Clouds darkened the sky overhead as thunder rumbled in the distance. In a meadow, far from the hidden camp in Sherwood, a large stag fed quietly on the green clover, unaware of the man nearby.
Robin Hood positioned himself carefully, making sure he was upwind from the beast. Raising his longbow, he sighted down the clothyard arrow, still having trouble getting a clean shot. The wind was picking up, heralding the storm to come, and between his long, dark hair whipping his eyes, and his attempt to gauge the velocity of the wind, Robin was unsure if he would get this buck. He narrowed his concentration, knowing in the back of his mind, this stag would keep the camp in venison for weeks.
Just as he released the arrow, a bolt of lightning creased the cloudy sky, and the animal bolted in fear. Robin ran down into the meadow, hoping to pick up the large beast's track again, but now the rain was beginning to pelt the grass, hiding any sign of the animal's recent passage. The sky darkened ominously, almost to the point of full night, making it difficult to see.
Sighing, Robin looped his bow over his shoulder, and resheathed his arrow. Turning, he made his way up the hill, leaving the meadow behind. Footing was becoming difficult on the wet grass, and Robin had to keep pushing his wet hair back from his face, wiping the rain out of his eyes.
Just as he reached the top of the hill, he heard the steady beat of approaching horses. Ducking behind a clump of trees, he hid just in time to see soldiers reign in their horses, not even fifteen feet from where he concealed himself.
The men were dressed in uniform, but it was not the outfit of the King's guard. Robin knew that uniform all too well. These clothes looked vaguely familiar, bright red and yellow, but for the life of him, Robin couldn't remember where he had seen it before. Settling himself comfortably in his hidden site, he sat in silence, listening to their discussion.
"We can't very well go back to Wellsley without him." One man shouted, over the high winds.
"Well, we'll never find him in this blinding rain, either. I say we go to the nearest inn and sit it out until the storm passes, then find him." Another responded.
"But by then, he could be miles from here," A third man complained, visibly agitated.
Robin leaned closer, hoping to catch every word said, in spite of the strong wind that took the words and tossed them away. Moving slightly, trying to get closer, his foot slipped on a clump of wet grass, causing him to fall forward. The sound of him hitting the ground spooked the horse of the closest soldier, causing him to rear and throw off his rider.
Both Robin and the brightly clad soldier leaped to their feet at the same time, and Robin quickly reached back for the sword he wore, sheathed on his back. By the time he slipped it free, the other two soldiers, still remaining on their horses, had arrows notched and aimed directly at him.
"Jacobi, I had you figured for much smarter than this! Why did you remain in this area?" The fallen soldier laughed as he approached Robin, his own sword now drawn. "And what unsuspecting victim did you steal these cloths and weapons from?"
Robin closed his eyes briefly in disgust, remembering now where he had seen these uniforms before. These guards were from Wellsley Prison. In that brief second, it all came back to him - his friend's wedding day - the escaped convicts seeking sanctuary in his friend's manor, and the worst part of all - the man who looked like his identical twin - the man he was forced to kill in an act of self-defense.
But wait, they called him Jacobi! That was the name of the man who looked so much like himself, it scared even him. But he had killed Jacobi in a fight!
"You have me mistaken for someone else," Robin told them. "My name is . . . "
The closest soldier slapped Robin across the face, ordering his silence. "I don't rightly care what peasant you killed to get that tunic. You've saved us a lot of trouble, allowing us the pleasure of your capture." The soldier sneered.
Robin groaned. He could see the soldiers really didn't care who he was, as long as they came back with someone who resembled the escaped convict. Hard on the heels of that thought, another bolt of lightning cut across the sky, striking a tree nearby. The bright flash, and the spray of sparks gave Robin the chance he needed.
He bolted for the cover of the woods, slipping in the mud, but obtaining the advantage of surprise. Running blindly through the brush, he paid no heed to the branches that whipped his face and grabbed his hair, gashing his arms into bloody welts. Robin knew he could not slow his pace. The soldiers were too close.
He could hear the soldiers' commotion, as they slid from their horses and pursued him, with utter determination. Arrows whizzed past his head, quivering in the trees ahead of him. The heavy downpour blinded his path, but he ran on, slipping with every step.
* * * * *
The hidden compound, deep in Sherwood Forest, was full of hectic activity as the occupants prepared for the oncoming storm. Baskets and food were being taken into huts, and laundry was pulled quickly, down off the lines, as the sky grew grayer and grayer.
Marion looked toward the gates with concern, knowing Robin was still out hunting. "I know the camp is out of meat, Robin," she mumbled, busying herself with the preparations. " But surely even you can't be so blindly stubborn, you can't see the clouds moving in."
From the far side of the camp, Friar Tuck and Little John saw her, and headed her way. "No word from Robin yet?" Little John's concern for his missing friend showed clearly in his deep blue eyes.
"No! I can't believe he missed the rendezvous!"
"You know how Robin is," Little John smiled. "We just figured was following a fresh trail, and didn't want to give up until he found his prey."
"Yeah, that does sound like Robin." The Friar grinned also, seeing Marion's exasperated frown. "He'll be along soon.
The camp's concealing branches bent open across the compound, and they turned around in time to watch a man stroll casually toward them.
"See?" Friar Tuck chuckled as the first raindrops splattered in the dust at their feet. "What did I tell you?"
"Robin, what took you so long?" Marion blurted out as soon as the outlaws was within earshot. She stared in confusion at her friend, for now he was dressed in a tight, black leather, sleeveless tunic and black leather pants. He also sported a cynical smirk when he saw Marion, eyeing her legs in a disconcerting way.
"Yeah, well I . . . I got sidetracked." The outlaw mumbled under his breath.
"Are you ok? Where did you get those clothes?" Marion asked, half laughing.
"Got caught in the storm. Peasant gave them to me." Again the man mumbled, looking down toward the ground.
"Well, as long as you made it back before the worst of the storm. Come on Robin, let's go put the horses in their shelter." Little John reached out, companionably touching the other outlaw's arm.
"Don't ever touch me!" The dark-haired man snarled, pushing the blond giant's hand violently clear, glaring at him ominously.
"Robin?" Little John gasped in surprise. His friend had never reacted like that before.
"Ah . . . sorry. Not feeling too well . . . "
"No matter," John replied slowly, hesitating a moment before he continued with a shrug of his strong shoulders. "Let's go." Turning, he walked through the now steady rain, toward the horses. The dark-haired outlaw followed, casually removing a dagger from his belt. Idly, he spun it across his knuckles as he hurried to catch up to Little John.
* * * * *
Robin ran blindly through the pelting rain, pausing only for a moment to push his limp hair back and wipe the water out of his eyes. Looking quickly about, he noticed the shadow of a cave's dark opening in a nearby mountain range. Realizing he had gotten a bit of a lead on the three out-of-shape soldiers, Robin quickly decided to seek shelter from the heavy downpour, trusting the rain to cover his tracks. Resuming his headlong flight, he dashed across a field of wild flowers, and into the black mouth of the cave's entrance. Leaning back against the stony wall, Robin gasped for breath, drying his face on the bottom of his black suede tunic.
The cold water from the heavy downpour burned in the gashes and rising welts on his face and arms, caused by his rushed passage through tangled branches and bushes. Ignoring them, he looked around. The darkened sky outside let in little light, and he found it almost impossible to see. Robin sighed, and began to make his way toward the passageway in the back of the cave, moving slower and slower as the darkness slowly enfolded him.
As Robin passed carefully through the silky cobwebs that hung haphazardly from the stone-wrought ceiling, he felt moss and slime thicken underfoot, and realized there had to be an underground stream nearby. The air had become laden with moisture, but the darkness was so complete he could only feel his way forward. The ground kept getting wetter underfoot, and he soon began to make out the sound of moving water ahead.
Robin sighed again, for he knew he couldn't turn back. Realizing his only option was to find another way out of the damp cave, he pushed forward. He knew it wouldn't take long for the soldiers to figure out where he had gone.
It wasn't long before Robin found himself wading through ice cold water. He did notice though, to his relief, the underground passage was slowly brightening. Quickening his pace carefully, hoping the tunnel would come out into familiar territory, he splashed forward. He was just beginning to be able to make out the voices of the trailing soldiers, when he waded into a massive cavern.
The stream he had been wading through continued onward, toward the left wall of the cavern, following the wall until it ended in an underground lake. Large rocks were strewn about the cave's floor, making the footing treacherous. At the roof of the cavern, a natural hole peaked into the surrounding forest above, and the light pouring through it was faint, due to the heavy clouds still overhead. The natural light created an almost eerie luminescent glow as it played against the walls of the cave, turning them green, then blue, the green again. The stream-fed lake was also an unusual color, deepening purple toward the center, making it seem almost bottomless. Robin stood still for just a moment, in awe-inspired silence, observing his surroundings.
Hearing the soldiers right behind him, Robin stepped back, flush against the walls, just in time to hide from the soldiers as they rushed forward, into the massive cavern.
"He's in here, huh?" The large officer said sarcastically to his men, as they stood gaping at the wonders of nature.
Robin smiled to himself, and slipped to the far side of the cave. Still grinning, he began to scale the rough walls leading to the only exit he dared attempt. The soldiers were still blocking the other entrance, and he knew they'd soon be searching the cavern for him.
The cave was large and dark, and he moved quietly, undetected, until loose dirt and rocks, loosened by his passage, splashed into the lake below. Every stone that fell churned the water, revealing his whereabouts. Reaching the top finally, he found a small ledge, and used it to turn around.
Robin could see the soldiers below as they drew their bows and aimed at him, leaving him no time to be cautious. Getting as sure a footing as he could on his precarious perch, Robin lunged for the hold in the ceiling, grabbing at the edge with the tips of his fingers. The loose dirt fell away from his left hand, but he got a good grip with his right. His body hung there for a moment, swinging about his one-handed grip as he reached up to secure his hold, an arrow flew by, slicing into his left arm, high up near the shoulder.
Robin bit his lower lip hard, unable to release his grip to clasp the burning wound, realizing he would fall to his death if he moved too quickly. Instead, he had to force himself to ignore the pain, making his limp arm work to help pull him through the hole. He could hear the soldiers cursing as he won free.
Tired, cold, and now wounded, Robin lay back against the ground near the hole. He turned his hot face against the damp grass, gasping. Forcing himself to move, Robin pulled off his belt, knotting it around the gaping gash on his arm to slow the bleeding. Slowly, he sat up, eyeing his unfamiliar surroundings.
"Great," Robin mumbled. "Just great! Where do I go from here?"
Lightning creased the sky as Little John and his dark-haired companion put the last of the horses in their shelter, out of the rain. John turned and watched curiously as the other man spun his dagger across his knuckles.
"Where did you learn to do that," he asked?
"Don't know," was his only answer. The man slipped the knife back into his belt, and turned to eye Little John cautiously.
One of the horses snorted, then reared, almost striking the dark-haired man with his front hooves. John watched in disbelief as the other man turned swiftly, cursed the grey stallion, and struck the horse across the nose.
Little John gasped in amazement. "Are you sure you're all right, Robin? Is there anything you need to tell me?
"No! No. Just tired. Going to sleep," the man mumbled before walking out into the heavy rain. He stood in the center of the compound, looking around. Turning back to the still staring Little John, the dark-haired man motioned him close.
"Have headache," he muttered softly. "Help me to my hut?"
"Sure Robin." Little John smiled in relief. "That explains everything. You must be coming down with something. Even your voice sounds different."
"Sore throat," the man whispered. He let the tall blond outlaw take him by the arm, and lead him to a nearby hut. Little John lit a candle, then smiled as he bade his friend goodnight.
The dark-haired man turned to watch the gentle giant stride back across the compound, a sly smile slowly turning the corners of his mouth. He brushed his long damp hair free from his eyes, still grinning as he glanced about the tiny room.
"So, Robin Hood, this is what you call home. "Jacobi chuckled. "Or should I say this is what I will call home!"
"Robin? Is it okay if I come in?"
Jacobi was delighted when he recognized the voice. "Sure, he softly, keeping his voice down as he tried to hide his strong accent.
Marion walked in, concern for her friend plain on her expressive face. "Little John told me you're not feeling well, so I had Friar Tuck make you up some of his herbal tea. This should make you feel better." She smiled up at Jacobi. "That, and getting out of those wet clothes."
"I don't need the Friar's tea," Jacobi smirked. "But you could help me out of my clothes if you want." His eyes wandered indolently down her body, stopping to eye her slim, muscular legs in appreciation.
"Robin! What's gotten into you! You must be sicker than you thought!"
Jacobi chuckled. With a quick move, he reached out and pulled Marion roughly against him. Completely forgetting to hide his rough accent, he chuckled again. "You've been a wantin' this for some time, eh Marion?"
"Robin! What is wrong with you!" Marion began to squirm, struggling to escape this suddenly familiar stranger.
"Nothin' you couldn't fix Milady."
Marion was completely confused, but she knew she had to do something quickly, before the situation escalated out of control.
Leaning into the outlaw's rough grasp, she suddenly raised her booted foot, and slammed it down on Jacobi's instep. Jacobi bellowed at the unexpected pain, and released Marion, who slid quickly out of reach. She pulled back the animal skin which covered the doorway, turning to glare at "Robin". Her luminous eyes filled with sudden tears, and she spun back around and fled.
Jacobi sat back on the pallet and nursed his sore foot.
"You may have gotten away from me this time, Marion, but I will succeed where your precious Robin Hood failed!"
End of Chapter One
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