By Shelly Quinn
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Chapter Three

As expected, Robin reached the Stygian pools just as dusk was falling. He slid off his stallion and let the animal graze, while he knelt beside the inky-black waters of the natural pools. They were damned in by rock formations and steam rose out of them, feathering away in the night breeze. "This should be fun," Robin muttered to himself. Cautiously, he dipped his fingers into the pool closest to him. The water was hot, but not unbearably so. A nice temperature to soak away the aches and weariness of a long day. But such thoughts were trivial and Robin quickly banished them.

There were six pools. A large one ringed by five smaller ones. Two were too narrow for a man to enter so Robin crossed them off his list of probability for harboring the arrows. Then he checked the remaining four pools. Peering down into the three smaller ones, Robin saw nothing but darkness. Then he looked into the big pool and there was a shimmer of light. "A trick of the moon?" Robin wondered to himself, for it was bright in the sky which had quickly shaded to black. Not yet a full moon, but gloriously luminous. "Has to be the arrows," Robin convinced himself, even as he rose to his feet and removed the sword from his back. His belt soon followed, as did his tunic. Robin's boots were tossed onto the pile. Clad only in his suede breeches, Robin returned to the edge of the large pool. He stared down into it for a long moment, then he took a deep breath. Holding it, Robin slipped over the side and sank into the murky depths.

The water was surprisingly translucent; Robin quickly discovered when he opened his eyes. He pushed his way downward by stroking with his arms and kicking his feet. The shimmer of light was brighter now, and Robin swam towards it. But he soon discovered that it didn't seem to be getting any closer and he was quickly running out of breath. Still, Robin refused to turn back. Even as his lungs began to burn and pressure built up in his head, Robin continued to swim into the depths.

The further he went the brighter the water became till it seemed to glow. It was as if night had turned to day within the pool itself. Robin might have wondered how it was possible, had he not been entirely focused on the fact that his lungs felt ready to burst. Not only that, but his eyesight was beginning to darken and waver. Robin knew that he would lose consciousness at any moment. But to do so would mean his death. And his death would bind his friends into eternal servitude to Hedrek.

:::::::::Don't give up:::::::

The voice whispered in Robin's head and he listened to it. Kicking as hard as he could, Robin sank deeper into the pool and suddenly found himself touching bottom. And there, before him, were the arrows. Just three of them, burning brightly. White fire. Robin suddenly forgot the fact that he had run out of air. He reached out for the arrows, showing no hesitation, even though he expected that they would burn his flesh. But as his fingers closed over them, Robin was surprised at how substantial they felt, and how cool. But even as he stared at the arrows in wonderment, the voice whispered in Robin's mind again.

::::::::You must go back now:::::::

Robin knew that he had to return, yet the thought occurred that he would never make. It was too far and he could not possibly hold out. His lungs were like a fire in his chest and his blood felt molten as it slushed through his veins. Robin could hear the labored beating of his heart in his ears, sluggish and erratic. He knew he was dying, yet he could not die. And so he pushed off from the bottom of the pool, the arrows clutched in one hand, and drifted upwards towards the light of the moon.

Sensation rippled through Robin. Quicksilver flashes. Fire faded to cool embers....rain on his face....gentle breezes. And then he realized that he was lying on the ground, several feet from the pool. The rain he had felt was water dripping off his skin. And his lungs no longer felt like bursting for he was able to inhale sweet air. Rolling onto his knees, Robin crouched there for a moment, his wet hair hanging in his eyes. Only then did he remember the arrows. He stared at his hands, which were empty. Then looked about him. Lying nearby were the arrows, but their glow had faded. Robin reached out for them and they looked as if they were made of ice, yet weren't cold to the touch.

Gazing up at the sky, Robin studied the track of the moon and realized that several hours had passed since he had entered the Stygian Pools. It would be dawn soon enough. Robin rose to his feet then moved to where his clothing lay in a scattered pile. He stamped his feet into his boots, shrugged on his tunic then laced on his belt. Not bothering to arm himself, Robin whistled sharply and his stallion appeared. There were pouches on either side of the saddle and Robin slipped the sword into one and the arrows into the quiver that rested in the other. His bow was strapped to the side as well. Just as he was ready to mount, Robin heard a familiar voice call his name. He whirled around and whispered, "Little John."

Hedrek smiled to himself as he watched the images of Robin Hood and Little John within his magic flames. He had been watching Robin all along and knew of the outlaws quest for the Arrows of White fire. Hedrek cursed that witch, Mortiana, for revealing the way to destroy his spell. But no matter. Hedrek had simply dispatched Little John to retrieve both the arrows, and Robin. By dawn he would have them both. But even as he leaned forward to study the images in the flames, the fire crackled at him sending a shower of sparks into the air then it, abruptly, burnt out. "NO!" Hedrek roared, as he waved his hands over the silvery ashes that remained. "Impossible!" The flames were magic, they should not have burnt out. Just then he heard the sound of laughter echoing in the air.

" me a witch," Mortiana whispered, then her voiced faded out. She could not use her powers to stop Hedrek but she could give Robin Hood a fighting chance by, ostensibly, blinding the dark sorcerer. At least this way Hedrek would not be privy to Robin's every move. But she had no intention of doing any more good deeds. Her debt to Olwyn was now paid in full.

"Damnation!" Hedrek thundered. He was so enraged that his powers bleed out of his palms and when he flung his hands out, energy bolts slammed into the walls. They cracked and crumbled, but otherwise held. Hedrek then forced himself to calmness. What was done was done. No matter. He trusted Little John to retrieve Robin for him. Meanwhile, he would call Marion and Tuck to him, and all that was left to do was wait.

Robin groaned as he faced Little John. He was not feeling up to another round. But he might be able to avoid a confrontation. The arrows were at hand. But his bow was on the other side of his horse. Robin took a step back, hand reaching behind him, but in that moment Little John gave a roar that shook the air and Robin's stallion bolted. "Great!" Robin muttered, then he leaped to his left, diving into a rolling somersault as Little John rushed him. Back on his feet, Robin crouched into a defensive stance. Fighting Little John was not going to be fun.

Little John wasn't angry that Robin had eluded his grasp. In fact, he felt nothing at all as he faced the outlaw. He had but one focus, to grab Robin and return him to his master. Little John was to retrieve the arrows as well, but that he could do once Robin was in his custody. "Come with me, Robin," Little John beseeched.

"You do have a one track mind, don't you, John?" Robin drawled, even as he backed away. He didn't like the way the giant was stalking him. A moment later he lunged to his left as Little John rushed him once again. Only this time Robin stumbled over a root and tumbled to the ground. Before he could roll to his feet, Little John was upon. Steel fingers pinned Robin's wrists over his head even as the giant's heavier weight pressed over Robin, holding him still.

"My master awaits us," Little John droned. He managed to grip both of Robin's wrists in one hand then used his free one to clock the other man on the chin.

Robin felt a burst of pain, saw a flash of light, then fell into darkness. How much time had passed before he regained consciousness, Robin didn't know. But it was still dark. He shifted his body and groaned as pain stabbed in his head. Then he tried to sit up only to realize that it was difficult to maneuver his body since his hands had been bound before him with a strip of rawhide.

Little John watched as Robin stirred. He had considered carrying the other man off but decided to wait till Robin regained consciousness. He needed to retrieve the arrows before returning to Hedrek, and Little John reasoned that it would be easier to do if Robin were awake and able to walk. It was a long journey to the Black Woods where Hedrek awaited. With that thought in mind as well, Little John had found some apples and he went to Robin now, offering the fruit.

"I'm not hungry," Robin whispered. He groaned again, for good measure, hoping to lure Little John closer to him. Robin knew he would have only one shot at escaping and he couldn't risk blowing it. So far so good, however, for Little John went down on one knee beside Robin and that was the opening he had been waiting for. Whispering an apology in advance, Robin kicked out, his heel connecting with Little John's temple and the giant collapsed into a heap. "Sorry!" Robin breathed, as he jumped to his feet. He moved away from the giant and released a shrill whistle.

A moment later Robin's stallion appeared and galloped over to him. Robin retrieved his sword, held it between his thighs and sawed free of his bonds. He was rubbing his wrists to ease the soreness when he heard a moan. Little John was coming round. Robin knew he didn't have much time so he reached for his bow then grabbed one of the Arrows of Fire. As he was notching the arrow into place, Robin was surprised when it suddenly burst into flame, burning brighter than the glow of the moon. He expected it to burn him, yet it was as cool to touch as it had been in the waters of the Stygian pools.

"You can't escape me, Robin," Little John drawled, as he rose to his feet and made to take a step towards the outlaw.

"You better be right about this, Mortiana!" Robin hissed, as he raised the bow and sighted along the arrow. He took a breath, held it, then released the arrow, and watched as it sliced through the air and imbedded itself in Little John's chest. Robin's aim was true. The Arrow of Fire pierced Little John's heart and with a cry of pain the giant toppled over and lay still.

End of Chapter Three

Chapter One
 Chapter Two
 Chapter Three
 Chapter Four

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