The sun was shining brightly. Men, women, and children were lining up for a morning bowl of porridge. All was quiet in Sherwood Forest.
"Too quiet," a voice at one of the tables whispered.
"Did you say something, Robin?" asked Marion.
"Sorry, Marion," answered Robin. "I was just thinking out loud. It's been too quiet lately. I don't like it."
"Enjoy it while you can," Friar Tuck said.
"Well I enjoyed this porridge so much I'm going back for seconds," Little John eagerly added, smiling at the thought of more food. "Anyone coming with me?"
"I will!" Tuck exclaimed. "Miranda really outdid herself this morning."
"I'm fine," said Robin. "I haven't gone back for seconds since Mrs. Turnbull left Locksley to run her own inn. I was sad to see her go, but now I'm glad. Andrew told me when Prince John's soldiers looted the castle, many of the servants didn't make it out."
Tuck and Little John left the table to join the line waiting for breakfast. Turning to Marion, Robin continued. "That's why I'm happy you were visiting Queen Eleanor in London when Locksley was taken. There's a good chance you would've been visiting that day."
Almost a dozen years had passed, but that thought crossed his mind every day. He had lost his father and his home. Until recently, he thought his old teacher, Master MacGregor had been killed in the fighting. If Marion Fitzwalter had been there that day, he might not have been able to save her. Life without Marion was unthinkable.
Robin and Marion stared at each other and smiled, not saying a word. Their eyes seemed to be doing the talking for them. Just then the sound of a horn broke the silence.
Marion gave Robin a puzzled look, "Company?"
She and Robin ran to meet their visitor. They got to the clearing just in time to see Will Scarlett jumping from his horse.
"Will, I thought you were going to be gone a fortnight. Is something wrong? ," Robin inquired.
"The tahn of Queen's Grove," Will started to explain, About a year ago, right, the Prince’s men moved in. Now the villagers 'ave wee food for themselves, and are 'eavily taxed. Some families ‘ave sided with the soldiers, but they won't 'elp the uvvers. The magistrate is bein' paid not ter do anyfink."
"How did you find this out?" Robin wanted to know.
"I "vae me sources," replied Will with a wink and a smile.
Robin chose to ignore that response. You could tell by the look in his eyes a plan was being formed.
"Will, can you stay here?"
"Good," Robin went on. "Queen's Grove is almost a day's ride. I'll go in, and take a look around–see what we're up against. I'll return tomorrow. Then we can all ride in to help."
"I'll go with you," Marion said. Her blue eyes looked worried.
"No, I'll be alright. This is just a scouting trip. I promise I won't do anything until we all go together," Robin assured her.
Robin ran to his tent to pack a saddlebag, and to get his sword, bow and quiver of arrows, just in case. He then said good-bye to Marion and Will, climbed onto his gray steed, and rode out of camp.
Little John and Tuck were surprised to see him riding off. Marion and Will told them what happened.
"It couldn't stay quiet for long now could it," sighed Tuck.
* * *
The quiet of the forest was broken by the galloping of his horse. Hooves hit hard against the ground. Robin traveled one of the lesser-known paths. Friend or foe, he wanted to meet no one on his way. When he felt the horse tiring, he led him over to a stream. While the horse was drinking, Robin heard leaves rustling behind him. A lone soldier emerged, a sword in hand, ready to fight.
"My, my, am I lucky today," he grinned. "Robin Hood all alone."
The soldier approached. Reaching behind his back for his sword, Robin muttered to himself, "Something just had to happen."
Fortunately for Robin, the soldier was more talk than action, and was quickly disarmed. Frightened, the soldier ran into the forest. Robin stood there amazed, shaking his head. He got back on his horse, and continued his journey to Queen's Grove. Late that afternoon, Robin entered the village. Everyone stared at this stranger with long brown hair and dark eyes. They wondered who he was, and why he had come to their town.
Swinging his right leg over his left, Robin dismounted and grabbed the horse's reigns. Walking through the town, he could feel everyone looking at him. Many seemed scared, or looked at Robin with sullen eyes.
"What are they doing? I won't hurt them," Robin thought to himself. Finally, he came across an inn. He tied the horse's reigns to a post, grabbed his saddlebag and weapons, and went inside.
"Good day, sir," Robin said approaching a gray-haired man who was standing behind the bar counter. "My name is Matthew. I'm on my way back to Fisherman's Wharf. There will be no moon tonight and it will be too dark to travel. Perhaps you have a room where I may spend the night?"
A barmaid with short blonde hair walked over. She looked surprised to see a new face. The gray-haired man spoke. "Matthew, this is my daughter, Bridget. My name is Neil. We don't get many visitors here." Neil then told Bridget to stay downstairs while he took "Matthew" to his room. They went upstairs, and Neil opened a door. The room had a bed, table and shelf with a candle in a holder.
"I hope this will be satisfactory," Neil said to Robin.
"Definitely," Robin nodded, taking the key. "Thank you. I'll be down in a while for supper. I've been traveling all day and wish to rest for now."
Robin went into the room, and Neil returned downstairs.
He put his weapons on the shelf, and his saddlebag on the table. Walking over to a small window, Robin was amazed at how quiet the town was. Even the children didn't make much noise, and the people seemed to be almost afraid of him. Suddenly he saw a half dozen soldiers walking through the town. They went from house to house. If they didn't leave with something, food or another item, they yelled at the members of the house. Robin couldn't tell what they were saying, but it was upsetting the villagers. Then he noticed the soldiers walking toward the inn. "Now's a good time for supper," he said to himself.
Robin made his way to the dining area. There were the soldiers he saw, and a half dozen more, all sitting at the counter. They were yelling at Neil and Bridget to serve them faster. Waving at Neil, Robin sat at one of the tables. There were two men at a table next to him. Robin overheard their conversation.
"They intruded on our lives!" one man said.
"We can't go another month like this," replied the other.
Robin now knew he had to get back to Sherwood and get the others. His thoughts were interrupted when Bridget came by with a bowl of stew and cup of ale.
"I'm sorry the serving can't be more, but..." Before she could continue, Robin smiled at her, saying, "Don't worry, this is plenty." While eating, he noticed how unruly the soldiers behaved, and felt sorry for the innkeeper and his daughter. He thought how everyone in Queen's Grove must be treated like that. Fortunately, the soldiers ate quickly and left. When Robin finished, he brought the bowl and cup over to the counter. Saying goodnight to Neil and Bridget, he went up to his room.
Robin opened the door to his room. Picking up the candle, he used a torch in the hall to light it. After closing the door, he placed the candle on the table near the bed. Then he removed his belt, putting it on the shelf, and put his sword by the bed.
Slowly he walked to the window. Looking up at the sky, the stars reminded him of Marion's eyes. Into the night sky he whispered, "Someday, soon I hope, you'll be Countess of Locksley."
Closing his eyes and bowing his head, he prayed that God would watch over the camp that night, and for King Richard's safe and quick return from the Crusades. Finally, he went over to the bed, took off his boots, blew out the candle, and laid down to sleep. Tomorrow would be a long day.
A knock woke up Robin. "Matthew, it's Bridget. I've brought you a bowl of water, soap and a cloth so you can wash up before breakfast."
"Thank you," Robin called from the bed.
He walked over, opened the door, and took the items from Bridget. "We have eggs this morning. Please join us downstairs," Bridget said.
"I will. Thank you," Robin replied.
He went to the table, put the items down, and washed the sleep from his eyes. Sitting on the bed he put on his boots, then grabbing his belt as he left the room, he headed downstairs for breakfast. There he noticed six soldiers eating. It was then Robin thought that the men must work in shifts. The total number of soldiers in town would only be twelve, eighteen if there were three shifts.
After eating he returned to his room to get his belongings. When he got downstairs, he walked over to Neil, and gave him 10 gold coins for the night's lodging and food. Neil said it was too much. Robin insisted, saying the service was outstanding. He also said he would make sure to tell his friends to stop in if they were traveling in the area.
Then walking over to Bridget, he bowed saying, "Thank you again, my lady." Bridget's face grew red as she smiled and said good-bye. Robin went to his horse, and fed him some leaves and grain that he had in the saddlebag. One thing he noticed looking around was the magistrate's quarters. The soldiers that had breakfast at the inn were sitting in front of the building. A small house was next to it. Possibly, the soldiers' quarters. When the horse had finished eating, Robin climbed onto his back, and headed to Sherwood.
When he got there, he told everyone what he saw. Tuck, Little John, Marion and Will would ride with him back to Queen's Grove. They would head right out, camp in the forest that night, and ride into town tomorrow morning. Before leaving, he told Sean to pack the wagon with food and gold to be distributed to fifteen families, and meet them there in two days.
"The people of Queen's Grove will get a fresh start, but first let's get rid of those soldiers." Robin announced.
End of Chapter One