The Golden Cage

By Shelly Quinn

Chapter Two

"Why do you not eat?" Fengali asked, as he studied Robin in the light of the fire that crackled beside them. They were in a tent, sitting at a table, plates of succulent meat before them. But Robin’s food remained untouched. "Is it not to your liking?" Fengali persisted. "I will have something else brought to you."

Robin shook his head. "I’m not hungry," He stated, bluntly. Then he gestured to the rich meat. "What are my friends eating?"

Fengali shrugged, "A hearty stew," he replied, but acknowledging that they would not be as well fed.

"Why do you treat me differently," Robin demanded. "I am a slave to you, the same as them."

"Not the same," Fengali was quick to counter. "They are not our equal, Robin. Although I would hazard to guess that I am not your equal either."

Robin frowned. "Meaning what?" he asked, curious in spite of himself.

Fengali smiled, white teeth flashing against dark skin as he leaned back in his chair, a goblet of wine in one hand. "You are of royal blood, I would think. Not peasant class, as are your friends."

"I’m just a man," Robin hissed. "As are my friends. We do not judge our worth by our bloodlines."

"Which is more or less a confession on your part that your blood heritage is superior," Fengali drawled. He paused for a sip of wine, feeling Robin’s gaze burning into him, then he asked, "Am I right?"

Robin saw no reason to deny it. "I’m of…noble…Birth," He allowed. Perhaps if he played along, he might find some means to escape and free his friends.

Fengali was intrigued. "Why do you call those beneath you…friends?" he queried, with genuine interest.

"Because they are good men," Robin replied. "Brothers…if not by blood, then by heart and soul. They would die for me as I would die for them."

"And your family allows this?" Fengali prompted. "They are not angry?"

Robin shrugged. "I never knew my mother, and my father is dead." In spite of all the years that had passed, to speak of his father still brought a glimmer of pain. But Robin dissolved it to confront Fengali. "My father was killed by a man of royal blood. Prince John. The man who, in his brother’s absence, now rules this land."

Fengali saw hatred flash in Robin’s dark eyes. Hatred, and pain, yet there was compassion there as well, and concern. In robin’s gaze shone a wisdom that far surpassed his tender years. "So you wish this man dead?" Fengali asked, "This…Prince John?"

"Sometimes…" Robin allowed, as a sad smile curved his lips. He bent his head and his hair fell forward. With a huff of impatience, Robin shoved it back, but the heavy strands were unruly. The idle thought occurred that perhaps he should simply hack it off. But even as he fought with it Robin felt fingers grasp his wrists. Pushing his arms down. He realized that Fengali now stood behind him.

"I know of many who would pay a fortune for hair such as this," Fengali commented as he gently, finger-combed, the heavy, dark strands. He smiled when Robin snorted, still smoothing the silky locks into a ponytail, which he then tied with the rawhide strip he had removed earlier. "Is that better?" Fengali questioned, moving around to stand before Robin, so he could study his handiwork.

Robin nodded, "Thank you," He acknowledged, unable to keep a coloring of suspicion from his tone. If not for the circumstances. Robin found himself liking the other man. He sensed that Fengali possessed an innate goodness. And that he adhered to the fairness. "When do we reach your…master?" Robin queried, as he watched Fengali reclaim his seat.

Pouring more wine into Robin’s goblet, Fengali replied, "We’ll arrive by midday tomorrow. The Sultan is renovating an old, stone structure into a palace befitting his stature."

"Claghamore’s ruins," Robin stated, knowing that they had been heading east, and what lay ahead.

"You know this place?" Fengali countered, more than a bit surprised by the other man’s knowledge.

Robin shrugged, a smile curving his lips. "I know my lands," He allowed. Then he rose to his feet and began to pace. "May I see my friends?" He queried.

Fengali sighed, then shook his head. "I think not," He said softly, rising to his feet as well and moving to the thick, satin-covered pallets in the corner of the tent. "It’s time to sleep. You must be well-rested for your meeting with the Sultan, my friend."

"I’m not tired," Robin shod back, with a touch of defiance in his tone matching the flash in his dark eyes.

‘You will sleep," Fengali declared firmly, moving towards the younger man. "Willingly...or not." As he spoke, the Arab held up silken cords. "So do you sleep, Robin…or do I bind you?"

Robin hesitated only a moment, before moving over to the pallets and lying down. He knew that Fengali was not making an idle thread, and he needed to remain free. Free of movement, anyway. So Robin curled up on his side and closed his eyes.

Fengali smiled as he draped a blanket over Robin, then moved to lie upon his own bed. A part of him felt regret at what he must do, but Fengali had sworn loyalty to the Sultan. And his word he would honor to death.

An hour passed as Robin feigned sleep. He listened for Fengali’s breathing to change, when Robin rose from his pallet and exited the tent as silent as a shadow. He had no intention of trying to escape, but he needed a moment of solitude.

While searching for a quiet place, Robin kept an eye out for his friends. He saw them, by the main fire, curled up and asleep. It hurt him that they were still bound and watched over by two guards. Friar Tuck and Little John were good men, but as far as Fengali was concerned they did not even rate the covering of a tent. That they had often slept beneath the stars did not matter. The point was that they were free men, not slaves. "I will free us all…" Robin whispered, as he moved on, unwilling to risk being caught. Finally he came to a fallen tree and leaped over it to hide in the darkest shadows.

Sitting upon the ground, cross-legged, Robin closed his eyes and let his mind fill with the images of the camp and his surroundings, as well as Fengali’s visage. Once those images were imprinted in his head, Robin reached out the feelers of his mind, sent them deep into the heart of Sherwood.

Olwyn was reading when the images hit him. He felt Robin’s presence, Like a soft breeze ruffling over him, then he saw Tuck and Little John, bound and guarded. Other images followed, in quicksilver flashes, before fading away. It was enough, however, for Olwyn it recognize and understand. "Well done, young Robin," He whispered. Then he rose to his feet and vanished.

Robin snuck back into the tent, feeling exhausted by his efforts to reach Olwyn, but pleased. For he was certain that he had been successful, and he knew that the magician would send help. So Robin lay back on his pallet and drew the blanket over him. His eyes closed and he willingly fell into the warm darkness of slumber.

Lying motionless on the other pallet, Fengali opened his eyes and smiled. It was good to know that Robin Hood was also a man of his word.

End of Chapter Two

Chapter One
 Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

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