The night was dark, and the trees were thick, which made sneaking about that much more easy. Walking practically on tiptoe so as not to make a sound the quintet made their made across the grounds outside the castle to the south wall. This was the one least protected, this was the one they would have to climb up. Ropes and hooks made the job easier, and Robin surprising a guard made it a piece of cake. As the unnamed guard found his way off the wall, Alexander found his way into the man’s uniform. They would notice a guard missing, but they wouldn’t notice if he looked a little different. Besides he would serve as look out as they got everyone to safety.
Once off the wall on the inner courtyard, the job was as easy as finding the grate they intended to use. That was more difficult than they expected; the cover was over grown with weeds, and the absence of moon made the night nearly pitch black. Little John lifted it off, and Robin hopped down first, as always. A torch was lit, and their fearless leader guided them forward; they came in at the south, and the dungeon was on the west, so that was the direction he led them.
Finally mid-west side they found an entrance, but to where they were unsure. Robin gripped the iron circle, praying silently it would be the right one.
No such luck, it was the storeroom, and two guards fast asleep. Robin hurredly pushed everyone back and closed the entrance, motioning them to follow him once again, unsure if they would follow. Follow they did, and wisely, for, for the handsome outlaw two times was the charm, and the next iron ring he pulled exposed them to the dungeon, and six very awake guards. But this was Robin Hood, and that wasn’t even close to a problem: two were dispatched by his arrows, and two more by Blithe and Angela, leaving two for Little John to tango with. One of the guards grunted loudly as Little John kneed him in the stomach, and Robin motioned him to keep quiet.
Robin motioned everyone to stay hidden until he was able to check the dungeon, and see what lay a ahead. As it turned out, most of the guards were stationed outside the door to the dungeon, so they were fairly safe, but scattered around the two cramped cells housing the people of Sherwood, was another half dozen guards. Robin rounded the corner back to his men and explained how the plan was going to go about. They couldn’t let any of the guards yell or all Hell would break loose, and they would all be killed. Robin loaded his wristbow with little poisoned arrows, and gestured for Little John to follow close behind. He poked his head around the corner, and with nothing but a whoosh, and a few thuds, three of the guards were down for the count. Little John went fast as an arrow and as quietly as the big man could, dispatched two others. The remaining one, with Robins arrow pointed at his head, let himself be knocked into a stupor, he would later tell the Prince it was a terrible ambush of a dozen men. Blithe and Angela began picking locks and released their friends, who were giddy with relief.
“Sean, where are the children?” Robin’s commanding voice quieted everyone down, and asked the most important question.
“Somewhere else in the castle Robin, he is going to auction them off tomorrow.”
“We heard…Little John, are any of those guards waking up?”
“This one is moaning a little, but it will probably be another few minutes before he comes around.” As they spoke the freed people, spoke excitedly and questioned their rescuers about their new home. Robin surveyed his happy people, he had one other question to ask; a question he desperately needed answered, was so afraid of asking.
"Robin, she was only with us the first night. The guards came to get her the next afternoon, and we haven’t seen her since.” It was Sarah who was brave enough to offer an explanation or sorts, and as she spoke she gripped Robin’s hand, and with her eyes told him how sorry she was that she had little else to offer. Robin looked away from those eyes as if burned and question Little John again on the moaning guard.
Little John looked at his leader, and bent down and not so gently lifted the guard up to his face, and commanded him to recover. The loud, deep voice must have done the trick, because the guard opened his eyes widely in fear, and confusion, and at the site of all the people before him gasped.
“Where did Prince John take all the children?” Robin asked urgently. The man surveyed the room as if determining whether or not he should tell, and quickly gave up.
“East part of the castle, second floor up, I’m not sure which room, most of them have nothing in them anyway.”
“Good, Thank you.” Replied Robin ever polite. “Now, where is Marion, and I know you know who she is so playing dumb will only get you more hurt.”
“Opposite side of the dungeon, where the women were, toward the back, where she has been since they…uh…took her.” The frightened man tried hard to swallow the rapidly growing lump in his throat, and tried to wiggle free of Little John’s grip.
“Why was she separated? Is she hurt?”
“I don’t know. I think so.”
“Okay Blithe lead everyone out of here. We will go get the kids and then
Forcing himself to lead them through that wall and leave
Oh Lady Luck was with them, the room was empty and virtually unused. They tore across the room, to the door on the far side that would lead them out into the castle. He cracked it, praying silently when it didn’t squeak, and peered out. He sniffed the air, and detected the odor of cooking, that meant they were near the kitchen, and the servants quarters, safe territory. Now they had to find the servants stairs, these would be hidden and not guarded, so safe for the trio to travel upon.
They went swiftly, be near silently through the hall, to the far end, looking around wildly for a stairwell. They found it, wedged in the corner, steep, filthy, dark, and very tight, but to them it was worth another silent prayer of thanks to the heavens. Robin led the way up the steps, careful not to slip on the cold stone, but going as fast as the narrow way would allow him. Slowing as he reached the top, he stop completely and peeked around the corner. Many, many doors, but fortunately Prince John posted two guards in front of one; it obviously held the children.
Two arrows from Robin, and they were down for the count, and three outlaws ran to the door, yanking it open, only to see a dozen soldiers staring back at them.
"This could be a challenge…” Robin gave a little half smile, that said
the exact opposite of his spoken words, and the whistle of arrows could
be heard. He let off two, felling two guards, then moved aside to let Little
John and Angela in, and closed the door. The less people that know they
are in the castle the better. The singing of arrows mixed with the song
of unsheathed blades as the battle begun. Guard after guard went down, and
Robin, Little John and Angela were retaining
many bruises and few cuts. Angela was one of the women at the
Sooner than they thought the fight was over, and all the guards were either unconscious or dead, though Robin preferred to leave them the former. After all, the guards were simply Prince John’s pawns.
“Okay, lets move. We have to get the kids out now, they must know we penetrated the castle by now.”
“Yeah, but which room?” Little John asked as he gestured to the many doors in the hall, and looked at Robin helplessly.
After a moment of consideration, Robin finally turned toward the door next to the one they had just come out of and answered with a sigh,
His instincts were right again, when he opened the door he was greeted with happy shouts, and smiles.
"Are we going home?”
“Robin is here!”
"Shhh, you need to be very quiet. We are going to go home, but you have to be very quiet and do what I say okay.” He crouched and spoke kindly to the crowd of children around him, who all nodded in reply.
“You are all going to follow Little John in a nice line, and Angela and I will behind you. Okay, now go with Little John, and be very quiet.” He did his best to make to the situation sound less dire than it was, but many of these children unfortunately had the experience to know what was really going on.
Nearly all the children had gotten out when, a young boy named Joseph tugged on Robin’s tunic, and when he had the outlaw’s attention pointed toward the far corner of the room. Robin followed the direction of little Joseph’s hand and saw in the corner was a wooden cradle. He approached the cradle and saw in it, the youngest member of the outlaw camp, Catherine. She was the tiny, three month old daughter of a young couple at the compound, and her mother was one of the prisoners from the dungeon. He gently lifted the infant and cradled her in his arms, grabbed Joseph’s hand, and went to catch up with the rest of the group, who were making their way down the stairs.
The path was the same as before, they were very quiet, and very careful, doing their best to avoid running into anybody else in the castle. Once safetly back inside the walls, everyone was able to relax a little more, and one little child asked, “Did we do good Robin, were we quiet enough?”
“You all did a wonderful job, quiet as mice.” The outlaw replied with a smile as he looked at the child.
Once they were back near the dungeons, Robin stopped the group. He handed Catherine to Angela, and by some stroke of luck that must have come from God himself, the infant continued to sleep, only stirring enough to lodge her thumb in her mouth.
“Okay, Little John, Angela, lead the children out of the castle, back to the horses and wagons. Get them loaded up and then get out of here, I’m not taking any chances. Don’t forget to get Alexander off the guard post on your way out, with a little luck they haven’t discovered him yet. Leave Deigh , he won’t run, and I’ll get
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Robin gently tugged the cold iron ring, and wait as it allowed him entrance to the dungeons. Once inside he discovered that there was no access to the east dungeons from the west ones, so increasingly edgy he slipped back out of the dungeon, careful not to disturb the (thankfully) still unconscious guards. He meandered along the corridor, using every skill and instinct he had to judge where the door to the east dungeons would be. After a while he came to a door, unsure if it was the right one.
“Trust you instincts, Robin…” Came the ever-present lull of Olwyn’s voice.
His raised an eyebrow and cocked a half-smile, of course Olwyn knew what he was thinking even before Robin himself did. He passed the door, and sure enough came to another one, this he felt was the right one. Once again he pulled the heavy iron ring, and watched as the stone was opened to reveal rows of cells.
The first thing he noticed, no guards. This made him increasingly nervous; did they move her? No, he turned to his right and in the last cell, in a dark corner he saw bright red. He ran toward it, his heart pounding; where are all the guards? Was she dead? They wouldn’t need to guard someone dead? He could hear the blood rushing in his head, and feel his heart practically beating out of his chest, as he approached the figure in the corner.
She was curled on her side facing away from him, and as he approached, he could see large welts on her back. Some bled, seemingly fresh, others showed signs of dried blood; they were older. He knelt down beside her, and saw that her face was flushed; she was definitely alive, but burned with fever. Her wounds were most likely infected.
“Robin?” Her voice was shaky and very low, revealing just how weak she was.
“Yeah, we’re going to get you out of here, and Tuck can feed you some disgusting tea to bring your fever down.” He started to pick her up, but she shook her head, and attempted to stand. Against his better judgment he let her, only to have her collapse against his chest after barely making it to her feet. He held her for as long as he dared, then moved his arm under her knees and lifted her up into his arms.
He returned to the stone wall, and was almost safe when a guard came in and saw the wall about to close.
“Hey! Get back here!” The guard sounded drunk or at least groggy, but plenty loud to alert others. Robin gently shifted
Robin found his way back through the dirty passage ways , to the hole they had come through.
Out of the night,
like poetry came Deigh, Robin’s beautiful gray
stallion trotting up to his friend. Robin eased
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Tuck sat in the big pavilion stirring a thick, gray mixture in a pot; they had been in their new home for a while now, after tearing away from the castle, and his first line of business had been to mix a poultice for the small injuries of the returning camp members. The children had been taken back to Thomas and Iris’s castle where it was safer for them and where Iris and Thomas were no doubt spoiling them, having no children of their own yet.
Yes, the goup was nearly ready, he only had to let it cool. Then he heard hooves, and he suddenly became both anxious and scared. Fast as fire a familiar gray horse and sable-haired outlaw rounded the bend, and at the site of an extra passenger Tuck sighed with relief, though it was a bit premature.
“Robin!” Little John ran up to the stopped horse, but stopped short when he saw the woman in Robin’s arms wasn’t moving.
“Oh God…” Angela had rapidly moved behind Little John, and at the sight of Marion cradled in Robin’s arms, and tears seconds away from dropping from his eyes, uttered what everyone else said silently in their heads. Robin, brushed through the newly gathered crowd, and walked over to Tuck.
“Robin, what happened?”
“There are lashes on her back, I think they tried to get her to tell them where we were. She…she spoke before we left, and held onto my hands as we rode, but midway through…she just…let go…” He spoke as he laid on one of the empty beds.
Tuck put his ear close to her mouth, listened for a while, then stood up slowly.
“It’s okay Robin, she’s alive.” With those words the outlaws brown eyes lit up for the first time in days. Still he knew , she was in bad shape.
Tuck gently turned her on to her stomach, and cut away the cloth from her back. Before he even asked Melinda came by his side with a bowl of hot water and a cloth, and Tuck set to work cleaning the long, angry, red marks. After they were clean, he put some of the grayish gunk on them and covered her with a blanket.
At last he turned back to Robin, who had waited still and silent as a statue will Tuck worked his magic. “She needs rest, and time to heal, but she’ll pull through. I think I’ll leave you here to watch over her, and go check on the others. When she wakes make her drink some of the tea in the big pot, and have her go back to sleep.”
Robin nodded, and with that one action all the tension in his body left, and he was left looking utterly exhausted, but still he had a smile on his face, and to Tuck that was worth gold.
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That night, just
as the moon began to rise,
“Hi, I though I lost you back there.” Robin spoke with a smile, but she could see the worry and fear in his eyes.
“Relax, everyone is out, most are here, except the children they are with your cousin. The camp was destroyed, everything was burnt down to ashes, but we’ve been building a new home.”
“You can’t stop Robin Hood.” With those words they both smiled, and Robin leaned down and kissed the woman he loved and trusted above all others.