Gut Instinct

By Thornedbud

 

Chapter Two

 

As Robin tore through the countryside and through the woods, his heart was beating so fast and hard he felt it might pop out, and perspiration covered his body. How could this have happened? How could he have let this happen? Thoughts invaded and swarmed in his mind, horrible images he wanted to banish refused to leave. Guilt flooded his consciousness and made its home there. He knew something bad was going to happen, why did he leave? When was he going to start listening to his instincts; when was he going to start trusting them. Now he didn’t know if any of his friends were still alive and he knew if they were Prince John was probably developing plans to hurt them. And what of the children, the innocents he’d made that vow so long ago to protect. Would Prince John kill them too?

Robin hadn’t realized he was so close to home, until his stallion walked right into camp, no horn sounded, no gate needed to be opened.

He looked around at his home and his jaw dropped at the degradation that surrounded him. Everything was burning, if not ash already, and corpses littered the ground. One in particular stuck out, and he ran to it. The smallness of the figure was the first feature to catch his eye. It was seven year-old Alaina, she must have gotten caught in the crossfire. Hot tears burned down his cheeks as he held the little girl, who was so alive that she never walked, she was always skipping and laughing. Now she was so cold, and there was no laughter, no skipping, and no breathing.


“Robin?” He heard a familiar voice and whipped his head around to where it originated from.


“Tuck? How many survived?” He almost didn’t want an answer and he was so afraid he would confirm the one thing he couldn’t handle now.


“More than you would think looking around; a lot of these are soldiers.” He gestured to the carnage surrounding them.


“Little John?”


“He is a little banged up, but he is safe in the forest with the rest of the survivors.” He waited for Robin to say something else.


Marion ?” He finally squeaked out the question that he did really want an answer to.


“I don’t know Robin. She was taken with many of the others, as captives. I’m going to be honest with you Robin, because I know that is what you want. She didn’t look to good while I saw her fighting. There were so many soldiers and many of the women had run into the forest to hide their children, and people were running around panicking, so there were limited fighters. Prince John must have sent his whole army here, Robin.” With every word he spoke, he could in Robin’s eyes, the man’s heart was breaking a little more.


“Show me where the survivors are.” That all he said as he kissed little Alaina on the forehead and lay her gently down. He slowly rose from his sitting position and followed Tuck. Tuck made a detour to a log near the water and opened its end; he pulled out a small sack of what appeared to be herbs; her replaced the end and headed toward the cook tent. Here he collected a pot, a pan a few bowls, a small stack of plates that had miraculously missed damage, some spoons and a few cups. Shockingly these things had remained in one piece each; finally he led them both away from the horrid site that their home had become.


They walked for a while, Robin leading his gray behind him, his saddlebags carried the things the Friar collected and Tuck walked out examining his herbs as he moved forward. As they got deeper into the woods the darkness engulfed them, until the moon rose to illuminate they way. Robin saw an orange flame in coming up upon them and knew they were almost to their destination.


They entered the clearing that housed the refugees, and Robin gazed around at his now wounded people. There were four men all supporting some sort of wound, half a dozen women and maybe a dozen children. The first thing he noticed was that there were still children missing, and his heart broke a little more.


Tuck noticed this and reassured him, “She was the only child we lost Robin, the soldier’s got the rest.”


“Robin!” The children were running to him, both scared that their home was gone, and excited to see their leader. After hugging all the children, and giving them assurances he knew he couldn’t give, he told them a story, lulling them into sleep. Not a single other adult had spoken in this time, they all patiently waited to be told their futures.


“How are they Tuck?”


“Mostly they just need a chance to rest, they’ll be fine in a few days.”


“Robin we thought they would have gotten you, we thought you were dead!” Little John couldn’t keep quiet any longer, his joy at seeing his leader and his best friend exploded out, which sent similar words from everyone else pouring out.


“I’m fine, I got back to camp after the soldiers left. Ingrid told me she’d heard about it from the villages and I rode as fast as I could. But, I didn’t get back in time. I wasn’t back in time.” He tapered off as he spoke, the guilt evident in his voice.


“Robin we don’t blame you, you couldn’t have known this was going to happen. All we ask is for you to continue being our leader; show us how to rebuild.” It was a young, now widower named Jessica who spoke, her voice pleading for a solution to the mess they were now in.

Robin didn’t speak for a few minutes, just stared at his brave friends sadness seeping out of his expressive eyes. When he did speak they were startled, but soon entranced in his rhythmic voice, which was interrupted every so often where he paused, then choked out the words.

“I want everybody to get some sleep tonight. Tomorrow, the older children will go into the villages, and see what they can over here, learn what Prince John is up to. Anyone else who is fit…we need to bury our brethren…and see what we can salvage from the site. I prepared for a situation such as this, and I have a backup location, only Tuck, Little John and… Marion knew about it. I was hoping we would never need to use it, but…now we have no choice. Everybody needs to sleep, we have a lot of work to do tomorrow…” As soon as he finished he lowered his eyes to his lap, the guilt and sadness still overwhelmed him. Everyone was silent, no one argued or questioned his logic; there were simply the sounds of rustling and breathing as everyone prepared for sleep. Only one man remained awake, gently stoking the fire; it was Robin, and sleep was the furthest thing from his mind.


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When morning broke it found Robin waking, pure exhaustion had taken to the land of slumber if only for a brief amount of time. The first thing he noticed upon opening his eyes, was a large group of horses around them, calmly chewing on the grass. After that he noticed Tuck was checking the wounded, who like most of the others were still asleep.


“Go back to sleep Robin, I know you barely slept.” Tuck said this without even turning around to see who was up.


“Where did all those horses come from?” He recognized that they were the horses from camp, but he figured Prince John’s men would have taken them.


“When we fled, we let the horses out. They have been wandering, and seem to have found us.” Tuck didn’t seem surprised at all, in fact he seem to have expected them to return.


“How is everyone?” He asked as he motioned to the men Tuck was now checking on.


“Little John is fine, Thomas is going to be fine, Alexander is also going to be fine, but Marcus has me worried. He is the worst off of the bunch. He’s got some nasty cuts, but I’m hoping with rest that he’ll recover.” He spoke while administering herbal mixtures to the wounded man, who had begun waking.


“My wife, my son, are they alive?” The man gave no thought to the bandages on his body or the trouble he had inhaling; his only concern was for the ones he loved.


“Your wife was taken with a large group of others, by the soldiers, but Michael is sleeping only a few feet away, he is a little shaken up, but otherwise, he perfectly fine. You, Marcus, are the one that worries me, go back to sleep you need your rest. I will wake you up every so often for tea and light food, but for now you need to rest.”


Marcus suddenly looked over at Robin, sensing someone was watching him and spoke with joy in his voice, “Robin, you’re alive! We thought Prince John’s men would’ve gotten you when you returned to camp.”


I’m fine Marcus,” Robin smiled at the man and scolded him, “but, you should listen to Tuck, you need to rest.” Marcus looked over at his sleeping son, then at Tuck and finally gave in, closing his eyes, and letting sleep envelop him.


“Tuck?” Tuck looked at Robin upon hearing his name, it hurt him to hear the doubt in his friends voice.


“Yes Robin?”


Robin paused for a while and then spoke, saying something Tuck didn’t expect, “What do we do?”

If it hurt Tuck to hear the doubt in Robin’s voice, then it broke his heart to hear his friend sound so lost, like a small child.


“Exactly what you said, we bury our dead, we rescue the living and we rebuild. We survive. What else can we do?”

People had begun waking up, and as Robin looked into the sleepy eyes of the children, he saw more courage than he thought he himself could ever muster. He, with new determination, rose and grabbed his bow, prepared to catch some food for the group to eat.


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When he returned to the little camp, deer carcass in his arms, he saw a new fire had been lit in the same spot as the one from the previous night. Tuck had a pot and was boiling tea, no doubt to give to the injured men, and Robin could only imagine what it contained.


He lay the deer down near the fire and began to skin and clean it. As he prepared the deer for cooking his mind wandered, and as hard as he tried he couldn’t keep it from going the one place he had avoided since he reached his surviving people. It was a subject he had blocked out, by simply concentrating on problem of rebuilding. The subject was
Marion . But, now he’d formed a plan as far as he could and nothing was left in his mind to serve as a barrier.


If she was dead…he couldn’t imagine her being dead; it would be like imagining part of his soul missing and his heart in a million pieces. It would mean never seeing her smile, never seeing that playful look in her eyes, never hearing her laugh or scold him, even the scolding he would miss. He couldn’t breathe without detecting the scent of her hair, couldn’t sleep knowing she would never awaken, and couldn’t dream when all his dreams were gone.


“Robin...Robin...Robin?!” Third time was a charm, Robin finally heard his name being called and looked over at Tuck.


 
“Sorry, guess I got lost in thought.”


 
“Robin are you alright?” Tuck sounded worried and Robin didn’t like it.


 
“Why wouldn’t I be?”


 
“You have tears on your cheeks.” Robin quickly went to wipe his face and nearly cut himself with the knife he still held.


 
“I’m fine, just thinking about things.”


 
“Like
Marion ?”


 
“Yes.” Robin wasn’t surprised Tuck guessed, and Tuck wasn’t surprised that Robin wasn’t surprised; they were past the point of guessing.


 
“Pray for her Robin, the best you can do for now is pray for her, and all the others.” He tried to console his friend, but inside he knew it was practically useless.


""What if it isn’t enough Tuck? What if she is dead already?” Robin had tears swimming in his eyes; tears that Tuck did not miss.

           
“Than she in a much finer place than we, and we should hope she prays for us.”


 
“I can’t lose her, I just can’t.” Now one of the tears in his eyes took a long trip down his cheek, until he slapped it away.


“You won’t Robin, ever, you have to believe that. If you remember her, she’ll never die. Don’t give up hope so soon my young friend.” Robin mutely nodded his head and began to cook the deer which he had finished skinning.


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Once everyone had been fed and watered (Tuck had selected a very good location to camp, being that there was a small stream near by.) Robin sent the six oldest children in pairs to the nearest villages to overhear things that could be important. Then with the women, Little John and Thomas, who were strong enough to do some fairly light work, Robin headed to the now destroyed compound. He refused to take the children, they were too young to see the dead and much too young to see the destruction of their homes. Tuck would watch over them and the other two men.


The sight they saw upon their arrival was much different than the one Robin had seen the night before; the light allowed them to view everything, from the skeletal remains of the cook tent, to the blackened corpses strewn upon the ground. If Robin never felt the feeling he felt looking at his home again, he would thank God everyday.


Everything was burnt. The bridges were reduced to blackened, shredded ropes hanging from their once proud posts. The huts were ashes, with a few sad posts still standing here and there, and a few metal personal items shining through the rubble like teasing flecks of hope. The blacksmith tent was a mess of ash, now blackened swords and a few other burnt metal pieces. There was no longer any school, only one book escaped the fires, by some miracle from above, and even it didn’t escape totally unscalded.


If the sight was bad, the scent was worse, burnt hair and cooked human flesh was the thick scent that surrounded them. It made them all step back and few became queasy. They could even taste the soot in the air and feel it begin to build up on their skin.


Then there were the bodies, a dozen at the very least, most burned but a few still identifiable. Robin walked around, trying to determine which of the bodies were their comrades, and which were soldiers. Some were so burnt the only way to tell was the scorched chain mail that hung from the flakey, thin, black bones of the soldiers. Robin bent next to one body and tried to determine who it was. His first guess was Henry Lyseth , one of the men who worked in the blacksmith tent. He bent to pick out something he seemed to be clutching in his hand. As he pried it open the bones cracked and pieces flaked off, the sounds made his stomach do flips. It took him only a brief moment to realize what he held in his hand, and when he did dropped it and backed up. Tears formed in his eyes and his hand went to his mouth to choke down the bile that had begun its ascent. What Henry held in his hand was his own skin. While he burned he must of clutched at himself and gotten a handful of skin. It didn’t seem to be burnt too bad because it had some protection in his hand.


Robin took on more look at the corpse and headed for the woods; he needed to get there quick, but he couldn’t let everyone see him running. They would never get through this if they saw him lose it. Once in his destination, which happened to be a clump of bushes, he let his stomach empty itself. Once finished he fell to his knees with tears streaming out his eyes. There he remained for a short time, until he had the strength to lift himself from the ground, dry his eyes, and wipe his mouth. He started to head back to the sad sight when something caught his eye. Blue fabric was sticking up somewhere in the bushes.


As he approached the fabric he realized it was another body. Mary Archer, was lying on the ground, her clothing torn almost off her, blood spilled all over.   He could see a few deep gashes from a sword in her chest and her hands were almost over them, as if she tried to stop the flow of her blood from her body. Robin moved his foot ever so slightly, but not looking where he was placing it, he tripped and flew forward, landing the worst place hew could imagine. His face was inches from hers, his eyes staring into hers. He could see the blood in her mouth and the fear written all over her face. Her eyes stared deep into his, they were wide open and he could see the terror that never left them even in death. He quickly got to his feet and proceeded to copy his early action, choking and heaving until there was nothing left to come out of his stomach.


After a moment to collect himself, he rose and headed back to where everyone else was, looking around, without a clue as to what to do .  When he reached they continued to wait and watch him, hoping for orders, from him so they wouldn’t have to think about everything around them.


“Angela and Miranda, could you get down the names of all of ours that died. Thomas and Jessica, please collect whatever seems salvageable. Little John, Carol, Cynthia and Blithe, we will be digging graves on the west edge of the compound. I know this is going to be hard for everybody, but it has to be done. If it gets to be too much, just head back to camp, and return here when you feel up to it. Thanks everybody.” With the end of that Robin headed to horses and grabbed a shovel, to begin digging with.


Not a soul argued with him, nobody complained, not a single person asked to do another job, and no one left. Robin, Little John and the strongest of the women dug all through the day; and when the other teams completed their jobs, they help dig too. Fifteen graves were dug by the end of the day, seven for soldiers, and eight for their own. Five were for men, two for women and one for little Alaina. They lay the corpses in, only covering the soldiers, the others they waited till they had markers, a task which they would tackle tomorrow. Weary, tired and almost broken the group returned to the camp, ready for sleep, simple dreamless sleep.

 

End of Chapter Two


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