Once they arrived back at the campsite, Tuck sat them down and in a very motherly fashion shoved food in their faces. Most only took a few bites, or at the most ate half, even Little John didn’t seem to have an appetite. Robin ate the least, eating maybe a spoonful before his stomach argued against the notion of trying to eat.
“Have the kids gotten back yet?” Robin tried to take Tuck’s attention off the lack of food being eaten by bringing up another subject.
“Yes, their collecting wood for the fire. They should be back soon.” There was along pause after he spoke, not a soul present knew what to say, but all seemed to have something on their minds.
“I wish you would all eat more.” Tuck’s request broke the silence, but still left them struggling for answers.
“Sorry Friar, it’s hard to have an appetite after…that.” Little John spoke for them all, and in almost unison they nodded their heads to agree.
“I understand that but, I also know that you really do need to keep up your energy.” His argument was logical and full of caring, but it didn’t change the fact that a days worth of dead bodies prevented their stomachs from enjoying food. They all just stared blankly at him, until Robin spoke up.
“It will be easier to look at food tomorrow morning Tuck. I promise , we will all eat more then, if you let us off the hook now.” Once again in unison, the group nodded their heads. Tuck shrugged and shook his head in defeat, he knew he couldn’t make them eat. The outlaws were spared another awkward silence by the arrival of the children.
“Robin! Robin! We have to tell you what we found out, you’ll be so proud of us!” The oldest boy Gregory was so excited, that Robin had to smile at him.
“I’m sure I’ll be very proud, but go slow. I need to know everything.” He nodded to the boy who began.
“We were in Clarksdale when we overheard some soldiers talking. They were headed to a local pub, so we followed them…at a safe distance.” He added the last part after seeing the alarmed look on Robin’s face.
“They were bragging to the whole place how they raided Robin Hood’s camp and killed half the people, and captured the rest. They even told everyone they had you Robin!” The child was obviously appalled at their dishonesty.
“Anyway, they said the whole castle is preparing for the festivities Thursday night. Prince John is preparing a huge ceremony to hang all the men and women he captured. After the hanging he has invited all the rich Norman Lords and Ladies for a feast and a ball. They said he was going to auction off the children, they said healthy children will go for a lot. The guards said that everyone is in the dungeons. They are going to kill them Robin!” The boy was out of breath and very upset by this point.
“Relax Gregory, Prince John won’t being killing anybody, I give you my word on that.” The boy seemed satisfied with that so Robin continued mumbling to himself, “Six days, why is he giving us six days?”
“They are all bait for you Robin, we heard that too, when the soldiers were leaving arguing about lying about having you. The Prince figures six days gives you enough time to take the bait and show up to rescue them so he can kill you.” Gregory seemed very upset by this; he like most others knew Robin would take that bait without a second thought.
“A rescue sounds good, but I don’t much feel like be captured,” he said this with a dimpled smile, trying to assure everybody that he wasn’t quite as reckless as they all seemed to think.
“Lysander and Cassandra did your pairs hear the same?” Lysander nodded, but Cassandra kept staring at Robin; she looked very upset.
“Cassy, honey, did you hear something else?” She nodded not speaking.
“What did you hear?” He was worried now, what could the child have heard that upset her more than the possibility of everyone dying? When it suddenly occurred to him, it sent his stomach churning.
“They’re coming back?” Robin looked into the young girls eyes and saw the answer to his next question.
“They are coming soon I gather.” The fear radiating from her eyes illustrated this better than words ever could. In response to his statement Cassandra nodded.
“Everybody pack up. How many horses do we have and Tuck can Alexander and Marcus ride?” Everybody began to rush around collecting thing and organizing the horses.
“Fourteen horses Robin.” Came a soft shout from Blithe.
“Alexander should be fine, but Marcus, I’m not so sure.” Tuck definitely sounded wary about letting Marcus move.
“Alright, Marcus rides with Cynthia, everyone one else, except Alexander and Thomas, I don’t want to overload you two, you are still hurt, takes a child. I don’t want any children riding alone. Tuck leads, Little John, you bring up the rear. Do you remember Marion’s cousin Iris, Tuck?”
“Yes, her and Marion broke us out of her Aunt’s dungeon. Marion wouldn’t let you live that down for a week.” Robin smiled and nodded as he replied.
“Yes, it’s her castle we are going to, do you remember how to get there?” Tuck was puzzled now, he remembered, but didn’t Robin remember too?
“Yes, Robin I remember, it isn’t too far from here right?”
“Yes, you are going to lead everyone there. No stops, no detours. When you get there, explain the situation and if necessary beg them to let everyone stay in the dungeons of their castle.”
“Robin what about you, aren’t you coming?”
"No, not right away at least. I’m going to meet the soldiers at the compound and lead them away in the opposite direction.” He hoped no one would argue, but he knew that was a ridiculous hope.
“Robin that is way too dangerous. You should bring someone with you.”
“No, that is why I go alone, besides, I need everyone here to protect each other. Please I don’t have the energy or will to argue anymore, Tuck.” Tuck looked into the young man’s eyes, and saw what he spoke to be the truth.
“Very well Robin, I’ll do as you ask.”
“Thanks.” With that Friar Tuck mounted the horse that someone had brought to him and waited for the rest of the group to do the same. With one look behind him to make sure the outlaws were all ready, and one last worried look at Robin he spurred his horse on and looked back to make sure the group followed.
Robin kicked around the ashes from the fire and mixed them with the dirt to hide that anyone had been there. Then mounted his gray and cantered off in the opposite direction of the rest of the group.
Marion sat in Prince John’s dungeon, her ankles and wrists shackled, a treat for the only captured member of the four most notorious of Robin Hood’s gang. She was very unhappy, very uncomfortable and very worried. She hadn’t eaten since she been caught late yesterday so she was also tired, weak and feeling a little sick. Thoughts swarmed around in her head, what had become of Robin? How many people died? Were their enough left to get the rest of them out alive? Were Tuck and Little John alive? She was saved having to dwell on possible answers to these questions by the arrival of a soldier. He began unlocking the door to her cell and forgetting she was shackled, she attempted to take an attack stance.
“Relax little lady, no one is going to hurt you, his Highness would like to see you. Maybe he’ll have mercy on you and make you one of his courtesans, you’d be lucky.”
“You call that mercy and luck?”
“Sure you won’t be dead.” He seemed a bit confused that she was so unappreciative.
“I’d rather die than have anything to do with him.” He had grabbed her now and was slowly dragging her out of the cell and through a hallway.
“You may well get your wish, though maybe he’ll let us play with you first. Rumor is he is going to give us a few of you whores. I’m sure you’d be fun.” Marion tried to figure out where there were going at the same time as she was trying to bite back a rather nasty retort, she was no whore, nor would she ever become one. If that was what she wanted she would have married Guy by now.
As it turned out they didn’t go to far from the dungeon, in fact the area where they were stopped made her very uncomfortable. Guards were posted all around, she counted seven, and in the middle of the whole thing, on a carved wooden chair, an object that stood out in the decidedly sparse room, was none other than the Prince of England himself, in all his glory, for the small amount it is.
“Marion Fitzwalter, is it not?” He seemed a little too happy to see her and that just heightened her discomfort.
“Yes, what am I doing here, why am I not with the rest of the prisoners?”
“We’ll get to that dear. You are Robin Hood’s closest friend, are you not?”
“If information is what you seek, Prince John, you’ll get none from me.” Did he really presume to think she’d betray Robin?
“If there is information to be gotten I assure you Lady, I’ll get it.”
“You waste you breath, and your time, as well as mine.”
“I don’t think so. Now I’m going to ask you a question, and you will answer it, and if you don’t answer it, you’ll become acquainted with my methods of persuasion.” Marion just stared straight ahead and tried not to think about what he meant.
“Let’s begin, Robin Hood’s camp is in ruin, where would he take his people?” She kept staring ahead, pretending she was not there. She saw Prince John raise his arm and out of the corner of her eye saw a familiar braided coil of rope rise in the air. She, still refusing to look anywhere but straight ahead felt two guards grab and hold her arms. The sound of the rope hitting its target registered before the pain, but when it did register, it was like red-hot fire on her back. She would have fallen to her knees had the hands restraining her not prevented it.
“Let’s try again shall we? Where would Robin take his people?” Again to Prince John’s dismay she looked straight ahead and remained silent, as she had since his first question. Again she saw his hand go up, and the whip rise, and if it was possible the second stroke hurt more. But no tears, no screaming, almost no reaction at all.
“Where will Robin bring his people?!” Prince John was obviously getting angry, but she wouldn't speak, just stare off into space picturing a brown-eyed, long haired, dimpled man smiling at her and laughing.
“We will continue this till you talk, save yourself the pain, he isn’t worth it.” But he was, and what Prince John didn’t understand was that the pain that would come from knowing that she’d betrayed him was more severe than any physical torture he could think up. Even so, betraying him now would be betraying all the survivors, if there were some, and she couldn’t do that either. She simply pressed her lips together and thought of two friends dancing in a garden.
“Alright have it your way.” Again up went his hand and up went the whip, but it didn’t stop with one stroke, it kept going in a succession.
End of Chapter Three