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

Ralph slowly climbed up to the top of the small hill. It was midday, they had rode hard for three days to reach the monastery. There were still five more days until the main tournament began. As Ralph neared the peak of the hill, he could see Marion, Little John, Tuck, and Kemal lying on the ground, peering over the edge. Ralph stooped down, lying on the ground, he crawled on his elbows up the hill to meet the others. Propping his elbows on the ground, he pointed out towards the large doors. They were just opening to allow another wagonload of prisoners.

"That's the main front entrance," he informed the others.

"Where do you think they'll be holding Robin?" Little John asked, as he vainly searched the courtyard. He was hoping that he would catch a glimpse of Robin.

"Don’t know for sure Little John," Ralph honestly replied.

"It depends on how important they think he is. If Cho has him, he’ll be held in the cellar. He has his own private place, in an old room that was used to age wine. It was very cold in there..." Ralph’s voice trailed off, as he recalled the horror that he went through in that room.

"Lets hope we can find a way to get in there," Marion whispered back.

"Any other way in?" Kemal asked. He stared intently at the part of the courtyard that was visible through the open doors. Kemal struggled to recall everything he saw the day he was there, but it was so long ago, he quickly tried to forget as soon as he left the unspeakable abhorrence.

"Well there is a back entrance. But it's guarded night and day, by at least four guards. I don’t think you’ll be able to get in that way."

"Any others?" Kemal questioned Ralph again. He wanted to know everything about the place before they entered the monastery.

"No other Kemal. They sealed up all the other entrances. To make sure no one could breakout. It's pretty escape proof. Believe me I tried." Ralph said, with a note of sadness in his voice. He was having a flash back of his many attempts at escaping, and the punishments for his efforts.

Marion’s head slowly turned as she gave Ralph a suspicious look.

"If its so escape proof, then how did you escape?" she questioned him.

Ralph nervously laughed, "Oh that!" He tried to sound flippant.

"Yes that," Marion gave out a sarcastic, halfhearted laugh.

"Well to tell you the truth. I was lying about not being a thief anymore. But it was only to help me escape. Really I don’t do that anymore." He crossed his heart to prove just how sincere he was.

Marion was now getting impatient. "How did you escape Ralph?" she sang out in a demanding tone.

"By using this." Ralph pulled out a small piece of metal from his waistband. He spun it in his hand, a sheepish grin on his face.

"Used it to pick the lock on my manacles." He displayed it proudly. "Took me a long time to make it. I waited for the best possible moment to use it. Once I did I ran like hell to get away from them."

Little John stared intently at the gates. "If Robin’s in there, then why hasn’t he tried to escape? I know he would if he could." Little John wondered aloud.

Ralph’s stare glazed over as he looked once again upon the prison that was his home for over a year of his life.

"If Cho has him then, I know why he hasn’t tried," Ralph said in a hushed voice.

Turning on his side, John gazed at Ralph. His long blonde hair hanging to the ground, he gave Ralph an inquiring look. He was desperate to know what happened to Robin. Ralph tried to explain.

"You see Little John, Cho has two dogs with him." Little John scoffed at this. "Two dogs couldn’t stop Robin from escaping." Ralph mocked Little Johns scoff.

"You haven’t seen Caligula and Nero. They're as big as a horse and as mean as a pack of wolfs. Cho had them guarding me constantly. I tried to get close to them, to get them to like me, but they were always vicious to me. Especially Nero."

"Wait a minute." Kemal realized something during the conversation.

"Won’t the dogs recognize you when we go in?" Tuck nodded his head in agreement.

"Yes Dogs do have an acute sense of smell."

Ralph smiled at the two men, patting a bottle that he carried with him, he said. "Don’t worry, I have that all figured out." He gave them a knowing wink.

"Then I guess all we have to figure out is what to do about the dogs when we find Robin." Tuck bent his head in deep thought.

"What can we do Tuck?" Little John asked.

Tucks face lit up as an idea came to him. Patting his pouch of herbs that he always carried with him, he smiled knowingly to Little John. "I think I might have something here that can take care of two very large dogs."

Little John grabbed Tucks arm. His eyes were wide with distress. "You aren’t going to kill them, are you Tuck?"

His look of concern touched Tuck. Even if these animals were a threat to Robin, Little Johns gentle heart could never stand to see them hurt.

"Don’t worry Little John. What I have will only put them to sleep for a little while. Enough time for us to help Robin escape from his prison."

"Good," Little John said with a relieved sigh.

Scanning the courtyard, Marion said. "I’ve seen enough. Lets go."

The others agreed. There really wasn’t much more to see. Having Ralph with them was a great advantage. He would be able to lead them inside the Monastery. To where Robin was being kept, if Robin was there.

Slowly they all started to crawl back. Once they were far enough away from the edge of the hill, they stood up and walked back to where they kept the carriage. On their way there, they borrowed a carriage from a rich nobleman. As they came up to the borrowed carriage, Little John opened the door and helped Marion into the carriage. As Ralph climbed in, he scratched the beard that he now wore. Tuck had made it for him to disguise his face from Cho.

"This smells like a horses rump!" Ralph complained as he sat down.

Tuck grunted as Little John helped him in. Little John entered last, closing the door behind him. Kemal had pulled himself up to the drivers seat.

Taking the reins, he urged the horses on towards the Monastery.

As the carriage bumped along the road, Tuck laughed at Ralph. "I don’t think the horse liked the close shave I gave him."

Ralph gave Tuck a shocked look. He attempted to pull the beard off when Tuck grabbed his hands to stop him.

He jovially laughed, "Its not horses hair."

Ralph sat back and sighed in relief. "That's good."

"Its goats hair," Tuck chuckled.

As Ralph again grabbed at the foul smelling facial, hair Marion hushed them. It was time to get serious.

"I hope we all know what needs to be done when we get there."

They each silently nodded their heads. "I hope this works." Little John added. His voice betrayed the concern he had, it was not for himself, but for Marion.

"Don’t worry Little John," Ralph consoled him. "We’ll be in and out with Robin Hood before they know we're there."

Little John just nodded in silence; but he was still concerned. It was a dangerous plan. He couldn’t think of a better way to help Robin.

The carriage made its way down the road towards the abandoned monastery.

************************

The Master was standing at the outskirts of the arena. She watched King Richard as he practiced with Cho. She noticed his movements were more liquid now. He jumped around the ring with the grace of a fighter that had never before been seen in this country. She had seen a fighter like him only once before. When she witnessed her first Arena, battle as a little girl. She was fascinated by the Mongolians, and the way they fought. Watching King Richard fight, she recalled how much she admired their style of fighting. As she stared intently on the training, a man suddenly came up to her.

"There are some people outside who want to stay to see the tournament Master." The man cringed. He really didn’t want to interrupt the Master.

"Do they have money?" she first asked him. Her gaze analyzing Robin’s movements.

"They do look like they have money Master." The man humbly informed her.

Thinking that she might have a potential prospect of increasing her riches, she spun around, looking down at the man who spoke to her.

"A lot of money?" she asked in a cold voice. Her look at first froze the man where he stood. Calming down he nervously said, "Yes Master, a lot of money."

The Master clicked her nails in satisfaction.

"Hmm, looks like we might be able to add to our winnings Ian." She jabbed Ian in the ribs with her elbow.

Ian had been standing quietly by her side.

"Any way to make more money is all right by me." He tiredly sighed.

"Where are they now?" She asked the frightened man.

"Waiting in the courtyard." The man shook in fear.

Giving a last glance to King Richard’s training, she turned and walked towards the Monasteries entrance. Ian followed after her. If there was money to be made, he wanted to be sure to be there.

As she approached the entrance, The Master heard Joseph cry out in pain. She ran out to see Joseph laying flat on the ground. A beautiful, auburn haired woman had the heel of her boot dug into Joseph’s neck.
" And I told you I want to see who's in charge," she hissed out. She had Joseph’s hand in hers. Holding Joseph’s thumb back so far that is was near breaking.

"I’m in charge. Who wants to know?" The Master angrily cried out. She stormed towards Joseph and the stranger. The woman released Joseph’s hand. Then took her boot off his neck. Joseph quickly stood up, rubbing his neck. The Intruder eyed The Master suspiciously. The Master also eyed the strange woman back. The Master waved Joseph away. He bowed to her and walked to the stables. Glad to get away from the warrior woman.

Warrior woman was a good name for her. She was dressed in tight dark blue, leather pants that ended at her calves. She wore ankle high; black boots. Her blouse was a dusty blue, soft leather. It had tight fitting sleeves, with studded gauntlets on each wrist. The blouse constrained enough of her to keep the men's eyes roving. What the master noticed the most was a whip at her side. Her long dark flowing hair flew as she jerked her head around to call out for someone in a carriage; that was now parked in the middle of the courtyard. Her penetrating blue eyes told the master that this was a woman much like herself.

"Johnny…Come here!" She bellowed out. The door of the carriage flew open. A tall man emerged from the small carriage. The Masters breath was taken away from the site of the man. He was one of the tallest men she had seen in her life. He was dressed in a blue crushed velvet vest and pants. His shirt was an off white, with a wide ruffle collar. His hair was an ashen blonde. It fell gently past his shoulders, she thought. His penetrating sapphire blue eyes gazed at the Master gently. She melted at the sight of the man. As he approached them, she heard Ian whisper.

"Very nice."

"I agree," The master breathed back.

"What is it now Elizabeth!" The tall man asked in a tired voice. He pulled out a handkerchief from the interior of his sleeve and wiped the sweat from his brow.

"Tell them what I want," she ordered him. Folding her arms, she refused to recognize the Master and Ian's presence.

"My sister wants to see the fights." The large gentleman stated. He then glanced around the courtyard, looking thoroughly bored.

"Can’t she speak for herself?" the master asked.

"Of course I can!" she said in a huff.

"I let my brother do my talking." She then pulled out a small knife and started whirling it in the palm of her hand.

"Violent one, isn’t she?" Ian remarked to Johnny.

"Looks like she should have been a amazon." The Master observed.

"She tried," Johnny whispered to the two. "They kicked her out. To violent."

Hearing this the Master now looked at the warrior woman in an admiring way. Her left eyebrow shot up as she said, "Really?"

Walking up to Elizabeth, she started a conversation with her on the proper care of a whip. As they carried on a their friendly chat, a large crash was heard from the carriage, along with some giggling. They all turned to see a bearded man lying on the ground. He tried to stand up, but seemed to have a hard time finding his feet. He giggled more; a foul smell came from his direction. It smelled like a brewery.

"Who's that?" The Master asked, pointing at the intoxicated man.

"Oh that's just my husband!" Elizabeth said in an annoyed voice.

"Your husband?" The Master wondered. He looked so different from her.

"I’m married to him only for the money." She informed the Master. The Master was looking thoroughly confused. Elizabeth let out an annoyed sigh. She tried to explain to the master.

"You see, our father said he would disinherit me if I wasn't married soon. I picked David over there." She jammed her thumb towards the stumbling David. He was still having a hard time finding the floor.

"Money?" The master quickly asked. Her eyes lit up hearing her favorite word.

"Oh yes My father is filthy rich. You see he knew how much I loved to toy with men."

Whirling the blade of her knife, she spun it into its sheath.

"I think god put them on this planet to make our lives miserable." She whispered to The Master. "And I try to make there lives as miserable as possible."

"Now where are those delicious looking fighters I was told about." She rubbed her hands in anticipation.

"But you're married," Ian corrected her.

"Honey I’m married, I’m not dead." Elizabeth shot back.

The Masters head flew back in laughter. She gazed at Marion with an insidious smile on her face.

"Elizabeth, the more I hear you, the more I like you."

Elizabeth smiled back at The Master. "I believe we have not been introduced." She brought her hand out.

"Yes, I guess we should have proper introductions. I run things here. I am called The Master. This is Ian. He owns this establishment." The Master warmly shook Elizabeth’s hand.

"I must say, I am pleased to be here," Elizabeth sniffed.

Ian then brought his hand limply out. Elizabeth took it, shaking it loosely, with an uneasy grin on her face.

Shaking Ian's hand, Johnny gave out the introductions.

"I am John Littlemore, this is my sister Elizabeth. The man back there trying to drink up all of England is known as David."

David had given up trying to stand and just waved at them from where he sat. A barrage of giggles followed after. Johnny just rolled his eyes in embarrassment. "We also brought two others with us. Michael, Kemal!" Johnny called out.

A rotund man stepped out of the carriage. He wore a very large hat that covered most of his head. He was not dressed as fancy as the others, his eyes, however; showed a wisdom that came with years, The Master noticed. Spying David on the ground, the man sadly shook his head.

"I told him that wine was for medicinal purposes." He then crouched next to David. As he examined him a dark man jumped down from the carriage. The master immediately recognized him.

"So you purchased Kemal," she observed.

"Yes, an excellent buy. He does so much for me," Elizabeth enthused. "Would you be interested in selling him?" The Master asked. She gave Kemal a strong look of desire. Kemal's gaze told her that he was not as subservient as he was before. He had a look of independence to him now.

"No, I don’t think so. I’ve really grown quite fond of him. He was the one that informed us of the Tournament that you hold here. We all came to see it."

"Well I really don’t have the room," the Master tried to stress to the strange group. "But if your willing to pay?" she asked in earnest.

"Show them Johnny," Elizabeth ordered Johnny. She stifled a tired yawn.

Johnny pulled out a small purse. Opening it, he tilted it, to have gold coins tumble out of it. The Masters nearly lost control of herself, at the display of so much gold coins. As she quickly tried to estimate how much was there. The one called Michael rose from his examination of David. Walking to Elizabeth, he informed her. "He’ll be all right. Nothing that a good nights rest won’t cure, now then who might these people be?" Michael asked.

"This is the Master and Ian." Johnny notified Michael.

"Master and Ian this is Michael. He is a healer," Johnny informed them.

"A healer!" the Master asked Michael. "Really? Are you any good?"

Michael looked modest. " I like to think I am."

"He is the best in the county," Johnny proudly told them.

"Well we just might be needing your services by the end of the week.

"Then we can stay here?" Elizabeth asked.

"Of Course you can. I want you to be my personal guests." The Master said. She gently patted Johnny on the arm.

"That is great! I can’t wait to see the battles." Elizabeth’s eyes glowed with the anticipation. The Master motioned them towards the Monastery.

"If you want, I can show you the Arena. There are no fights planned at the moment but you can view the fighters training."

"Then lets be off!" Elizabeth started to head towards the entrance of the monastery. Hearing some giggling she stopped. Dropping her head back, her long hair falling on her back, she said in a weary voice. "David, come along."

Kemal stooped down and tried to assist David to stand. It took him a while but David did get his legs moving.

"I’m coming my dear!" he drawled out.

Michael went back to aid Kemal. Grabbing his arms from each side, they followed Elizabeth. The Master, moved to stand next to Johnny, she brought her arm out.

"After you," she said to Johnny. Johnny gently smiled down at her.

"My pleasure," taking her arm they walked into the monastery.

End of Part Sixteen

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