This story is set post-series three. It is an adventure with supernatural and magical elements and hints of romance.
Disclaimer: the characters are the creation of Richard Carpenter.
A HUGE thank you to my awesome beta, herne24!
The leader of the Welsh introduced himself as Daffydd ap Rhys, the chief of a small tribe in the next valley. He asked for Christina’s story. He warmed to her when she told him that her father and elder brother had died for opposing King John.
Daffydd’s people were settled throughout the valley. They lived where they could cultivate the soil and conserve their game. They had wooden houses, with small garden plots bound by wattle fences. Sheep grazed on the hillsides and in the fertile marshland along the river banks.
When Daffydd, his men, and the outlaws arrived in the valley, the people appeared to observe them. Some young men came and, at Daffydd’s command, formed themselves into an armed band and went to take their turn keeping watch on the roads.
Daffydd saw Robin looking at the men with approval. “We live too close to the English border here,” Daffydd said.
“How do you defend your people, scattered as they are?” Robin asked. “You have no fortified position.”
“We keep watch,” Daffydd explained. “If the enemy is too many to fight, we drive our sheep into the hills, carry our stores with us, and wait them out. The English destroy everything they can. We harry them and kill as many as we can. When they are gone, we come back and rebuild our homes.”
Robin nodded, understanding. These were the best tactics for a small and widespread people to employ against a numerous and well-armed enemy.
Daffydd’s hall was not much bigger or grander than the houses of his people, but the foundation of the wall was of stone, and it had a stockade. The stables and barns were on the inside of the wooden fence, and strips of planted land outside. The hall was warm and welcoming inside, though plainly and sparsely furnished. There was a blazing central fire under a blackened roof, and clean straw on the earthen floor.
Daffydd showed Robin an ancient wooden chest, of which Daffydd was rightly proud. It was carved with the skill of the Welsh’s Celtic ancestors in an intricate, convoluted pattern. Robin admired it, gently tracing the fine grooves with his fingers.
Daffydd’s men and women treated the outlaws with wariness, but also with courtesy. The outlaws knew that Daffydd’s young men were watching them circumspectly. Daffydd’s household was quietly efficient. The women served the outlaws with ale, meat and bread. Christina and Nicholas sat with Daffydd, who was dressed in his finest clothes in his guests’ honour: a tunic of fine homespun wool, dyed a soft green, with red embroidery at neck and sleeves, a labour of love on the part of his wife, Mared. Daffydd wore a thin ancient bronze armband and a cloak pin of Gwynedd gold. He, his wife, Robin and Christina, discussed her family and the political situation in England.
During the meal, a man left the hall with a platter of food and a cup of wine. Daffydd gestured to him. “Our daily offering to the Horned One. We have a shrine in the woods. On feast days we sacrifice.”
Robin asked to see the shrine, so Daffydd took him into a grove of trees. There was a stone of thigh height, with a worn carving of a man, sitting cross-legged, with a stag’s antlers on his head. Cernunnos. There were brown stains running down the grey stone. Bread and meat were placed at the foot, and liquid had been poured on the ground as an oblation.
That night, Robin and his men slept on paillasses in the hall, while Christina was given a small chamber of her own.
The following morning, two of Daffydd’s men came running to warn him of an English raiding party heading for their settlement. The young men were called to arms and, within a short time, Daffydd led them away to head off the invaders.
Daffydd left no instructions about the outlaws, but the elder men who came to the hall with the women and children were armed and kept watch on Robin and his men, who were left weaponless. The outlaws chafed; they wanted to be involved in the action. It went against the grain to do nothing.
Young boys were keeping watch. One came haring down the valley and up to the hall. The English were at the far end of the valley. Robin had Christina speak urgently to the elders, begging for the return of the outlaws’ weapons, so that they could defend the people. The elders were understandably reluctant to trust Englishmen to fight fellow Englishmen, but they were eventually persuaded to let the outlaws help by the sight of the raiders fast descending on the hall.
The raiders had already taken one settlement, so were high-flown with triumph and eager for more action. Here they were facing not a war band, but vulnerable people: women, children and the elderly.
Snatching their bows, the outlaws strung them hurriedly, planted a dozen arrows in the ground before them, and took stances with an arrow ready to shoot. A few of the older boys went running for their own bows and joined Robin and his men. By this time, the raiders were in bowshot range. The outlaws fired six volleys of arrows each in rapid succession. A quarter of the English were felled: dead or wounded. The rest wavered, and then fled under the seventh volley.
The Welsh people shouted and jeered with relief and excitement. The remaining raiders were met at the far end of the valley by Daffydd and the young men, who were furious at being tricked and scared for their people. The raiders stood no chance.
Once the Welsh had won, they buried the dead Englishmen in a common grave. The women cared for the wounded, which included only a couple of Welshmen. Amongst the lightly wounded was the raiding party’s leader: the younger son of a minor noble in Shropshire. He was made a prisoner. Once his few wounded men were healed enough to travel, they would be escorted to the border with a ransom demand to the young lordling’s father.
Daffydd and his people were grateful to Robin and his men. The outlaws were allowed to keep their weapons and no further watch was kept on them. They were invited to stay for a couple of days; they could not refuse without giving offence. A wandering bard providentially arrived to entertain the people with songs of the heroic past. Now the outlaws were treated to Welsh hospitality: the people came and went through the hall, bringing food and ale, stopping to drink, eat, and listen to the singing. Robin and his men were feted as honoured guests.
Near the end of the evening, the bard, a doughty old man, beckoned to Robin to sit next to him. He sang a few lines to Robin, his voice still strong, not cracked by age.
"Where once there was a hall and a red hearth glowing,
There is now tumbled stone and a dead wind blowing.
There you will hear it, calling for finding,
From the grave, the strong horn winding."
The man stumbled over the English words and the unfamiliar rhythm. He seemed to be in a trance. Daffydd questioned the bard about the verse, but evidently the man did not know himself from where the words came. No-one in the company could throw any light on the matter.
I wonder if this horn is what Herne told me to bring back to Sherwood? Robin thought. It must be buried in a ruined building, but how am I to find it?
On the third day, Daffydd explained the route the outlaws would have to follow to take Christina and Nicholas on to their kin.
“Two of my men will guide you. I can spare no more.”
“I thank you, my lord, for your help,” Robin said.
“And I, you,” Daffydd replied.
The two guides were silent for the most part and kept to themselves, but were friendly enough.
Christina’s family holding was a half day’s march further inland. The company followed a narrow road for a good while, before reverting to paths through trees and over hills.
Christina and Nicholas’ family welcomed them in the warm Welsh way towards kin, however distant. The head of the family was Gruffydd ap Iorwerth, a comfortable middle-aged man, with a cheerful wife and numerous offspring, both his own and foster sons. Nicholas was pleased and excited to be taken in by the boys of the household. He was young and would soon settle in.
Gruffydd sent two of his men with Owen to find his family, several days march away. Christina was ashamed that she had nothing to give Owen but thanks for his help in rescuing Nicholas and his service to her family.
Christina was anxious, unsure and lost amongst unknown relatives. She took a lingering farewell of the outlaws. She briefly held Robin’s hand.
“I’m so thankful for all you have done for me,” Christina said, then added impulsively, “I’ll see Nicholas happy then come back to Sherwood. Will I be welcome?”
Robin smiled gently. “My lady, you are now with your kin, who will take care of you. Live your new life and forget about us.”
“I won’t forget you, Robin, Christina said, tears glistening in her eyes. Her heart ached, knowing she had had to choose Nicholas and her kin over her love for Robin. Robin kissed her hand, touched by her sadness, wanting to take her in his arms.
Christina watched the outlaws leave, with the rest of the household, hugging her sorrow to herself.
Daffydd’s men turned back home and four of Gruffydd’s men led the outlaws on a direct route to the border at Oswestry. The outlaws walked till exhausted through the beautiful, wild land of Wales. When they arrived at the Welsh-English border, their escort pointed to Oswestry and unceremoniously left them to their own devices.
The outlaws crossed into England and skirted the town and castle of Oswestry. The Welsh had given them frugal provisions for a couple of days. Thereafter, they earned their keep by hiring themselves as escorts to travellers on the long road home to Sherwood.
From Oswestry, the outlaws made their way to the Shrewsbury Road, and from there, struck out eastwards towards Burton-upon-Trent, avoiding the towns on the way. On the second day, they walked on a track cutting across green meadows. To the left, were strange-shaped hills, putting them in mind of overturned boats.
“They must be barrows,” Robin said, “and what’s that beyond them? It looks like a ruined building.”
The others looked to where Robin pointed: tumbled walls of grey, lichen-painted stone.
Robin knew he had to go to the ruin. “I think this is what the bard meant,” he told the others.
They skirted the downs to come to the ruin. Awed, the outlaws explored the impressive site. The ruin encompassed a large space on a hill of rocky slopes. There were the remains of a curtain wall, a gatehouse, various rooms open to the sky, and two towers.
Robin touched the large blocks of stone reverently. “This must have been a Roman fort,” he said.
Will kicked at the debris beside the walls: rotten wood, once stout roof beams, poles and planks. There were also scraps of unrecognisable metal and shards of broken pottery.
Robin sat back on his heels. “I think this fort was lived in after the Romans,” he said. “ The people used wood to restore the walls and buildings. They may have been Saxon.”
“That’s all old history. What are we doing here, anyway?” Will asked.
“I don’t know for sure, Will, but I think this is where the bard meant me to come,” Robin answered.
“I don’t know yet, Will!”
From the hill, they could see the mounds. They looked man-made, although the earth had long embraced them. There were four mounds, two on either side of the path to what had been the fort’s main gate.
Much touched Robin’s arm. “There’s nothing here, Robin. I don’t like those hills. Let’s go.”
“Not yet, Much. “
Robin looked around the ruins and down at the barrows. Were they significant?
Robin felt a sudden, stabbing pain behind his eyes. Then a dusty, hollow voice: Here! He looked at the others. “Who’s that?” he asked. His friends looked at him blankly. Robin heard the dry voice again. Here! Robin looked down at the debris around his feet. He saw a hilt barely showing through the rubble. He pulled it out. Here was a short stabbing sword. Despite the dull blade and trickles of rust, it looked powerful and alive.
Robin knew the sword was important. He had to clean it up as best he could. He used wet sand to scour the rust off, then sharpened the blade on stone. He used his tunic to rub clean the hilt, which was fine, with river brown agates.
Will examined the sword. “This is a good blade, well balanced, but too short,” he commented.
‘It was used in close fighting, to stab,” Robin said.
Here! Robin heard the commanding voice again; this time it was cold and dark. Here! Follow!
The wind sprang up suddenly, leapt the broken walls, and launched itself down the hill, sending cold shivers down the men’s spines. The wind whistled as it went through the gaps in the stone ruins and down the path to the barrows. When the ruins were behind, the whistling continued; the sound became deeper and long-drawn out. Robin imagined shadow figures following the striding wind down to the barrows. The sound and the confused shapes came to a halt at the first barrow on the left. The frantic images in the wind swirled around the one long side of the barrow. Robin heard a long, deep sound. He’d never heard the old Saxon war horns, but he recognized the echo call.
His men were watching Robin. They had heard and seen nothing. Will was impatient, Much anxious, and Nasir still, waiting.
‘I have to go there.” Robin pointed to the barrow from which the sound had come. There was something uneasy there, but he had to go down. Herne, protect me.
Robin walked down the hill from the ruin to the barrow. He paused where he judged the shadows congregated. In one place, it looked as if a large animal had scrambled at the sward of the slope. It was cold there amongst the shadows. When Robin drew his dagger and laid his hands on the turf, the shadows dissolved like mist. Robin stabbed with his knife at the torn soil.
“What are you doing, Robin? “ Will asked, puzzled and impatient.
“I must get in,” Robin answered.
“What’s got into you now? This is daft!”
Robin was exasperated; was Will right? What was he doing? Digging into a hillside, which may or may not be a barrow grave, with a dagger.
Will sighed exaggeratedly, raised his sword two-handed and slammed it into the earth where Robin was scrabbling. “I felt something give there,” he said.
Robin plunged his own sword in next to Will’s. He distinctly felt something shift through the compacted soil. He told Nasir and Much to stab their swords in line with his and Will’s. Nasir’s second sword shivered and brought the earth and grass cascading down. Will and Robin worked their swords up and down and sideways. The soil came away in lumps, leaving a rectangular patch of what looked like clay. Robin touched the surface, then, not knowing what made him do it, he hit it with the hilt of the stabbing sword. There was silence, during which he noticed that the wild wind was gone. Then the clay crumbled, revealing the shape of the dark. The four men staggered back from the foul dead air.
“Let’s go, Robin, please,” Much begged, clutching Robin’s arm. “There’re demons in there, in the dark.”
Robin gripped Much’s arm briefly. “No, Much, there’re no demons here, I promise you. Now, I need light and fire. Get some wood and sticks from the ruin.”
The outlaws kindled a small fire and lit a piece of timber for a torch. Robin held the torch in the open hole, but the flame suffocated.
“We’ll have to wait till the air clears. We’ll have to camp here overnight.” Robin looked at Will and Much’s dubious faces. “You can leave, all three of you. I have to go in there.”
Will looked shamefaced. “Nah, we’ll stay. Might as well set up camp. It’s starting to get dark.”
“Good, but not here,” Robin said. “Away from the barrows and on the far side of the ruin.”
They slept uneasily that night and woke unrefreshed. They kindled a fire from laths and planks from the fort. Nasir found a spring within the fort walls, where the men washed and filled up their waterskins with crisp, clean water. Their food was down to rations of oatmeal that they mixed with water into sloppy cakes, which they cooked on a hearthstone. They felt uncomfortable, as if they were watched by hostile eyes, except for Robin. He knew he had a mission to fulfill: he was expected.
The air in the barrow was good enough to breathe now, although still dank and ill-smelling. Robin in the front, and Nasir in the rear, carried burning brands. The men clambered through the opening and dropped a short way to an earthen floor.
In the middle of the barrow were the remains of a rectangular wooden frame: the grave place. Robin stepped carefully over the broken timber. There lay the remains of a man: a skeleton with his armour, weapons and grave goods about him. There was a broken Roman amphora, which may have contained wine, pottery shards, and a broken small pot, with a few antique coins spilling out. The warrior wore a conical metal helmet with a nose-piece and the remnants of a leather tunic. There was a crumbled wooden shield with a metal boss, a heavy sword and a rust-bitten dagger. An elaborate, tarnished cloak pin lay on his chest. By his right hand was a magnificent war horn, still whole, with verdigris silver bands and rim, on which worn patterns were carved. The outlaws stared, awed.
Robin reached for the horn; this was what he had been called to find. It was the warrior’s gift to him. The horn was familiar in his hand. He ran his fingers over the chased bands and inwardly promised to restore them to shining beauty. Robin bowed to the warrior, the horn held reverently before him. Robin stowed the horn in the breast of his tunic. The cord was long gone; he would fashion another.
Robin gently moved a skeletal hand and placed it upon the hilt of the stabbing sword, laid next to the warrior. A gift in return for a gift? Or a belonging returned?
Much was afraid and stayed in the barrow through sheer willpower. Nasir stood calm and respectful. Will crouched over the pot of coins. He was about to scoop them into his pouch.
Robin hauled Will to his feet. “No, Will!” he said. “Do you want to risk the warrior’s revenge?”
Will cursed and shook himself free of Robin’s grasp. “Rubbish!” he said, but he left the coins where they had fallen.
The men were relieved to climb out into the daylight. They covered the opening as best they could with cut turfs.
“Come, I think it’s time we left,” Robin said. He led his men down through the barrows and into the sun.
There Robin stopped and turned to face the barrows and the ruined fort. He put the horn to his lips and blew a long, deep call that ricocheted in the shallow valley.
“What did you do that for?” Will complained. “Do you want to wake the dead?”
“They’re awake, Will,” Robin replied. “The horn is going to war again.”
Robin and his men were relieved to get home to Sherwood. They camped in the first suitable place they came to. Robin went to Herne in his cave. It was Herne, the man, who waited for him. Herne held out his hands, and Robin placed the horn in them. Herne stroked the finely- worked silver bands. His face was still in memory. “It was a brave man that carried this great horn into war.”
Herne gave the horn back to Robin. “It is yours now. The warrior gave it to you. Do not use it lightly. It will call your men together when you need each other. When you face death, it will save you.”
In the morning, the outlaws looked for John, Tuck, and Meg at their regular camp-sites. They found no sign of their friends. They were apprehensive by the time they came to a site that had signs of recent occupancy. There were the scattered ashes of a dead fire, bedding and utensils thrown about. Two bows and numerous arrows lay broken on the ground.
“They’ve been taken,” Robin said.
“Who by?” Much asked.
“The Sheriff or Gisbourne, probably,” Robin answered. “How long ago do you reckon, Nasir?” he asked.
“A day, Robin.’ Nasir looked around the remains of the camp. “Many men.”
Robin walked around the site, finding a place where feet had trampled the undergrowth . “The soldiers went deeper into the forest. I wonder if they’re lost?”
Will frowned. “How did they know where this camp was?” he asked. “John and Tuck were betrayed.”
“We’ll find out, Will, Robin said. “First, we have to rescue them.”
There was a rustling noise in the bushes behind the outlaws. They all drew their swords in a moment. Much was closest to the sound. He spotted movement and sprang towards it, his sword raised. He stopped abruptly at the same time as a voice cried out, “No, Much!”
Much dropped his sword in surprise. He helped pull Meg up. She’d been hiding in the bushes. She ran to Robin, who put his arm around her and hugged her briefly to his side. “What’s happened?” he asked Meg.
Meg was frightened, hopeless, and ashamed.
“I hid, Robin. I wasn’t in the camp, but I heard them come. I’m a coward. I left John and Tuck to be caught. They were beaten. I saw their faces full of blood. They wouldn’t tell where you’d gone.”
“They will have by now,” Will said grimly.
Meg clutched Robin. The men were shocked, but Robin rallied to comfort Meg .
“Meg, you aren’t a coward. It would’ve been worse if you’d been caught as well. At least John and Tuck didn’t have you to worry about. Was it Gisburne or the Sheriff?”
“No,” Meg answered. “I think it was one of Gisburne’s captains. They knew where our camp was! Who told them?”
‘Whoever it was is going to die,” Will said.
“Yes, he will,” Robin replied, his face set with anger.”We’re going after them now. Meg, you should probably go to Wickham and hide there.”
“No, Robin. I want to come with you. I want to find John.”
“As you wish.”
Robin and Will strode forward, Much and Meg walked behind them, and Nasir brought up the rear. They moved swiftly, but quietly, on the track of the soldiers. The soldiers followed a faint deer path, which led into the depths of Sherwood. The outlaws made good progress. Because they knew the forest well, they were able to continue some time into the gloaming, before they stopped for the night.
The outlaws woke early in the morning, quickly ate a meagre breakfast, and then continued the chase. Some time later, they almost walked into the soldiers’ camp. They crouched behind trees around a small clearing. They could see John and Tuck lying still on the ground, their arms tied behind them. The captain was cursing a man: a serf, not a soldier. The captain was gesturing angrily in front and behind.
“Where are we, you fool? How do we get out of this damn wood? We’re lost! If it wasn’t for catching those two outlaws, I’d reckon this was deliberate.” The captain struck the man to the ground.
Will cursed. “There’s the traitor. I’m going to kill him!”
Robin dashed to Will’s cover, grabbed Will’s arm, and spoke quietly but sharply. “Dammit, Will! Shut up and don’t move. Do you want to get us all killed? Look how many soldiers there are.”
Will shook his head to clear it. There were more than two score men. The outlaws didn’t stand a chance.
“We need a diversion,” Robin said. “Meg, be honest if you can’t do this. I want you to go a short way from this camp. Scream and call for help, but keep moving further away. Draw some of the soldiers off. When you think it’s getting dangerous for you, find somewhere to hide. The soldiers will probably be called back before they catch you. Do you think you can do this, Meg?”
“I’m scared, but I’ll do it, Robin,” Meg replied.
“Right. I’ll be ready to help you. Much, you get behind John and Tuck and cut them free. Will and Nasir, you cover Much.”
Much, Will and Nasir crept slowly around the outskirts of the camp towards John and Tuck. Abruptly, Meg screamed and shouted for help. The outlaws waited tensely to see if the soldiers would take the bait. Five did, going off in the direction of Meg’s screams. As they crashed through the trees and undergrowth, Meg’s shouts receded. The other soldiers’ attention was held long enough for Much to cut John’s and Tuck’s bonds. The three men backed slowly into the trees, trying not to draw attention.
The captain was suspicious of Meg’s diversion. He scanned the camp for anything untoward. He saw John and Tuck scramble into the trees; he shouted orders to his men. The outlaws ran, but John and Tuck lagged behind because they were stiff from being bound and having their movements restricted for so long.
The soldiers who pursued Meg came back without her. Robin supposed she was hidden safely somewhere. He decided to cover his men by shooting at the soldiers, hoping that they would think they were being attacked by several men. Robin aimed, loosed, and brought down one man with his first arrow. He moved quickly to another position and hurriedly fired twice. One man was wounded. Robin moved again. He had to kill or seriously wound the captain. The man was rallying the soldiers, sending half after the four outlaws and the other half towards Robin. Robin took careful aim, ignoring the men closing in on him. He shot the captain in the breast. The man crashed to the ground, where he died. Robin ran, hearing the outcry behind him. His pursuers drew off in consternation, not knowing what to do. Robin saw the serf who had betrayed John and Tuck running away. He brought him down with a fifth arrow.
Robin caught up with his men, but they were greatly outnumbered by the soldiers, who would no doubt take up their trail again soon. They could hear one man, probably a sergeant, shouting orders. The outlaws were forced to run towards the Lichfield Road and had no choice but to cross it. They came to an abrupt halt in consternation. The furore in the camp and their own flight had covered the sounds of men on the march. A sizable contingent of soldiers was passing down the road on the way to join the main army marching against the Welsh, the leaders some way ahead, but the tail not yet in sight. The outlaws were trapped!
John and Tuck had no weapons, so John used his strength to uproot a tall sapling that he stripped of its leaves and broke in two. He gave one to Tuck, so they both had crude staves. The outlaws turned back to back. They would die fighting.
Robin faced the army. Through the pounding of his heart, he felt a searing heat in his breast. He slipped his hand into his tunic and held the suddenly heavy weight of the horn. He knew this was a time to use it. Robin raised the great war horn to his lips and blew with all his might. The blast rang deep: belligerent, overriding, encompassing the outlaws, the pursuing soldiers and the army ahead. Everyone froze for a moment, trying to identify the sound and where it came from. The silence was a storm about to break.
From the winding of the horn came a wind of the storm, of the forgotten places and of the wilderness. The deep tree tops reared and plunged in waves. In the wake of the wind came rushing shadows, the fearsome blare of the horn echoing through the centuries, the beat of sword hilts on shields in unison, far battle cries, blow of iron, bite of steel, and the relentless footfalls of marching men. Terror sliced through the Norman army and carved apart the ranks. The outlaws forced themselves to run in the wake of the terror, through the crowded emptiness, across the road and into the trees beyond. Will cursed and Tuck mumbled: “Sed et si ambulavero in valle mortis non timebo malum quoniam tu mecum es virga tua et baculus tuus ipsa consolabuntur me.”**
The pursuing soldiers burst out of the woods on the further side of the road and found themselves swimming through a tide of deathly mist, fighting a screaming wind in their faces; they drowned in the surge of fear and rage that drives men into battle, and broke.
The outlaws watched the disintegration of the enemy forces. Men fled from the power in their midst, ignoring their officers’ commands; a disciplined army became a rabble. The contingent was split in two. Such was their terror that men, desperate to get away, drew swords on comrades and trampled underfoot those who had fallen. Officers, trying to bring order, were pulled from their horses. Men were injured and killed.
An officer on a black stallion galloped from the van of the army, yelling and hitting at the soldiers to get them back into line. He was not afraid to face the force that terrorised the men, but his horse reared up and refused to go further. The officer was Gisburne, who was no coward. He was swept into the maelstrom of a black wind, the drumming of steel upon wood, the wild baying of the war horns, and the crying of men with death on their heels. Sweating with fear, Gisburne dragged himself free, forcing Fury forward. He found himself with a third of the contingent, including the rearguard. Fighting his own panic, Gisburne berated and belaboured the soldiers into a semblance of marching order and led them back towards Nottingham. On the other side of the horror, more officers collected themselves enough to drive the men towards Lichfield.
It would take days to reform the army, to muster the disparate forces and march. Gisburne would ride against Wales, leading the Nottingham contingent. An uneasy peace would settle on Nottingham and Sherwood.
The outlaws waited out the retreat of the army. When they sensed the withdrawal of power, they fled back over the road. They were worried about Meg, left alone for so long. They tried to find the small glade where the soldiers had held John and Tuck. They called for her. John became desperate when there was no answer. The outlaws split up, searching in a line, keeping up with each other. Eventually, they heard a tentative reply to their calls.
“Meg, where are you?” John shouted.
“Here!” Meg called back from some distance. The outlaws pushed through undergrowth and skirted trees. Meg was well-hidden and only emerged from her hiding place in the high bushes when John appeared in the lead. He swept her off her feet and up into his arms.
“Thank Herne you’re safe, lass,” John said.
“What happened?” Meg asked. “Where did you go? I heard the soldiers following you and then there was the sound of men marching and fighting. I heard your horn, Robin.”
Robin tried to explain about the surge of power from the horn, the fear that broke the army and allowed the outlaws to escape.
They walked in silence for a while. John, Tuck and Meg‘s curiosity overcame their exhaustion. They asked what befell the others while the three of them had remained in Sherwood. Robin, Much and Will told an abridged version of their adventures. They would relate the full story later when they had recovered from their ordeal. Once the tale was finished, the outlaws fell into silence again. Meg caught up with Robin and walked alongside him.
“Robin, would you like Christina to come back? “ Meg asked.
“I don’t expect her to,” Robin answered.
“That’s not what I asked, Robin. Would you like to see her again, to have her stay?”
Robin looked away and spoke softly, more to himself than to Meg. “Yes. I can hope.” Hadn’t he said once to Marion that he lived in hope? Despite everything that had happened, he still did.
Meg clasped Robin’s hand briefly. “I’ll hope for you, Robin,” she said.
They turned to laugh at John’s mock-jealous growl from close behind. John took Meg’s hand and walked alongside Robin.
Robin smiled. The thought of Christina warmed him and filled him with longing. Yes, he would hope.
Under the ghostly sheen of the moon, against the deep midnight sky, there was the living light of a fire. The outlaws sat close together, warming their hands and their courage. They were shaken, but safe. Herne’s son kept the Hunter’s Horn.
*” Stop! Who are you?” Modern Welsh.
**”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23. http://scripturetext.com/psalms/23-4.htm