his battered face. Hanging his head over Robin, John sobbed uncontrollably with relief and gratitude.
Robin weakly lifted his right arm and laid it on John’s head, stroking his hair offering comfort. "Everything will be fine now, my friend. You’ve found me."
Hearing Little John’s heart-wrenching sobs, Marion passed Tuck and ran to his side.
"God! It’s Robin. He’s alive, Tuck. Robin is alive!"
The End of Chapter Five