Joan T. Woodcock
Robin scanned the shadowed, dimly lit room and, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, stepped inside. His brown eyes flickered questioningly from face to face before settling on an unsmiling James. Joy at seeing his seemingly healthy half-brother vied with his natural caution. Robin glanced back at his stepmother. She offered him a tremulous smile and nodded towards her son. Taking this as a sign that all was well, Robin rushed to James’s side and almost crushed him in an embrace until he remembered his injuries and settled for clasping the younger man’s shoulders affectionately.
"I don’t understand." Robin pulled back to get a better look at the patient. "You look healthier than I do, James." He again looked at his stepmother for an answer. "Has a miracle happened?"
Robin saw no change of expression on his half-brother’s face and his confusion deepened. No happiness at Robin’s arrival. No joy at his own miraculous healing. Robin quickly studied the others, noticing for the first time that their expressions ranged from contempt, to sorrow, to furtive glances towards any place other than at Robin.
"Mary, what’s going on? Your message said James was mortally wounded and wouldn’t last a fortnight so that I should get here posthaste. I don’t understand."
Mary stood there mutely, staring at something behind Robin. Robin turned to follow her stare, his arm automatically reaching for the sword strapped behind him. The shadows suddenly burst to life as armed soldiers surrounded Robin before his sword cleared its scabbard. His arms were brutally yanked behind his back causing the outlaw to hiss in pain. He watched a figure emerge from the darkness and his heart stopped as he stared at the soldier approaching him.
"No..." He looked toward his stepmother, his face a portrait of shock and hurt. "Mary. Tell me you didn’t know anything about this." His stepmother turned away, unable to face him.
The man chuckled as he moved out of the shadows towards Robin. "Of course the Lady Tadcaster knew about it, Robin Hood. They all did. They chose their creature comforts over their criminal relative."
Josiah Planter swaggered up to the captive, a malicious smirk revealing decayed teeth, rotten like the man’s soul. Planter stopped in front of his prisoner and studied him for a moment with a gloating smugness. Without warning, he viciously backhanded Robin, snapping his head to the side. Blood spurted from the taller man’s mouth.
Barely aware of the gasps behind him, Robin slowly shook his head to clear it and turned to focus on the man in front of him. He deliberately spat blood onto the soldier’s clean tunic. "Captain Josiah Planter. As charming as ever, I see."
A murmur was heard from the soldiers and he watched the captain’s face turn a deep, angry red. Planter grabbed a fistful of Robin’s hair and yanked his head back. He was so close Robin almost gagged on the fetid breath wafting over his throbbing face.
"Thanks to you, you scum, I am no longer a captain." He tugged even harder, bringing a blade to Robin’s throat. Robin dared not swallow. He could feel the sting of the dagger and a wetness snake down his neck, sure the blade was leaving a track of red as it sliced over his exposed throat ever so slowly.
"Because you escaped, I was ridiculed and demoted. But, with God as my
witness, I swore I would recapture you if it were the last thing I ever did
in this life. And I’ve done it." He lowered the dagger and released Robin’s
hair only to plow a meaty fist into his abdomen, causing Robin to bend over
Planter screamed at his soldiers, "Hold him up this time, you fools." The guards quickly yanked Robin upright and Planter reined blow after punishing blow to Robin’s midsection until the prisoner slumped limply between the two guards holding him.
"Sergeant Planter, please." Lord Tadcaster took a tentative step forward, his hand held out in supplication. "We agreed to help you but do not kill the man in front of my family."
With a final vicious punch to the prisoner’s face, Planter stepped back, straightened his rumpled and blood-stained tunic and adjusted his belt. He then turned to face the nobleman, an ingratiating smile set in place on his ugly face.
"You’re quite right, Lord Tadcaster. My apologies. You have been most cooperative and I would not wish to abuse your hospitality any further. If you please, my lord, would you have the requested provisions gathered so that we may be on our way at first light? MacAfee, go with his lordship to make sure our ‘wishes’ have been seen to."
If Cecil detected the sarcastic tone of voice, he was wise enough to remain silent.
Planter turned back to his prisoner who was once again standing upright albeit on wobbly legs. "Bind him securely. Put this on him and tie him over there like the rabid cur he is." He threw something to the guard and nodded towards two soldiers. "You and you, stay here and guard the prisoner. He’s a wily bastard and if he escapes, you will die. The rest of you, come with me." With a mock bow and extended arm, he motioned Cecil to proceed him. "Lord Tadcaster, if you please."
The remaining guards bound Robin’s wrists together tightly behind his back, then placed a thick hemp noose around his neck. With one final yank, the guard tied the end of the leash to a wall hook and shoved his prisoner into the corner.
Smacking against the wall, Robin bounced off the stones and fell to his knees. He collapsed to his side and lay there, his breath coming in shallow pants. Through blurred vision, he watched the guards walk to the other side of the room towards the table laden with breads and wine. He struggled to right himself but the agony in his ribs and his bound arms made it impossible. I’m sorry, Marion. You were right all along.
Rowena, Mary’s daughter by her second husband, ran over to Robin and strained to help him sit. Tears streamed down her comely face as she dabbed at the oozing cuts on Robin’s face with the hem of her gown. "Oh, Robin. Robin. I’m so sorry."
"Rowena! Get away from him this instant."
"James, he’s hurt dreadfully. I can’t just leave him without helping." She returned to her task only to be pulled back by her half-brother.
"Cecil told us to stay away from him. We don’t want any more trouble because of him."
Pulling her behind him, James returned to his mother’s side. Neither James nor Mary dared look at Robin.
"What did it take to turn me in, Mary? Were your years with my father and me so horrible that you have no allegiance to his memory ...or to me?" Robin’s voice softened and he winced, hating that he sounded like a lost little boy. "Did our years together mean nothing to you?" He struggled to focus on his half-brother. "And you, James, all we shared when Father was still alive...What did I do to deserve your hatred?"
Forgetting herself, Mary took a tentative step towards her stepson. "Of course I treasure my time with you and your father, Robin. Don’t even think such a thing. It’s just that -- "
James interrupted. "Cecil has forbidden us to speak to him, Mother."
"Oh, James, do shut up," Rowena commanded as she pulled away from her brother and hurried back to Robin’s side. "The Normans loyal to Prince John are forcing Father to cooperate with them, Robin. They threatened all of us if he didn’t have Mother send for you. You have to believe that Father was only trying to protect us." She burst into tears and wrapped her arms around her fallen hero, heedless of the blood and sweat staining her gown.
Mary took a step closer. "Cecil had little choice, Robin. We would have lost everything had he not cooperated when they first pressured him some months ago. I-I had no choice ..."
Robin began to shake his head in disbelief, only to stop when his head began to spin. "You mean he threatened to hurt you and the children, Mary?"
She had the good grace to blush. "N-not actually...at first...he...they..."
Rowena’s head jerked up at her mother’s stumbling, an incredulous expression on her tear-smudged face.
"Mother, you told me that that vile man threatened to kill us. That if Father didn’t do as he was told, he would murder each of us in turn, forcing those of us left to watch." She searched her mother’s face, hoping, praying for her mother to confirm her explanation. Instead, Mary looked away from her daughter, too ashamed to face her.
"No!" The young woman leaped to her feet and rushed to her mother, grabbing her arm and forcing her to face her. "Mother, did you lie to me? Have you done this to Robin because of all of this?" She held her arms out to encompass the expensive furnishings that occupied the solar. "Please, tell me I’m wrong, Mother." Silence. "Please?"
James pulled his half-sister away from his mother. "Enough, Rowena. Stop badgering Mother. You’re too young to understand."
Fury infused her face as Rowena grabbed her brother’s hand and pulled him over to stand in front of his injured half-brother. "Look at Robin, James. Look at him! You did this to him! You and Father and Mother! He raced to get here for you, and this is how you repay his love."
Falling to her knees she again hugged Robin. "How could you?" she sobbed. "How could you?"
"Is Rowena right, James?" Robin asked, his voice raspy from the rope pressing into his throat. "You betrayed me for your possessions and prestige in Prince John’s court? Your own brother?"
James, who had been walking back to the other side of the room, stopped at the question and stormed back to tower over Robin. "My half-brother, Robert. The way you live, like a common outlaw...What makes you think I would want you to have ties with you anymore? Any association with you, no matter how remote, would destroy my standing in the court. I’ve grown up, Robert. And I’ve discovered that I like court life." James’s eyes narrowed, his animosity no longer masked. "Besides, outlaw, why would you care what would happen to us if Planter went through with his threat. If you cared, you wouldn’t continue to live like a barbarian in the woods -- an embarrassment to my mother and sister, and to the Locksley name – to me.
"You leave me out of this," Rowena screamed as she rushed to her brother and pummeled his chest. "I would never have done this. Never!" Rowena pulled away from her brother and knelt beside Robin.
"Both of you, stop it!" Mary commanded. "I think we’ve made a mistake, James. I can’t stand seeing Robin treated like this."
"Absolutely not, Mother. We did the only thing possible. We have ourselves to worry about. You didn’t raise me to become a criminal like my half-brother."
"James!" Mary had the good grace to blush at her son’s cruel words.
Robin stared from his much beloved stepmother, the only mother he remembered, and his handsome half-brother, of whom he had such fond memories. A deep sadness pervaded his soul as his love shriveled up and died, leaving him empty, so empty. Robin tried to shift to a more comfortable position, aided by Ro. But to no avail.
"I can’t...believe you could have ...changed this much, James." He was forced to stop and catch his breath. "Wh-why?"
"He’s greedy and selfish," Rowena explained. "He always has been. You just haven’t been around him often enough to see it, Robin. To see how puffed up with his own importance he has become."
James’s youthful face flushed with anger as he strode menacingly toward his sister. But Rowena was spared his wrath by the return of Sergeant Planter.
"I hate to break up this touching family reunion but it is time for you to retire for the night. Simon, escort Lady Mary and her children to their quarters. Thurgood, take charge of this young whelp. I found him listening at the door." He spun Derrick into the waiting soldier.
Rowena hugged Robin even tighter. "I’m staying here with Robin."
Terrified of the anger building on Planter’s face, Mary extended her hand towards her daughter. "Rowena dear, please, cause no more trouble. Come with us now."
Rowena shook her head and burrowed her face into Robin’s shoulder. "No. I can’t leave him like this."
Robin leaned into her and whispered, "Go with them, Ro...no more trouble because of me...please."
Planter had reached the end of his patience and all pretense of manners and civility was dropped. He reached for Rowena. Grabbing her arm, he yanked her away from his prisoner and threw her to the floor. Hearing Rowena’s cry of pain, Robin somehow found the strength to get to his knees, ready to defend this young woman whom he loved like a sister. But Planter was too quick for the injured man and lashed out with his boot, catching Robin on the chin and propelling him back against the wall. Robin’s head struck with a sickening thud and he crumpled to the floor in a dazed heap.
"You’ve killed him! You’ve killed him!" Rowena lunged at the soldier like a tigress defending her cub, viciously scratching at his hateful face.
"Shut up, you bitch!" Planter backhanded Rowena and she fell back into her brother. She gingerly fingered her bruised cheek, her mouth agape in shock.
"Remove these bitches from my presence, you worthless specimen of manhood, before I really get angry."
James reddened at the insult but quickly gathered his sister and mother, prodding them towards the door. Rowena pulled out of his grasp and eluded her mother’s extended hand. "I don’t want either of you to touch me ever again." Rowena took one last look at her beloved Robin, leaning against the wall at a crooked angle, bloodied, bruised and semi-conscious. Her eyes filled with tears, yet she held her head high and left the room, ignoring her family while her heart was breaking.
Meanwhile, when everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere, Derrick edged his way towards Robin. Derrick hadn’t cried since he was a boy in leading strings but it took all his self-control not to bawl like a baby when he finally got close to his old partner. Robin didn’t deserve this. He was a good, brave man. Too good for the high-and-mighty Tadcasters.
Derrick sidled the last several feet and knelt beside his fallen friend. "Robin, what can I do to help you?"
Robin blinked and stared at Derrick with a vacant gaze, still dazed by the blow to his head.
"Robin." Derrick tried again in a slightly louder whisper. "Robin."
Robin’s eyes cleared and he focused on the worried boy in front of him. "P-pretend -- don’t know me." He could see Derrick ready to argue with him. "T-too dangerous for you. Planter...is deranged."
"But, Robin, I have to help you. How can I if I can’t get near you?"
By sheer willpower, Robin gathered his remaining strength. He had to protect Derrick and make him understand. "By getting hurt yourself, you can’t help me, can you?"
Derrick slowly shook his head, realizing Robin was right.
"Keep alert. You may be able to slip away for help. All right, my friend?"
Derrick’s face lit up and he straightened his shoulders. Robin Hood called him "friend." "I’ll do what you say, Robin. I’ll wait for my opportunity."
"Good. Now go --" His strength failed him and Robin collapsed against the wall.
The young man moved near Private Thurgood just as the soldier turned to face the prisoner.
Derrick had to admire Lady Rowena for her bravery and loyalty to Robin and he vowed that, one day, he would make it known to James just how much he despised him for his cowardice. It almost killed Derrick that he was unable to do anything to prevent Planter’s cruel treatment of Robin. And to see his hero slumped down to the floor, lying there like a broken rag doll -- No, Derrick would never forgive James for this. Never.
End of Chapter Two
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