By Virginia Cavazos
It was two hours before dawn when Andrew MacGregor saddled his horse. Lord Gisborne joined him in the stable.
"The maple tree is out in the open and easy to spot?"
"Yes, If you follow my directions, and you will have no trouble. The nearest tree is at least five hundred feet from it."
MacGregor picked up his long bow and placed it in his saddle along with a quiver of arrows. Lord Gisborne stroked the animal's nose absently, deep lines of worry crossed his brow. "Can you fire an arrow from that distance?"
"Yes." MacGregor completed preparing the horse and mounted. Settling himself, he looked down at Gisborne, a warm smile creased his face. "Don't worry. I'm sure the children are fine."
"Guy is my only son. I don't know what I would do if anything happened to him. Maybe you should have gone last night."
"Robin is with them and I have faith in that boy. He's a very clever and capable young man. I would trust him with my life, and I assure you that you can trust with the life of your son and Lady Marion."
"I hope you're right."
"You can bet on it, my lord. Once the children are home, we can all enjoy the ball."
Gisborne stepped away from the horse's head and lifted his hand in salute. "God's speed."
"God's speed," repeated MacGregor and urged his horse out of it's stable and into the night.
Gisborne waited until he was out of sight then returned to the castle. He knew he must keep his thoughts positive; fear and worry would not help bring his boy home, and, if MacGregor's plan should fail, another plan must be considered. For that, he would have to be able to think clearly. In addition, he had guests to entertain who knew nothing of his problems. He planned on keeping it that way.
MacGregor was thinking much the same thing. His words to Gisborne had been true, but he did not like to think of Robin in danger. He kept telling himself that Robin was capable of escaping and bringing the other two home safely. He shook his head. For now, he concentrated on finding his landmarks and refining his plan.
* * * * *
The sun's rays was just falling on the hilltop. Both Marion and Guy were so tired Robin was afraid they would fall off the horse. He had to do something to wake them.
"Marion, stop the horse!" Robin yelled.
Jerking herself awake, she pulled on the reins to stop the stallion. Robin then jumped down.
"Let's walk awhile; we need to stretch our legs."
"Walk" sneered Guy from his perch on the horse.
"Yes, walk. It will help you stay awake."
Guy did not move. "I don't feel like walking."
"We will be home soon," coaxed Robin.
Marion jumped down from the saddle. "Guy, the horse needs to rest, too. It's had to carry the three of us." Marion stroked the horse's nose. "Poor thing," she soothed.
Guy reluctantly dismounted, catching his foot in the stirrup. He lost his balance and cried out. His cry started the horse, who bucked his displeasure. Robin and Marion grabbed for the reins but the horse jerked away and ran into the forest.
Marion and Robin turned towards Guy who was lying on the ground. Their faces were red with anger.
"My foot got stuck." Guy whined.
"That's just great, Guy. Now we're going to have to walk the rest of the way!" Robin scolded, and stomped up the small hill.
Marion looked sadly down at Guy. He turned his head, so he wouldn't see the disappointment he knew was in her eyes. He felt her hand on his as she helped him up. Sheepishly smiling he said, "Sorry."
Marion acknowledged his apology and went to where Robin was waiting.
Guy looked up at them and sighed. With a shrug, he went to join them.
Robin jumped to his feet, and waved his arms. "Someone's coming. Hurry! he hissed."
Looking back, Guy and Marion could just make out the three men on horse back. They hurried up the hill and followed Robin deep into the forest. Terrified, Guy caught up with Robin and passed him by.
"Wait, Guy!" Robin called out.
Guy stopped. "What is it?" he cried out nervously.
"We'll never out run those horses. We have to hide." Robin pointed to a large oak tree; its branches were thick and full. They would hide the tree very well.
Robin cupped his hand and helped boost Marion up to the lowest branch. Marion loved to climb trees and she had no problem climbing to the highest branches that could support her weight.
Robin then offered help Guy, who slapped his hands away. "I don't need your help! I can do it myself."
"Fine," Robin said then deftly climbed the tree. Guy reached up to a branch and tried to follow after Robin. His feet kept slipping on the bark.
"Use your arms to lift yourself up."
"I know how to do it, Robin," Guy snapped.
"Hurry, they're getting closer!" Marion urged.
Inspired by fear, Guy tried again and found a foot hold. He was half way when his foot slipped. He dangled from a branch. Looking through the branches, he could see that the men were getting closer. His fear grew more intense and he kicked out his legs to get a better hold.
"Guy, don't, Robin urgently cautioned. "The branch will break,"
"I'm not going to get caught again."
Guy swung his legs and tried to latch onto the branch where Robin squatted. Robin leaned out to grab Guy. Guy missed the branch, and in his panic, he again kicked out. Robin lost his balance, and tumbled down, breaking the lower branch. Both Robin and the branch hit the forest floor, sending up a shower of debris.
Watching in horror, Marion let out a small scream.
Guy swung his legs around again and grabbed another branch. Looking down he could see the still form of Robin lying on the ground, a small trickle of red coming from a wound on his forehead.
"Is he dead?" Marion softly cried.
Guy turned a white face up to his friend. "I... I don't know."
"Go help him!" Marion sobbed.
"I can't!" Guy whispered.
Marion face turned red in anger. "Then I will!" She began her descent.
Guy grabbed and held her as she went past. "Marion, it's too dangerous."
* * * * *
The three men were drawing nearer. Philip and André shared one horse; Jimmy rode alone.
"You should have stayed up instead of drinking!" Philip growled.
"Well I didn't hear you volunteer to watch the kids!" André countered.
"Both of you shut up!" Jimmy yelled. "I think I see something."
They reined their horses near an ancient oak. At the bottom of the tree was a stunned Robin. Jimmy jumping off his horse and knelt down to examine Robin. Robin moaned, and Jimmy shook him to full consciousness
"Where are the other two?" growled Jimmy.
It took Robin a moment to realize what had happened; he had to think fast. "We split up," he lied.
"Split up!" Philip cried. He scanned around the area. To see if there were signs of the other two. Jimmy again shook Robin.
"Tell the truth, boy! Where are the other two."
"I told you, we split up. The horse went lame, and we decided I should go on ahead and get help."
Jimmy watched Robin through narrowed eyes. "If that is the truth, then why did we find you here, with your head busted?
Robin pointed to the broken branch. "I saw you coming, and tried to climb the tree, to hide from you. The branch broke and I fell."
Jimmy looked at the branch, then glanced up. Guy and Marion held their breath and kept very still. When he glanced away, they looked at each in relief.
Jimmy grabbed Robin and pulled him to his feet. Shaking him violently he hissed. "Isn't it lucky we still have you!"
"Jimmy, if those kids get back we'll never get the money." Philip was worried. He did not dare return to his old job, and it was beginning to look like they wouldn't get the ransom.
Jimmy laughed. " Don't worry so much, Philip. We've got the mastermind here," he gave Robin another shake. Without him, the girl is useless, and that Gisborne brat is little better than a scared baby. They won't get back before the ransom drop. I'd say, the game really begins now and we've been dealt a good bartering hand.
Jimmy drug Robin to the horses. He picked up the boy and placed him in the saddle, then swung himself into the saddle behind him. He waited as the other two mounted. "We might as well go to into Wingate."
"We can wait at the White Stag," suggested Philip over his shoulder."
Once they left, Guy and Marion climbed down from the tree.
Marion was furious. "You should have helped Robin."
"I couldn't, Marion. I was afraid." There, he admitted the awful truth.
Marion snorted, then forced herself to calm down. "Do you know the town he mentioned?"
"Wingate, yes. It's a village near the castle."
"Is it a likely place for paying ransom?"
"There isn't much there. A store, an ale house and a couple houses."
He drew his brows together in concentration. After a moment, he shook his head. "No, I don't think... wait, there is the maple tree."
"That's a big help."
"No, Marion, it is." Guy was very excited. "The roots of the tree grow oddly and there is a cavity in the bottom. I've used it a lot of times."
"Do you think you can lead us there?"
Guy nodded his head, glad that this was something he could do. "Yes, once we get back to the estate."
"Then let's keep going southwest."
"How do we know which way to start?" Guy asked.
Pointing up Marion said, 'We use the sky, just like Robin said."
"Oh, yes," he mumbled, embarrassed to have forgotten that simple instruction. He looked into the sky and saw the sun was rising. Even Guy knew the sun rose in the east; he didn't need Andrew MacGregor telling him that.
They set out, sun to their left. They had a long way to go.
* * * * *
The three abductors sat and waited at the White Stag in Wingate. The maple tree was only a few minutes ride, and whomever was coming from the castle would ride right in front of the ale house.
"It's almost time. Why are we still waiting here, Jimmy?" Philip asked impatiently.
"Biding our time, Philip. We want to make sure when they see us with the boy they think we still have the other two. If we get there too early they might have enough time to figure out the other brats escaped."
Robin was kept close to Jimmy, his hands tied in front of him; his short lead held by his captor. "When the time comes, we'll go in quickly, get the money, then leave. Clean and quick."
"And then we let the boy go." André added.
"Maybe." drawled Jimmy.
André knew Jimmy well enough to see that he had plans he was not sharing. He watched at Jimmy stared at the boy. Careful to keep his face passive, André turned his attention back to his drink. He was going to make sure the boy got home safely, even if it meant losing all that money.
* * * * *
It was near noon when the three men mounted their horses and made their way to the rendezvous.
Robin's mind raced as he tried to plan his escape. It was impossible while he was being so closely guarded. Jimmy had a tight hold on the rope that bound him. He sighed, trying to remain patient.
As they approached the maple tree, Robin could now see why they had chosen the tree. It grew in the middle of a meadow, and stood alone and proud. The distance to any surrounding forest would give the abductors plenty of time to escape any trap that might be set. Also, even an expert bowman would have trouble shooting an arrow that distance. Jimmy said as much to Robin.
"Yes, I can see that," agreed Robin. He was thinking fast. No ordinary bowman, or even expert bowman would do that, but if he had come, Master MacGregor would be able to make such a shot. Robin wondered if he had come or if Lord Gisborne had made other arrangements.
The men dismounted and walked into the edge of the forest. Jimmy pulled Robin down from the saddle and forced him to walk ahead. "See any signs or a trap?" asked Jimmy when they joined the other two.
Philip shook his head and pointed to the tree. Jimmy's eyes lit up when he noticed the small leather bag. "go get it, Philip."
"Why me?" Philip moaned, what if there is a trap.
"You said there wasn't," Jimmy reminded him.
"Someone could be hiding."
Jimmy laughed derisively. "You know nobody can make a shot from that distance. Now, go get our money!"
Mounting one of the horses, he cautiously made his way to the tree. As he rode, he watched for any movement. As he neared the tree, remembering Robin's attempt to hide from them, he looked up into its branches. Still no sign of a trap.
Feeling more confident, he slid from the saddle and bent to pick up the leather bag. It looked bigger up close; its sides bulged with its contents. Lifting the bag, he looked inside. Rocks! he dropped the bag and started to sprint. "Run," he yelled. "it's a trap." Philip heard the twang and felt an arrow imbed itself in his body. He grabbed his thigh and collapsed. Startled, his horse, ran off into the forest.
Jimmy held tightly on to Robin. He looked around, trying to figure out where the arrow had come from.
André was frightened. "Jimmy let's go. Whoever is out there is good. We won't be able to fight a marksman like that."
Jimmy held onto Robin tighter.
"I'm not going to let him go."
André saw that boy was frightened. "Jimmy, you can't keep the boy. He has a family." He thought for a moment. "Look, the plan went wrong, and whomever is out there won't let you leave with the boy. Let him go while we can still escape without lives."
"I won't let him go," declared Jimmy, dragging Robin into the forest.
André ran alongside.
"You never intended to let the boy go did you?"
Jimmy stopped beside his horse. "No, I didn't. One of his kind took my brother and I'm going to keep him as payment. He'll be useful to me - I can tell he'll be very good at robbery.
When they reached the horse, Jimmy cut the straps on Robin's quiver, then threw his bow and arrows violently onto the ground. "This stays here. From now on, you will learn a new life."
Robin was shocked. His precious bow and arrow. Andrew MacGregor had made it especially for him. Robin began to fight in earnest. He would not live with this man, and he would not allow him to take his bow and arrows.
"Jimmy you can"t take him with you!" André pleaded.
"I can and I will!" Jimmy shouted. He began to lift Robin.
"No, you can't," retorted Andre'. He slapped the horse on the rump. The horse took off at a gallop.
Furious, Jimmy let go of Robin and made a grab for André. André countered with a punch to Jimmy's mid-section. Taking advantage of the scuffle, Robin ran into the woods.
"Run for it, Robin!" André yelled after him. He tried to hold on to Jimmy, who kicked him viciously. André doubled over in pain. Jimmy picked up a rock and smashed it into Andre's skull. The younger man fell unconscious onto the ground.
Tossing the rock aside, he ran in the direction Robin fled.
End of Chapter Four
Chapter Five the Conclusion
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