The Greatest Warrior
By Virginia Cavazos
Chapter Four
Ralph's Return
Part Thirteen

Marion, Little John, and Kemal entered the small rural tavern. ‘Lost Your Way’ was the name on the sign hanging in the front. How prophetic, Marion thought, as they entered the dark tavern. She slowly scanned the interior. Robin’s gray Stallion was found in the stables. The man that stole it was in here somewhere.

Searching around, Marion spied several empty tables scattered in the pub. In the far corner was a rotund woman talking to a hooded man. As Kemal closed the door, the woman's head turned at the sound of the slamming. Warmly smiling at them, she walked over to greet them. The tavern was nearly empty now. It was mid afternoon; the evening rush had not yet begun. The barmaid walked up to the three travelers. The scent of Roasted chicken emanated from her clothes. Marion’s stomach rumbled at the heavenly smell. They hadn’t eaten much on the road. Their main concern was finding Robin’s horse. Marion’s heart leaped at the prospect of being so close now.

"’Ow are you doin’ dearie?" The barmaid asked. She warmly smiled at Marion. Marion returned her smile.

"Fine," she answered back.

"What can I do for you?" The barmaid placed her hands on her broad hips. Marion scanned around the tavern. "We’re looking for the owner of the gray stallion in your stables," she informed the barmaid.

The Barmaid spun around, she searched for the hooded man. He was making his way towards the back door, they all saw the hood pulled down to mask his face. Turning back to the travelers, she notified them, "Oh, well that's ‘im standing by the back door." She then pointed towards the man as he was walking out to exit the tavern.

Marion rushed after the man that the barmaid pointed out to. Kemal and Little John were close behind her. She skirted around the tables, trying to avoid them as she quickly made her way to the back door. Little John was a little less subtle. He just pushed and threw the tables out of his way. Kemal was leaping over tables that Little John was throwing.

The three met at the door at the same time. Marion pulled the door open. They flew out the door to find themselves in a dark alley. Marion brought up her hand, hushing her two companions. She listened intensely. Trying to detect which direction the man was running, not a sound was heard.

"Okay, Little John you go that way," Marion pointed to her left. "And Kemal and I will go this way!" Little John rushed off in the direction that Marion had indicated. Marion then ran in the opposite direction. Kemal and Marion kept the same pace as they ran down the alley, looking about for any sign of the hooded stranger. When they were only a few yards away from the tavern, they heard Little John cry out in anger. Skidding to a stop, they exchanged glances, saying in unison.

"That way!" Turning around, they dashed in the direction that Little John had gone.

As they turned the corner of the alley, they found Little John lying on the ground. Clutching his arm and head, and groaning in pain. Kemal quickly glanced up the alley. A small man was standing in the middle of the back street, a strange weapon clutched in his hands. The small weapon appeared to be two small sticks, held together with a chain in the middle. Kemal almost laughed at the small weapon. As Marion attended to Little John, Kemal went up to the man.

"No…Don’t!" Little John warned Kemal.

It was too late, when Kemal came close enough to the man, the stranger whirled the weapon around his head. Kemal brought his foot up to kick out at the man. The man pulled the sticks down and whipped them towards Kemal's foot. Kemal tried to pull it back in time, but the man was too quick. He caught Kemal's ankle with one of the sticks. The sting of the hit ran up Kemal's leg. The stranger then quickly whirled the weapon at his shoulder and head, striking him both times. Kemal went down to the ground, dazed by the sharp blow. Giving Marion a warning look, the stranger then ran down the street. Little John was holding his head in his hands.

"I warned you," Little John scolded Kemal.

Marion now had to inspect what damage was inflicted on Kemal by the unusual weapon.

"What was that?" Kemal asked in a strained voice. He tried to rub out the sting he felt from the blows.

"I don’t know but I don’t want to get hit by that again." Little John moaned. With the stranger increasing the distance of his escape with each passing second, Marion was getting impatient. She pulled on Kemal and Little Johns arms, trying to get them up off the ground.

"Come on, he's getting away!" she urged them.

Little John and Kemal helped each other up. Trying to shake the buzzing they both felt in their heads. "Give us a second Marion," Kemal moaned, he tried to clear his head of the cobwebs. Marion stamped her feet in exasperation.

"You stay here then. I’m going after him." She spun around and ran in the direction the man fled. Little John and Kemal slowly lumbered after her.

Ralph raced towards the stables. They were definitely after him. He cursed himself for being so stupid! He should have sold the horse days ago. Ralph pulled the stables doors open. Slamming them shut, he ran to where his horse was tied up. As he entered the stall, a rotund man was standing by his horse.

"Hello Friar," Ralph greeted him.

"Afternoon my son, is something wrong?" The friar asked out of concern. Ralph was sweating profusely. He was having a hard time catching his breath.

"Uh yes friar. There are men out there who tried to rob me!"

The friar frowned, "Is that right my son?" he asked.

"Yes friar. I’m leaving this town, and you should do the same."

"Oh I will my son, I will." Ralph came up to the gray Stallion. The friar remained by the horses side.

"Is this your horse?" The friar asked him patting the horse on the rump.

"Yes sir, It is. Pardon me." Making an apologetic bow, the friar moved to the side, as the man started saddling the horse.

"I must say, he is a fine horse." The friar remarked.

"Thank you friar." Ralph quickly reached under the horses stomach. Pulling the strapping up, he started to tighten the saddle. He had to hurry, they would not be far behind him.

"Nice cape too. Where did you get it?" The friar grabbed a section of the cape and inspected it carefully.

"My mother made it for me," Ralph explained.

"Oh your mother, that is nice. Can I say a prayer for her?" The Friar asked.

"Sure Friar." Ralph pulled the stirrup down. The saddle was now secured on the horses back.

As the friar started his prayer, he dropped his rosary on the floor.

"Please my son, can you pick it up for me. These old knees are worn out from all the prayers I’ve said for the return of Good King Richard."

"Sure friar." Ralph stooped down to retrieve the rosary.

"By the way was your mothers name Robin Hood?" The Friar asked. As Ralph looked up, the last thing he saw was a heavy bible coming down on his head.

Tuck slammed the stranger hard on the head. As the man fell onto the hay strewed ground, Tuck could hear Marion calling out his name.

"In here!" Tuck answered.

Marion ran into the stable. Little John and Kemal were not far behind her. Tuck smiled with pride to his companions. The man they were chasing was lying on the ground, unconscious.

"What did you do to him?" Little John asked in wonder.

"Just showed him the power of prayer," Tuck laughed.

Kemal squatted by the unconscious man, searching him, he pulled out the deadly weapon first. Handing it to Little John. Kemal then found Robin’s coin purse. This he handed to Marion. Marion at first hesitated to take it. It had been three weeks now since she had last seen Robin. The purse was something that she gave to him. Her trembling hand reached out and took it from Kemal. At first, she just stared at it. Her hand stroking it. She then clutched it to her heart. It was the nearest to Robin she had felt in a long time.

Little John searched around for some rope. Finding some he threw one piece to Kemal, they both tied the strangers hands and feet together. As they finished bounding him, the stranger started to regain consciousness.

Ralph woke up to see three angry faces glaring down at him. Closing his eyes, he groaned.

"I can’t even trust a friar."

"Not if you steal my son," the friar softly spoke.

Ralph tried to plead his case. "I had to take his horse. It was my life or his." Little John grabbed Ralph’s shirt, his face a mask of fury.

"What do you mean by that! Is Robin dead?" He shook Ralph so hard that Kemal and Tuck had to stop him. They understood his anger. Little John was as close to Robin as a brother. The man in Little Johns hands knew what happened to Robin. He was the cause for Robin’s disappearance. Little John released the man in disgust. Stepping back, he tried to compose himself.

Marion squatted down to meet the man face to face.

"Where is the man that owned that horse?" Her look was ice cold. One way or another he was going to tell her where Robin was.

Ralph avoided her eyes. They were on fire with hate.

"I don’t know," he replied. Marion knew he was lying.

Slowly standing up she quietly said, "Tuck, Kemal; come with me. We’ll just leave him to Little John."

The three then headed towards the stables exit. Little John slammed his right fist in his left palm.

"Don’t worry Marion. I’ll find out what happened to Robin."

Little John again grabbed the man by his shirt. Ralph saw Tuck exit the stables. Little John pulled the man up off the ground; his legs were unable to touch the ground. Kemal was now out of the stables. Little John curled his fingers around the mans throat. The look in Little Johns face told Ralph that if he wasn’t stopped soon, he would soon be with his blessed mother. As Marion placed one foot outside the stables Ralph cried out.

"Stop! I’ll tell you."

"Marion slowly turned her head towards Ralph. A small smile on her face.

"That's better."

Little John gave Marion a sly wink. He was happy that the man decided to talk. He really wasn’t going to hurt him. If he hadn’t agreed to tell where Robin was, well Little John didn’t know what else he was going to do to intimidate him - other than killing him, and that wouldn’t have helped matters.

The three returned to where Little John and the stranger stood. Little John casually let Ralph go; he fell to the floor with a thump.

"Sorry," Little John innocently sung out, a wicked smile on his face.

Marion once again squatted in front of the man. She began to question him.

"First of all. What's your name?"

"Ralph," The man mumbled.

"Well Ralph," Marion said. "Do you know what happened to the owner of that horse?"

Ralph was silent. Little John came towards him.

"Yes I do!" he quickly answered.

"Well, where is he?" Marion asked. She tried to keep her voice from betraying the concern she felt for Robin.

"He's probably at the monastery by now," he grumbled.

"What monastery?" Tuck was now anxious to find out if Robin had been kept in a cloister all this time.

"It's an abandoned Monastery Friar," Ralph explained. "Oh," Tuck quietly said. He had hoped Robin was safe somewhere with his fellow brethren. He could not have been so far from the truth.

"Well, keep talking." Marion brought her knife out. She pointed it at Ralph’s heart. Ralph let out a large gulp, "Am I always to have domineering women ruin my life?" he wailed.

"What are you talking about?" Kemal asked in alarm. Kemal hoped he was wrong. But things were beginning to sound familiar to him.

"Where I escaped from. The Monastery is used to train fighters. They're pitted in battles against each other. It's similar to the ancient Roman gladiators. It's run by a young lord but a young woman really runs it. Her name is...."

"The Master…" Kemal said in a hushed tone.

"You know her?" Ralph asked.

"I was there." Kemal grabbed Ralph by the shoulders, shaking him.

"Tell me that Robin Hood is not there!" His voice neared panic.

"That's where he has to be." Ralph cried out. "I left him on the road. They were following me. If he hasn’t returned yet, then they have him."

Kemal let go of Ralph’s shoulders in dismay.

"What's wrong Kemal?" Marion brought her hand to his shoulder. "Is this place bad? Will Robin be all right?"

Kemal's answer was just over a whisper.

"If Robin is in that place, then we must get him out of there as quickly as possible." Kemal gave Marion a somber look. "That is if he is still alive."

Marion searched into Kemal's eyes. She had never seen the fear she saw in them now.

"Kemal, have you been there?"

Kemal gave a small nod, barely perceptible.

"When I was first brought to this land. My master took me to this place. He wanted to sell me to the lord that ran it. The Master, as she was called, offered my master some outrageous price. He then left with me." Kemal insisted to Marion

"If he is there Marion, we have to get him out. I was only there for a short time. But I saw unspeakable horrors. Men held there are nothing more than slaves to be used for battle. When they are useless, they are thrown away. I saw men killed there that day."

Marion recalled the day she appeared before Robin. The torture he was enduring. Now she would be able to find him. Take him away from it.

"Do you remember where it is?" Marion asked Kemal.

"I will never forget," Kemal said. His eyes closed as he tried to block out the memories.

From the floor, Ralph cried out. "Robin Hood!" Marion turned her attention back to Ralph.

"Yes that was the name of the man you stole the horse from."

Ralph shook his head violently. "Not THE Robin Hood…The Earl of Locksley? Robert Fitzsooth? ROBIN HOOD!"

Marion was getting impatient with the man. "Yes, Robin Hood."

The man hung his head in despair. "And I promised myself I wouldn’t go back there!" He swung his head back and forth in frustration.

"Why did it have to be him?"

Bringing his head up he looked at Marion. His eyes pleaded with her.

"Please, let me help? I didn’t know it was him." The man was almost in tears.

Marion’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why should we trust you?"

"Because, when I was captured for the arena over a year ago I was coming to Sherwood to become an outlaw! Robin Hood is my hero!"

Marion sighed out, rolling her eyes, another admirer of Robin. Unfortunately, this one was the cause for Robin’s apprehension. She really wasn’t sure if she could trust him, but she had to try, she reasoned with herself. There wasn’t much time left. The darkness clutched stronger at her heart. In the past few day's she felt that Robin was in deeper trouble. Marion had to find him soon. Time was growing short. She looked deep into the mans eyes. Robin told her once. The eyes were the windows to the soul. This mans eyes told her that he was sincere in the way he thought about Robin. Taking out her knife, she started to cut away the bonds.

"Are you sure we can trust him?" Tuck asked.

"Tuck, he's the only one who’s been where Robin is. I want every advantage I can get."

Throwing the cut bonds away, the man rubbed his wrists.

"You won’t regret it," he assured them.

Marion brought her knife under the mans throat. She talked so softly that only Ralph heard. Her voice was tight with the anger in it.

"And if I find out for any reason, that you were lying to me. Then what happened to you in that place is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you."

Ralph gulped. He knew she meant it. Kemal grabbed the man by the arm and helped him up. Ralph thanked him.

"We do have a small problem. They know my face. Especially Cho, he was the one that trained me."

"No problem," Tuck guaranteed him. "We know how to disguise you where even your mother wouldn’t recognize you."

Little John noticed Marion had a curious look on her face.

"What's wrong Marion?" Little John asked her.

Marion frantically grabbed Ralph’s arm. "Did you say Cho?" She pleaded.

"Yes, he's the one that taught me how to use the nun-chucks."

"You mean these weapons?" Little John asked, showing them to Ralph.

"Yes those. I got real good at them. Cho tried to train me to be some greatest Warrior. I didn’t pass the test. But he said I would be good with those. Something about me being a professional thief." He raised his hand in protest.

"But don’t worry, I’ve given that up."

Marion’s curious look turned to fear. "Was this man Mongolian? And did he put small picks in your back?"

Ralph’s face fell in shock.

"How did you know?" he exclaimed, stunned.

As Ralph’s words sunk in, Marion slowly started to cry. The vision she had seen of Robin was true. It was not a dream. She tried to tell herself that it never happened. To convince herself that perhaps it was part of a nightmare. That Robin was all right, but he wasn’t. Ralph just confirmed what she thought...no hoped was a dream, but it wasn’t, it really did happen. Her poor Robin did go through that unspeakable torture. Marion felt a weakness inside. The dam she had built up to control her fear for Robin broke.

Her bottom lip started trembling. Her eyes filling up with tears. Little John always knew she was holding her fears for Robin deep inside. She tried to keep it in, to appear the brave leader for the others, tried to be strong for Robin. But Ralph’s words confirmed everything she saw. She reached out to Little John, needing someone to hold onto her. Little John pulled her into his comforting arms. He held onto her. She buried her face in his strong chest.

"Let it out Marion," he consoled her.

Holding it back all this time, she released the fears she had for Robin. She started crying inconsolably. The three men stepped back, waiting silently. The only sounds that were heard in the stables were Marion’s heart-rending sobs and Little Johns soothing voice. Little John held onto her tightly. He knew that it was something that she had needed to do, needed to let out. Little John held her in his strong arms. She cried for sometime. Her fear and love for Robin was very strong.

When she was done, she stepped back from Little John. Wiping her eyes, feeling a little embarrassed, as the men were able to see her bare her soul to them. She always prided herself in keeping control of her emotions. Marion apologized to them for showing a weakness. They all said they understood. Then taking control of her emotions, she started making plans. They now knew where Robin was. With Ralph’s help, they were going to go to that Monastery and find him, and bring him home to Sherwood Forest.
 

End of Part Thirteen

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