My first “serious” short story, written in Random South Room 9 during my first semester at Marlboro College. Only typographical errors have been corrected.
There was never a time in Robin’s life that he had been so deeply terrified of a dream. It came to him very clearly. For the last seven nights, his mind had been twisted in many directions by one recurring vision. It was almost comical in its simplicity and its sheer lack of subtlety: a series of scenes wherein Robin’s left hand was consumed in flames like the end of a torch. Anything that graced his hand would be enveloped as well, in the lick of the flame. It just did not make any sense to him.
“Hey Friar,” Robin yelled to the man Tuck, who stood top-naked next to a fire of real heat. He was warming his hands vociferously, merry men all around him.
“Yes, my son?” the friar said, grinning a prominent smile that wrinkled his pug-face and exposed his clean white teeth, which glinted demonically in the dawn’s pierce of sunlight. There were scant flurries coming down, and the few dark clouds were taking off into the horizon.
“My dreams confuse me,” Robin said sheepishly, examining a log with the toe of his boot. He put his hands on his hips, leaning to one side. Friar Tuck noticed him shivering.
“What do you see, my son, Robin of the Hood?” Friar said, stepping avuncularly closer to Robin and bringing up the shoulders of his robe. He shivered slightly also. The wind blew the fire to a tiny spark before letting it billow out again. Robin bent forward to pick up the log, letting it drop over the expanse of the fire. He then stepped up closer to Tuck’s person, looking him solemnly in the face.
“Might we speak in private?” Robin asked, and without another word Friar Tuck took Robin ‘round the shoulder, leading him into the Band’s makeshift confessional tent.
Robin sat on a stool while the friar poured two generous goblets of sacramental wine. The odor caught Robin’s attention, and he waited until he had his portion before he began to speak.
“I’ve dreamt for many nights that my hand is on fire.” He indicated his left hand by clutching a fist and unclutching it and resting it on his hosed thigh.
“And what else do you see, my son?” Tuck replied, with his back to Robin’s on an identical stool. Robin could hear him taking gulps of wine like sips before awaiting a response.
“When I touch something with that hand, the thing begins to burn as if I have cursed it,” Robin Hood said. He looked downward erringly. “Sometimes my hand sets people on fire too, if I should happen to touch them.” Robin ran a hand through his coppery hair, taking another, longer drink of the red wine. The last swallow made him wince.
“Who are these people, who you seem to set on fire?” The friar spoke lowly in a soothing tone. “Do you recognize them at all?”
“No”, Robin said. “I see their faces, and they look familiar, but I cannot say who they are. I know none of them for certain.”
The friar scratched his bare head at this. He got up to refill his goblet, bringing the pitcher back with him.
“That is indeed strange, Sir Robin of the Hood. What do you think it means?” he said, pouring the wine, whose odor once again penetrated Robin’s senses.
Robin looked around the tent’s interior, glancing over its contents as if searching for some findable thing. There were goblets on the floor resting next to quivers that leaned against the cloth wall, which was otherwise lined with casks. The light was fairly impeded by this, and a candle flickered atop a barrel. Robin still had not quite thought of anything when he replied thus:
“It all means nothing to me. Nothing I can discern from where I am, anyhow.”
The friar hiccuped drunkenly, pouring again the wine. Robin turned and held out his goblet, which the friar hastily refilled. A drop ran down the side of the vessel, and Robin moved his hand around to the other side disgustedly. Sipping from this cup, he began to feel the effects. He tipped his head back and chuckled to himself, shivering again like a child.
“If it troubles you now, Robin, it must mean something to you,” the friar said. “How else would try explaining this folly that plagues you like the ague you were stricken with last year? There must be a germ that was its origin. God punished no man without reason.”
“I must beg to differ, father. Why then has God taken Little John away from me? My friend John Little was young, only forty-one, with children and his wife. Why did God punish him so errantly? Friend John did not deserve death—at least no more that you or I.” Robin sounded entropic, and disinterested. He was staring his friend in the face, as if his dreams were irrelevant to him at that moment. Every other fragment of a thought went near-forgotten while he contemplated John Little.
“The dreams, my son. The dreams,” Friar Tuck said.
“The dreams disturb me, father. My skin crawls upon waking, and my head is perspired like I’ve been running for miles. What can you tell me that may help me sleep?”
“You must ask God these questions, my son. They are infinite questions, in need of infinite answers.” The holy man’s head fell forward then, and he did not speak anymore.
* * * * *
“Robin?” Marian said.
“Yes, my love,” Robin said, exhaling through his nose.
“Put your hand on me,” she said, shifting uneasily under the covers.
“It is, my love,” he replied. Robin seemed transfixed on the shadow they sent across the wall, wholly uninterested in Marian’s alluring jawline.
“Your left hand, Robin. It’s scarcely touched me all night. It might as well not even exist.” She sighed then, of which Robin took notice as he always did when she sighed like that.
“Very well, my love. If you require my left hand’s presence on your body, well then, I can only surrender it to you.” Robin spoke affectionately, and brought his left hand to rest on her thigh. He resumed his motions again, and they were heartfelt, but still Marian was not content.
“Robin, you are torpid. You do not even feel me here, do you, under you on this bed, and whilst our two fleshes are met, you can barely take notice.” She sounded offended, so Robin rolled off of her and settled next to her, shoulder to shoulder.
“My love, I feel you. I notice you like no man ever noticed a woman.” He grasped his jaw contemplatively. “You are everything to me. Surely you know this,” he said.
“Of course I know it, Robin my beloved. I know other things also, though. I know your mind is not here in this room, in this bed with you. I know for near-certain that it is somewhere else.”
“It is nowhere else, my dear, but here,” Robin said. He reached over and palmed her cheek, kissing her lightly. He then moved eagerly to kiss her lips, but she recoiled with resolution. Robin, defeated, pulled his hand away. His head fell back into its pillow.
“What, my dearest?” he asked timidly.
“I want you to tell me,” she said, “without evasion, without fibs and falsities, what is troubling you, and if you do not, I will never share a bed with you again. You become more distant by the moments that pass. I can always tell.”
Robin thought to himself, that if they had both been standing, she would be poised with her arms crossed gracefully over her bosom. Her head would be cocked to one side, and her eyes would narrow snakeishly, glaring bluegold at him through night-black lashes. He brightened at the thought of it, and suddenly wanted to make love to her.
“Well?” she asked.
Robin sputtered for a moment. It was almost painful for Marian to hear him looking for the words he wanted to say. She was fearful that he would try again to dodge the subject this night as well.
“My dearest Marian,” he began, like the start of a letter, “I promise, it isn’t you that’s hampered me this night. That I can promise you.” Robin ended the sentence as if that was all there was to say. Marian scoffed, unsatisfied.
“Then what, my beloved?” she said, turning to lie on her side. Robin was momentarily distracted by her zaftig stomach that shone just ender the veil of the sheet. “Marian, these dreams that I told you about; they are what devitalize me. They pull at me, at every layer of my being. They infest my mind like—,” he paused to think of a decent simile—“like hunger haunts the famished. They are all that I can perceive during the day. My work brings me no peace; my mind is somewhere else at all times. This left hand—this evil thing—choked my soul to the brink of madness. It never loosens it strangle on me.”
Marian rested her head on her palm, turned ever more attentively towards Robin. The curves of her body were plainly visible to him, but now, as he explained himself and his predicament, he truly paid them no mind. He just stared blankly over her left shoulder, speaking almost to himself.
“Dearest, my most beloved Maid Marian, you mean everything and more to me; I cannot begin to estimate just how much I love you,” Robin said, averting his eyes back into hers. Had it been brighter in that room, he would have seen her blush gorgeously, like an undried painting, under the rays of the compliment.
“Please, beloved Marian, what do I do?” Robin seemed almost on the verge of tears and he rubbed his eyes disparately. Marian put her free hand on his cheek, wiping a tear away with her thumb.
“They’re only dreams, my beloved. Just dreams from the pitch-black of your mind. In a few days time, these visions of yours will haunt you no longer, like a ghost between worlds and…” Marian cut herself off as she noticed Robin’s face twist in grief, the memory of John Little flooding him. She put her hands on his face, catching tears with both thumbs now. Sliding closer to him, Marian wrapped her pale arms around behind his neck and pulled herself in close to Robin of the Hood, who wept into her hair, clutching her also.
* * * * *
The sun slowly rose on the Merry Men that coming morning, and even though it was chillier than the day before, many swaggered about wearing only their codpieces and feathered caps. Men had begun to climb the trees to see how the city of Nottingham looked in the distance, roiling under newish sunlight. Some launched blunted arrows in its direction, in anticipation of another day’s praise-worthy lawlessness. It would be an uplifting day for the poor, they were all certain.
Robin of the Hood woke with earnest disinterest. He left Marian sleeping under a cozy cover and emerged naked in the light that glowed the walls of the tent. He stretched his lean back inward, then outward, then inward again, whipping a codpiece from a hook that protruded from a smooth wooden support. He exhaled violently, thrusting his slender legs into it. His tunic he gathered up off the floor, folding it over his papillated torso. His stomach ached, and intermittently he placed his right hand upon it.
Robin slipped out of the tent into the morning sun, the cold air catching his senses like the wine of the day before. He savored it for a moment before walking in long strides between the rows of tents as if he had an exact place for which he was destined. For a long while, thought of nothing clear at all, and then Marian’s sweet face stole his mind’s eye. She’s perfect, he thought. If only…
“Robin!” yelled someone Robin couldn’t quite identify. It sounded like the friar Tuck, but Robin was wholly uncertain.
The holy man, as it was, took small but numerous steps towards Robin at the top of the hill. In one hand, he held a massive corked methuselah, in the other, he held the knot of his belt. His great round face appeared in the sunlight, and he shaded his eyes salutingly. There was an air of urgency to his walk and mannerisms—unusual for the friar.
“Robin, the bounty on your head, as issued by Prince John, has risen to ten-thousand gold pieces. I think some of the men have begun to talk and—,” Tuck uncorked the methuselah and took three quick gulps. Robin looked impatient.
“Yes?” he slowly asked, scratching his head under his cap.
“—and I have names,” the friar said, wiping his lips with a brown sleeve.
“Who is it this time, Friar Tuck?” Robin asked despondently.
“’Tis Nicholas Hansen and Israel Coombs, and the Little Boys once again. I heard of their involvement at Confessional, God forgive me.” He crossed himself, then drank some more from the methuselah, sticking the cork back into it.
He offered the drink to Robin, who just looked out over the distance from the hill’s crest. He said nothing, standing with his hands joined behind his back. Sighing, he turned to peer at Tuck, who seemed uneasy.
“I dreamt again last night, friar, of my burning hand. I was talking to John Little, standing exactly where we are now, with my hands in my pockets.” A breeze churned Robin’s hair, which he ran his fingers through while continuing. “John’s voice was not his own; it was somebody else’s.”
Whose voice would you say it was, Robin of the Hood?” Tuck asked, just loud enough to be heard. He tightened his belt, stepping closer to Robin as he always did.
“I know not, father. I simply… do not know.” He trailed off, kicking the wind with melancholy. Tuck cleared his throat, about to speak.
“There is more, father. Much more to my visions of last night,” Robin interjected.
“Tell me the more then, my son,” Tuck said.
“I reach up with my right hand to cough into it, and I do, and then I notice a pain in the center of my chest, like I had swallowed an ember. I move to clutch my chest with my left hand, but my arm is lacking it at the wrist.” He stopped to breathe apprehensively. Tuck could see his jaw trembling and put it down to a shiver, at least for now.
“And what do you see next, Robin? Or is there nothing more?” the friar beckoned.
“I look up,” Robin continued, “and to my horror, my lost left hand is buried in Little John’s chest, and it grasps his heart, roasting it like a haystack on fire, and John’s face is frozen. His eyes stare at me, and I know he is dead.” Robin’s jaw shook now, his eyelids blinking back a wealth of tears. His stance faltered and he doubled over to one side, Robin’s hand resting on his knee. He made noises like an ill-tempered mule, a nauseous, glottal bray, from the lumped back of his throat.
Tuck rapidly pulled Robin up from under the armpits and turned him around to look him in the eyes. Now Robin sounded closer to laughter than anything else, which surprised the friar. Grasping him firm by the shoulders, Tuck shook Robin loosely, then more severely, until Robin shouted out at him.
“Old friend John—I mean, Friar—let me be so I can speak to you clearly.” Robin burped like a child and laughed to himself manically. His cap fell off of his head as he pulled away from the friar, and settling with his hands just above his kneecaps, he stared down at it for a moment before looking up. Tuck had become apprehensive in the meantime.
Robin peered under his eyebrows at the friar, chewing his lip for a time before speaking slowly thus:
“Have William Scarlett find me in my tent this evening. Have him return to camp before the other men. And friar, have him ready for orders, for he will receive them from me. And Hansen and Coombs shall receive their bounty in a fatal currency.” He straightened up, putting his hands on his beltbuckle. Tuck stood with his mouth open, holding his methuselah in his arms like an infant. “Will you do these things for me, father? I carried you once across a river. Could you not this time, perhaps, carry me?”
The friar nodded, and picking up his hat, Robin bowed gracefully and strutted off down the side of the hill, leaving Tuck at its apex. The daunted friar uncorked his jug and gulped from it for several seconds before he stopped, and exhaling, wiped his brow with his sleeve before bounding down the hill to look for Will Scarlett, who had been Robin’s first usurper.
* * * * *
Night had long since fallen, and the lines of tents were illuminated by fires that burned between them at regular intervals. Tallows burning indoors glowed the fabric of the tents, the weird light shining off the trees that framed the campsite of the Merry Men. It was their precaution, of sorts, to change the location of their refuge every so often, when it seemed prudent to do so, and yet they had inhabited this one for just over a year, which was by far their longest grace period. It seemed they felt unusually safe here, like a child finding peace under a grand piano for hours out of every day. Peace, however, would not be so easily found this evening.
“What do you wish of me, Sir Robin of the Hood, that you would request my presence so discreetly? What is it that ails you?” William Scarlett said yawningly. He sounded unrested, but alert in any case.
Robin leaned back in his barrel chair and smiled a minute smile that displaced just the corners of his lips. He did not answer right away. After a stiff breath, in and out, he tilted forward to speak:
“I have heard from good sources, dearest Will, that men are plotting to turn me in. They mean to collect the Prince’s hefty ransom, and like all the others, they spoke of their plot to Friar Tuck.” Robin glanced to the friar who was seated uneasily to his left. He nodded back in acknowledgement.
“What do you wish me to do, old friend? This has happened numerous times before to no fullest result, and this attempt will prove no different, I’m sure of it.” Will took off his cap by the feather and held it in his hand, lightly tapping it against his left palm. Robin was transfixed for a moment, but shook slightly back to attention.
“What do you think I want to occur, William Scarlett?’ Robin asked. The friar chuckled nervously. Will straightened his short frame up into his chair, which creaked as he shifted about in it. He was beginning to seem nervous also, and he cleared his throat to reply.
“If you wish it, Robin, I shall bring them in for you, but only if you wish it. The other men have already begun their gossip about this meeting here now, discretion seems impossible whenever—“
“—Whenever William Scarlett is involved,” Robin interrupted, rubbing his lower lip diabolically, like he meant to act out of character.
The friar stood up briskly and paced about the dimly-lit tent, touching his fingers to its cloth wall. He strode all the way around the perimeter before returning to his chair, into which he collapsed as if exhausted. Robin eyed him as he did this.
“What do you make of this, Friar Tuck? What does a man of the cloth have to say about these shaded affairs?” Robin inquired. His tone sounded curious and yet indifferent. Tuck ran his hand through his fringe of hair, changing his demeanor with vicissitude. He glared at Robin like a suspicious father.
“Robin, what do you intend to do with Hansen and Coombs? Thus far, they’ve done you no sort of punishable offense in the eyes of God, for all men may speak of their temptations without fear of unjust punishment for a mere trifle; a merest of thoughts is no sort of sin at-all,” Tuck said with conviction, and now it was he who spoke out of character.
Unaccustomed to even the slightest oppositional tone from the old friar, Robin stopped rubbing his lip. The look of pathology left his eyes and he relaxed his seated stance. Robin began to sputter bashfully as he always did when he began to second-guess himself, but before he could manage any sort of meaningful response, he and Tuck and Will were sidetracked by a commotion from outside the tent.
“Let me look, Robin of the Hood,” Will insisted. He stood up without haste and stretched his back, which cracked just loudly enough to be heard. Robin cringed uneasily, and Will took note. His shortish legs stretched a lengthened stride to the doorflap of the tent, out of which he poked his head and looked about outdoors, his oily stain-colored locks flowing effeminately behind him.
He surveyed for what seemed like a time, and the sight of the tailbone length hair reminded Robin of Maid Marian, who tonight had absconded back to the marble stronghold in the center of Nottingham. For safety’s sweet sake; ‘twas his notion for her to do so.
A vocal raucous, quite near to Robin from outside, made him leap to his feet, and he crossed over to the farther side of the tent. Will had already exited to investigate, and both Robin and the daunted friar could hear his voice, but neither could make out quite what he was saying. Suddenly, a word came through:
“Traitors!” Will could be heard bellowing. Robin stood frozen with his right hand on his dagger that hung from his belt. His left hand he had buried under his cap, as if to defend his unarmed sanity.
“Robin!” Will injected over the dense spring of men’s voices. Will’s voice came through with a roarish quality to it, which Robin by now knew meant ill-tidings. Cautiously edging towards the door, Robin caught the hem of the flap that blew in the evening’s wind and peered slowly out. Tuck sat, his hands in the pockets of his robe. He was too overtaken with uncertainty to pray at the moment; it would not have been like him to do so anyhow.
Robin shouted some unknown thing before dropping to the ground as a body flew over his head, crashing through into the farther end of the tent, where Robin had just been standing. Robin looked up, into the flames of a nearby fire, seeing beyond it a man bound hand-and-foot, writhing at the fire’s edge.
Robin ducked again as Will burst into the inside of the tent, grabbing the flung man by his arms and yanking them behind him like a stout wrestler. The man would not walk, so Will dragged him intently to where the other man was at the dusted frame of the rising fire. Men stood gaping and guffawing and slapping their green knees as they watched Will bind the man with masterful celerity. Upon finishing, Will stood straight up and crossed his muscular arms over his chest. He kicked some dust at the two men who struggle to undo the knots, making the bulk of the men hoot and jeer ever more loudly.
“Robin of the Hood, it is safe enough to emerge, I should think,” Will exclaimed, grinning triumphantly, and slowly Robin appeared, his dagger in front of him, his left hand still couched in his hair. His cap was nowhere to be seen.
Robin coughed wearily and stepped towards Will, still grinning all over the lean surface of his face. The men had quieted down mostly, and they began to disperse, the thump of their boots their only reflection.
“Who are they?” Robin demanded. He sheathed his dagger and rested both hands on its pommel, breathing rapidly like a man under Death’s long shadow.
“You don’t recognize them, Robin?” Will said. He pointed to the man on Robin’s left. “This one is Hansen; it was he who began this night’s sudden uproar, and it was he whom I sent through the wall of the Confessional.” Robin turned to see the tent’s façade collapsed to the ground. The supports had given way and been pulled under, such was the magnitude with which the man was flung.
“And the other one? Who is this man at my feet, William, whose face I cannot see?” Robin asked. His eyes fell to the other man; his face was obstructed with mud. The man’s hand flailed weakly, gracing Robin’s foot. Robin jerked it away with a gasp.
“That would be none other than Coombs. His actions were for naught, I would say. Robin idled over to where Will was standing, still beaming from his somewhat extraneous efforts.
“Huh,” Robin inflected, as he and Will just looked down on these two tired men, both of whom now lay mostly still.
* * * * *
“The Little boys have taken leave,” Robin said illy.
Marian was thumbing the edge of the sheet morosely, and Robin turned to her when she did not respond. It was as if he was deeply worried about it, but she sensed his concerns were rooted elsewhere. Last night’s turmoil had drained him; today’s customary philanthropies were insignificant. Now, as it had been for dour weeks, his livelihood was unaffecting to him.
“The Little boys have no reason to bear malice, my beloved, for you’ve committed no wrongs against them, save sharing in the grief of Little John’s death. If they’ve left the band, ‘tis for their own purposes unconcerning you, I should feel safe to think,” Marian said sensibly. She let go of the sheet with an earthly expression on her face that Robin saw by the light of the moon.
“You should feel safe to think it, Marian, but how can you know? How can you…” Robin was distracted by a long howl from far off into the depths of Sherwood Forest. He continued solemnly.
“You see,” he said, “that I was there when his soul fled his body, and that is wrong enough to the confused and grievous. Lord knows it likely’d satisfy me.” Robin lay perfectly flat on his back, like a corpse in a coffin. Marian lay more relaxed.
“You mustn’t make such premature conclusions, or they will defeat you on their own. Robin, you must avoid this mode of—” Marian was swiftly interrupted by the howl, which agitated her. She turned onto her side with agile, fluid grace.
“Think of Little John, Robin Hood. Would he fall into a trap of his own making? Would he allow this to faze him as—” She searched for the softest words to lay on him—“as you are on the verge of doing?” Robin’s face cringed sorrowfully as he thought of John. A miniscule noise permeated his colorless lips.
“Do you think me a fool, dearest Marian?” Robin asked. He seemed closer to the verge of tears than anything else, laying there with his arms over his belly, under all the weight of the bedclothes.
Marian exhaled brusquely through the nose and fell back, crossing her arms over her bare chest. She was about to reply when the howl again cut her off. She leapt out of bed to her feet and skittered to the tent’s exit, stepping outside, and threw her arms over her head yelling:
“Leave us be, fucking wolves and pipe down ‘fore I skin you all from teeth to tail and make caps from your mangy hides! Christ, can’t even get a phrase in edgewise without…” She trailed off, noticing the pitch of the cold on her flesh, and bounded back into the tent. Marian sealed the doorflap against the respondent gales, and stood with her hands on her hips. Robin leaned forward in bed, her nudity having grabbed at least part of his attention. He could see only one gorgeous leg and her left breast, which had been affected by the chill outdoors. The light left much to his imagination.
For a moment, she did not speak, as if to let Robin feel her with his eyes, to know that she was still there. She even moved more into the threads of light, but her following tone, was meant, to some extent, to conceal this lovely purpose.
“Robin of the Hood, I am here to comfort you and hear you, darling, to hear your words. But your words aren’t hearing me. As it is, I love you and I want you to be at peace, so just let me give you some brief taste of peace, if only for this lunar night.” She spoke with an earnest conviction, one that Robin questioned as he did all convictions of late.
Marian took small steps toward the bed, where Robin was still leaned forward. He was intent on responding, but she quieted him without even touching him, sliding the bedclothes up off of Robin, replacing them with her body, as she was certain they could keep each other warm at this distance. Robin placed his hands on her hips, and held them there, and with their eyes closed like that, neither of them noticed the sun’s rise. They eventually fell asleep in each other’s embrace, as if that night had been the end of the story.
* * * * *
Robin awoke violently, his skin moist with perspiration against Marian’s. She was roused by his bestartlement and dragged her fingertips through his hair. Robin perspired like a hurried messenger.
“I dreamt again, Marian.”
Marian sighed wistfully and placed her hand against his cheek, pulling the covers over the two of them as she remembered the air’s chill that had gone unnoticed.
“What did you see this time, beloved? What has jolted you with such a start?” Marian asked.
“You. I saw you dearest Marian, and because of me, you went up in flames like the damned. Then I saw hundreds of people, though it could have been millions, lined up in rows next to me, and I was handing them these little bags like this one.” Robin indicated a purse that lay on the corner of the bed, leather with sinew cords. “I gave each person one of those, and when they loosened it, fire poured onto them instead of gold, and I watched all of the millions go up, reduced to ash, as you had. And all of the burning; it all came from me,” Robin said. He was trembling, and Marian massaged his shoulders to calm him.
“It was a dream, Robin. Only a dream, and that’s all it was. You should sleep some more before you go off again and leave me,” Marian said. By the time she had said this, Robin was already on his feet, dressing unwaveably.
“Marian, I must do my share, or these merriest of men may become unmerry”, he said, leaping haphazardly into his codpiece. It was as if the dreams no longer vexed him, and Marian saw through this like a fish through water. She knew, though, that he was already miles away.
“Go and tell the friar about your dreams of last night,” she said. “I’m sure he can advise you sufficiently if I cannot, as is the case it seems.” Marian rolled onto her back, crossing her arms once again over her chest, which she made bare deliberately. For only a brief moment, her careful lure snared Robin’s eye, and then he pulled his tunic straight and wordlessly sprung from the tent to the sunny outdoors, where men were already waiting for his emergence.
The three or four men talked at Robin—about the day-old scuffle, about the food shortage, about possible relocation sites for him to consider—but he heard very little of it, constantly focused over the men’s shoulders. He was watching for the friar’s perennial approach.
Minutes passed; no friar. The men still yammered, and Robin offered grunted replies which they took as prophecy. They spoke in wheel-like pattern: observation, inquiry, rebuttal, observation, inquiry, rebuttal, to what seemed like no end. Presently, Robin shook the men off with a hollow comment and made his way towards the refurbished Confessional. One man stepped after him, but Robin’s stride was convicted and the man stopped dead, as if to wait for his return.
The Confessional looked crude as he gained on it. The canvas fly was held on with rope now that frizzled at the ends. Its green had been tainted with splotches of muddy vermilion, making its broad side resemble a map of brown continents. All corners of the tent itself fluttered in the wind, almost comically.
Robin saw the bulky man exit the confessional, another man vaulted out behind him. The friar held his methuselah, weighted to one side by the heaviness of it.
“Top of the morning, Prince Robin,” he shouted jokingly. He uncorked the methusalah to drink from it, but Robin snatched it away before he could get one mouthful. Holding the wheel-sized jug under his arm, Robin doubled back in the direction of his own tent. Tuck didn’t even try to retrieve it; he just turned back to his confessional sadly, to find a half-full cask that he could patronize.
Marian was already dressed when Robin got back to his tent. She was clearly preparing to leave but had slowed the process somewhat so that Robin might take some note of it. He did not appear to, and without a word he collapsed into a barrel-chair in the corner of the tent. The still-opened methuselah, with its fragmented cork dangling from a cord ‘round the neck, Robin hoisted to his lips and begun gulping instinctively the bitter brew. Marian just stared in disbelief or disgust, she could not decide which. This had happened before, but she recognized the friar’s own earthen methuselah, and she would not have thought Robin a thief of holy men.
Robin swallowed loudly and for what seemed like a long time, but the weight of the container had ebbed only slightly when he took it away. It was obvious by his drifting head and shifting eyes that he had felt the wine’s effects after the first sip, and he balanced the wine on his lap. He hiccupped once, which led him to a throaty cough. Marian went to slap him on the back, but he grabbed her pristine hand and threw it off.
She was now disgusted. Robin looked pathetic to her, and grabbing up the last of her things inside the tent, she hastily padded in bare feet through the doorflap. Robin’s eyes welled with tears, which there was no way for her to have seen because he lifted the drink once again and drank and drank until he could drink no more.
* * * * *
Robin sat on a tree trunk and stared attentively at his burning hand. It was illuminating a great region with bright flames that rose over Robin’s head, and after a few moments, Robin lowered it to avoid scalding the weeping willow trees above and all around him. The air smelt of wine, like a church wine.
Never taking his eyes off the hand, Robin stood and slowly walked in a forwards direction. He heard faint voices over his shoulders but was certain they were of no importance to him. He heard thunder crashing greatly over his head and saw flashes of lightning further brightening the trees, the sky, and the ground, and the smooth surface of his hand under the tendrils of fire. He felt the heat searing his eyebrows and lashes and his eyes began to dry out. Robin blinked reflexively and finally looked away from his hand.
He saw on the ground splotches of discoloration, but the light was too dim to be sure what color they were.
Suddenly a crash of clouds overhead caught Robin’s attention, and the crash resonated indefinitely. The noise was like a moment caught fast in time; there was no sense of echo. A sheet of lightning slid over the width of the sky like ice on a pond, and fearing rain, Robin stepped hastily towards a dense outcropping of trees, which as he approached it, exuded loudening voices.
Robin’s right hand drifted to his belt buckle and gripped it; his left hand, turned slightly upwards, swung idly as he walked. Each step was laborious and drawn-out, but he felt as though he were traveling faster than a run could carry him.
In the outcropping, Robin could see silhouetted figures moving. They walked back and forth and in circles and their jaws were flapping in foreign tongues. There was a high-pitched whine present over their speech, which irritated Robin, and he put his hands over his ears.
He kept walking forward, into their midst, and as he came upon them he noticed that they all seemed familiar to him, but he was certain of no man’s identity. They noticed Robin, too, and just would gawk and gnash their teeth and mumble their nonsense words that seemed to be spoken backwards or out-of-order or some such irregularity.
It came to Robin’s attention that the men were taking things from him. One took his cap, one snatched his belt away, another grabbed Robin’s tunic and yanked it over his head. Soon, Robin had on only his codpiece, and he heard one sentence from a voice he did recognize:
“The poor—the poor—the poor and hungry will be most thrilled.”
A grand pavilion stood before Robin, near-bare with his right hand in his hair and his left still drifting by his waist. There was no wind where Robin was, but looking behind himself, under the loom of the castle, Robin saw the Merry Men get caught up in gales that lifted them into the still-bright sky until they were reduced to scattering specks, like salt dissolving in water. Robin turned back around, and again heard the known voice thus:
“Robin, you’ve made yourself a man, far more than I ever could.”
All of a sudden, the doorflap of the pavilion whipped open to reveal a dark interior. On the inside, the pavilion was huge, like the inside of a castle’s courtroom. Walking through the lincoln green entrance, Robin’s hand shone brightly onto the great sloping walls, studded with unlit torches in jeweled crescents.
The place was utterly familiar to Robin; he felt as though he had been there for much of his life, many years ago. With his right hand he stroked his beard, holding his fire aloft and stepped farther into the place he had inhabited before.
The walls at the far end began to shimmer over their surface, and Robin saw a seated figure materialize in a great cushioned throne. The man wore a hooded garment and rings on his fingers that he let drape over the throne’s chestnut arms. The chair’s back rose fairly high over the lord’s own height, which made him look diminutive to Robin.
“ROBIN!” the figure screamed, making Robin’s teeth grind against each other. It was then that he knew for sure who the man was, for he had had an inkling for many moments after seeing him at first.
“Father,” Robin said incredulously. He scratched his head in not quite disbelief, but more surprise. His word echoed slightly, and it took a moment to sound from his lips.
“Son, Robin of the Hood. What have you been doing?”
Robin gaped at him and shielded his eyes as his left hand’s flames began to abate. Soon, only his flesh remained, but Robin didn’t notice until the man—his father—pointed it out to him.
“You’re hand burns no more, my son,” he said which reminded Robin of the Friar Tuck.
The man suddenly had Robin tightly by the wrist. Robin was a little boy of no more than three feet in height, standing up against the edge of a table upon which there stood a rose-pink candle on the end of an oak stick. The flame of the candle was lit, and Robin’s littleish left hand was being held over it.
“Stand still, my son, as I brand you a man,” Father said to Young Robin, who winced for a moment as his parent gripped too tightly.
His father began to lower Robin’s left hand, millimetering it with almost invisible speed, and Robin was trying not to quiver under his father’s approving eye. His hand was tiptoed steadily downward, and the closer to the flame it got, so much wider did Robin’s eyelids part.
The father pressed his lips together in morbid anticipation, and as he brought his son’s hand into the flame, Robin cried out in a high pitch which echoed over a Little laughter from within the dark interior.
* * * * *
A bucket of water woke Robin with a start. His eyes slitted open and he saw three people standing over him, around him as he lay sprawled out in the tent’s corner.
“Get up, Robin,” yelled Will in his deep, troubled voice. “You have to stand up and run with all you can muster.” Robin faintly saw the beholder of William Scarlett’s voice straighten and hurriedly scurry away.
“Robin!” a female voice called. It was at this point that Robin noticed a whine of raucous from outside the tent. It reminded him briefly of that night of struggle with Hansen and Coombs’ treachery.
“Wake up, you fool!” Marian said, shaking Robin forcefully. Painstakingly he came out of his stupor.
“What is it, Marian, my love? Are we being storm’d or somesuch thing?” Robin asked. He sat up as he spoke and his words were still barely intelligible.
“Yes, we are, Robin of the Hood,” Friar Tuck said frantically. His body trembled as he wrung his hands in his way and looked this way and that.
“What… are you two talking about?” Robin asked as Marian and Tuck helped him to his feet.
“I was on my way back to Nottingham,” Marian began, tightening Robin’s belt around his waist, “and I saw a platoon of soldiers bearing the Prince’s insignia heading this way through Sherwood, with the Little Boys at the head of the excursion. It was as if they meant not just to bring you in, but to witness your beheading.” She stopped to help him make his way out of the tent while Tuck slung a shearling jacket over his taut shoulders. She came ‘round to face Robin, saying “And that platoon has just arrived, beloved.”
“Come along, my boy,” Tuck said, guiding Robin out. “You must make your escape. Will was right; we should have relocated before the Little boys could have made such a vile move.”
The three of them left the tent, discreetly weaving through the trees, some of which burned overhead in smoke and flame like massive torches pressed and held deep into the parched ground. Looking up, Robin was struck by them, and he staggered drunkenly, requiring further guidance from his two retainers. They pressed on with as much as he needed.
Robin looked behind himself and saw an army of John Littles, and some upon the mounted enemy, and yet the Little army seemed greatly diminished afterwards.
Suddenly Robin broke free of Tuck and Marian, stroking the smoothness of Marian’s cheek as he did so, and saw a sword was now grasped in his left hand. They did not even reach back for him; they just watched him turn and enter the fray, employing the sword to all the enemies whom he could reach with it. Each one fell screaming and cradling various wounds and wondering “Who was that evil man?” in not so simple terms.
Robin noticed he was striking John Littles too, by accident, and saw one of them collapse beside him, his dense body curling into a quivering ball with desperate hands clutching gravely at his heart.
He could only stare down at John, who looked up and faded away like a dream. There was nothing there as Robin turned and finished his anguish on the skull of a young soldier, and that was that.
* * * * *
The John Littles were no more. Robin dropped the sword which remained unbloodied somehow. He choked on emotion, and trembled slightly, putting his hands over his mouth and the whole of his face. They sank to his stomach and he doubled over and vomited on the ground, and then looked up and noticed he was alone. He pulled his limbs in close to his body and the shearling jacket fell off of him as he had never bothered to put it on fully.
Slowly he bent over to pick it up, and was met by the hand of Friar Tuck who took it and helped Robin all the way into it. Marian appeared from behind a tree and approached Robin of the Hood, who lunged forward to embrace her. He found her scent and it delighted him as it always had.
“Forgive me, beloved Marian. Please forgive me… please, don’t let me go,” he said, and Robin wept gently into her hair.
“Don’t worry, Robin. I forgive you; I forgive you. It’s all over,” she said, her arms around him.
The friar put his hand on Robin’s shoulder as he was held by Marian and said,
“That’s right, my son. It’s all over.” He smiled.
William Scarlett, with lengths of rope over his arms, came walking towards the three of them, his rugged body staying militantly straight.
“Are we ready?” he asked, to no one in particular. We should depart now to get the most moonlight for our trek. It shan’t be simple if we don’t, but it just might be if we do.” Will rocked back and forth on the flats of his feet.
Tuck pressed Robin’s cap onto his head and said “Yes my son, Robin Hood. Let us go off to safer ground, where there will be little to worry about for a while.”
Robin had started walking but stopped short, looking directly at the friar. He continued on haltingly at first, but Marian stayed at his side, which eased him after only a short while.
The future was vastly uncertain, to Robin and to all of them, but with that departure from this place, under the blanket of calming moonlight, Robin left the past behind him, hopefully never to face again.