Flight into the Forest
By Rahsaan Footman
Previously on Timedancer…
Martin Hacker: "He was on a lead on the Illuminati. According to Matt they're an organization that's supposed to be running the world." (Silver Falcon)
Norman Ambassador: "You wear strange clothes, but you fight bravely." (Aside) "As well as being a fellow Illuminatus." (Vows)
* * * * *
Bali Hai, date unknown
Brooklyn stared gloomily at the rain from the mouth of his cave. This was the thirtieth night of torrential downpours, and he'd had enough of it. When he had danced into this South Seas paradise, it had seemed too good to be real. Night blooms had filled the air with exotic fragrances. Birds of Paradise that he never saw before sang into the clear night. That first night had been so very clear. He had searched the island for any sign of civilization. Finding none, he had made plans to explore the other islands across the moonlit waters. He had intended to glide out there the next evening. But that didn't came to fruition.
Monsoon season came and never left. Clouds blanketed the horizon and those islands. Sheet rain fell so heavy, flying was out of the question. Night after night, the monotony of the rain drummed on. Only the nightly foray into the jungle for food broke the tedium. Each night he grew a little more disheartened.
"Thirty-one nights," Brooklyn muttered. "I can't wait to get out of here, anywhere."
He felt the Gate stir. Pulling it out, Brooklyn sensed the growing urgency of the magic as the gate started to spark to life. Arcs of energy skated across the talisman's gold and turquoise surface. Suddenly, a ball of flame engulfed the gargoyle, taking him away.
* * * * *
A portly man picked himself up, a disgusted look on his face. Dirt and grime smeared his well-spun clothes. No one had ever treated him like this. He looked up at the mocking smile of a highwayman. The thief wore a green cloak and hood obscuring all of his features, except that smirk. Oh, how he wanted to smack that smirk clean off its face.
"Try not to take it personally," the robber kneeled down to the man. The beefy man's palm itched to strike the thief. The thief leaned extra close to tempt him, knowing he wouldn't strike.
The thief had cause to be confident. His band of seven had subdued the wagon driver, the three armed escorts, and the bloated taxman.
"You blackheart!" the taxman cursed, "We're under the sheriff's protection! He'll have your head for this!"
"The Sheriff isn't here," the thief in green pointed out, "but you and your gold are." He stood up and went over to the wagon fresh from the counting house and laden with gold.
"Stop! That's for the kingdom's coffers!" The fat man got up and charged the thief. Another robber, a big man with a quarterstaff, stuck it out to trip the taxman. The thieves shared a round of laughs at the foppish tax collector's expense. The leader threw off the flap and gave a low whistle at the booty before him.
"Twelve sacks!" The leader stared at the haul. "All for the betterment of the kingdom, right?"
The taxman said nothing rather than be humiliated again. The leader continued. "Well, I can find a much better use for this gold than collecting dust in a coffer. Men!"
In the span of three minutes, the thieves disappeared down the road with the escort's horses, the wagon team and the heavy sacks of gold.
"The sheriff will see to you soon enough." The taxman glared at the departing backs.
"This will be put to good use," said the abbot, hiding the last of the money sacks in the bakery. "Tomorrow, we bring bread to the poor. A gold piece hidden in each loaf will bring much relief to those in need."
"Thank you, Brother." The thief in green clapped the abbot on the shoulder. "We couldn't do this without your help."
"It is I who should be thanking you, Robin," the abbot returned the compliment. "Rare is the man who does what is right by easing the suffering of others."
Robin was about to say more, but the churchman held up his hand forestalling any more argument. "We both do our part. Let's leave it at that. Now, you must be away. The sheriff's men will be hunting for you, once they hear of your little escapade."
Robin nodded and waved good-bye. He joined his companion at the edge of the abbey's grounds, and together they rode on for Sherwood Forest. Robin was in good spirits. The townsfolk got some gold and they got some mounts out of the bargain. All in all, not bad. So why was his friend wearing a frown?
"What is it, John?"
"Hmm. Oh, nothing Robin." The big man dodged the question.
"Come on, John? Out with it!"
After a hesitant start, John spoke, "I don't trust the ‘good' Brother, back there."
"What are you talking about?"
"I don't know, just something in my gut tells me not to trust him."
"And we all know how reliable guts are about such things."
"Come on, Robin, you asked me and I told you. I wasn't going to say anything."
"I know, but the abbot's been a tremendous help. Without him as a go-between, who knows where the money would wind up. I honestly think you're just ..."
An arrow sprouted in the ground between Robin and Little John's mounts. Archers! Both men kicked their horses to full gallop. More arrows whizzed past them. The thieves were in a small dale. The archers were arranged on the hills flanking the valley. The two thieves made for the forest and cover at the far end. Robin thought something was odd about the attack, but he didn't have time to dwell on it. Arrows kept flying. They had to get away.
The forest was in sight. Soon, they'd be safe from the archers. They plunged into the overgrowth. Twigs and branches whipped past them, scratching their faces and arms. They protected their faces as best they could… which was why they didn't see the length of rope stretched in front of their path. Both Robin and his companion were knocked from their mounts. They landed on the ground with a mighty thump, the wind knocked out of them. Before they could get to their feet, two of the Sheriff's men had swords at their throats. Robin and John surrendered to their captors.
The two deputies brought the thieves to the sheriff with a lot of whooping and hollering. They went on and on about how much the Sheriff was going to reward them and how they planned to spend that money. They expected the Sheriff to be all grins like they were. Instead, they found their superior in a grim mood. Astride a black charger, the Sheriff looked like this was a tremendous nuisance.
"We done good, chief!" One of the deputies grinned a large gap-toothed smile. "We caught them thieves! Hung ‘em out like theys were laundry."
"Yes, yes. I'm very pleased." The Sheriff said in bored tones. His underwhelmed reaction puzzled his henchmen.
"So the roguish Robin of Locksley, finally brought to justice." The Sheriff gloated in the fading evening light, "For one legendary for cleverness, I'm amazed how easily you were undone by our trap."
Internally, Robin chided himself. He had seen it and hadn't didn't realize it. The archers herded him into the forest like sheep to the shearer's. That was past, now he had to get free. He'd been working the ropes binding his arms, but they weren't loosening. One look at John told much the same tale.
"Shall we dispatch them now?" one of his underlings asked eagerly. He fingered the edge of his sword.
"No!" the Sheriff commanded sharply, then settled into his gloating tone again. "I want them publicly humiliated. Bring them to the castle for questioning..."
Above their heads, the sky sparkled. The tiny point of light exploded into a large ball of golden fire. A crimson red gargoyle dropped out of the sphere before the phoenix fire flickered out of existence. Instinctually, Brooklyn opened his wings to soften his descent. He landed in the midst of frightened men and panicky horses.
Before Brooklyn got a word out, an armed man charged him. Brooklyn ducked under the blow and jumped back. This only emboldened the thug. He came at him again. Brooklyn grabbed the swinging arm and pulled him over his shoulder in a flip.
"Why are you attacking me?" Brooklyn tried to gain his bearings.
"Stranger! Help us! Please!" Robin called to the gargoyle. Brooklyn spotted the two men tied over their horses like sacks of grain. He didn't know what was going on, but they weren't attacking him and their cry for help hit on his gargoyle instinct to protect. He leapt to the horses, steadying them and tore the rope bonds on the two men. The big man wasted no time reining his horse, and riding out of the fight. Brooklyn was about to call him back when a blow to the back knocked him to the ground. Brooklyn scrambled to look up, just as the man brought the branch down. The other guy he freed tackled the assailant allowing Brooklyn to get to his feet.
Brooklyn squared off with the other deputy. The man held his sword ready to fight, but one look at Brooklyn's glowing eyes sent him running. Brooklyn's ally thrashed his opponent before sending him scurrying as well. The commander astride a black mount looked at both gargoyle and man with… relief? As grateful as he looked, Brooklyn kept his guard up as the man drew his sword. Suddenly, his horse lurched forth and went off at a gallop. A couple of paces behind sat the deserter on his horse his staff drawn. He had sent the black charger running. Brooklyn's ally saluted the deserter.
"Excellent timing, John."
"Me? Run away from a fight?" John smiled.
"Well as I live and breathe, a gargoyle. They really do populate Sherwood. Thank you, stranger." Robin offered his hand. "I'm Robin of Locksley."
Brooklyn took the hand absently. His mind had shut down right after 'Robin of Locksley.' His silence puzzled Robin and John, but Robin shrugged.
"Guess me, gargoyles don't know how to speak," John spoke.
"You're Robin Hood!" Brooklyn could not hide his awe.
"Ah, so he does have a tongue." Robin smiled at Brooklyn, "Pardon, but might I have my arm back?"
Brooklyn looked down, surprised that he was still pumping Robin's forearm in a handshake. He quickly let go of Robin, grinning like a fool. Robin gestured to the blond giant getting the horses.
"The walking mountain over here is..."
"Little John?" Brooklyn guessed. At his mention, John turned around with a scowl on his face.
"The only ones who can call me 'Little' are my friends!" He walked up to the gargoyle menacingly. Brooklyn took a cautious step back, looking to Robin for support. Robin had his face in his hand. Little John towered over him, then gathered up Brooklyn in a bear hug. "You can call me 'Little', friend gargoyle."
Little John let him down. Brooklyn checked himself for any broken ribs. Robin clapped his shoulder.
"John's forever the jokester. Let's get out of here before the Sheriff returns with more men."
Little John brought the four horses around. Robin hopped on the guard's horses.
"Do you ride?" Robin asked, offering one of the spare horses.
"It's been a while." Brooklyn smiled remembering his previous experience on horseback. He took the horse's mane lightly and hefted himself on.
"I never knew gargoyles rode horses. Where's the rest of your clan?" Robin asked.
"In the twentieth century," Brooklyn muttered.
"Far away, in another land," Brooklyn answered, "I'm Brooklyn."
"So there isn't a clan here in these forests?" Little John interjected.
"Another clan?" Brooklyn sounded hopeful.
"The Sherwood forest is full of old wives' tales about dragons, fairies, and gargoyles. It keeps out everyone but the stupid and the Sheriff's men. But I remember me mum telling me stories of gargoyles back in the days of King Arthur."
"You be the first gargoyle seen in these parts in more than a two hundred years." Little John added.
"The others will be surprised when they see you." Robin looked up.
"The others? You mean the Merry Men?"
Both Robin and John stopped. "How is it that you know so much about us?" Robin asked.
‘Go on tell them,' said a voice in the back of Brooklyn's mind. ‘You're a time-travelling gargoyle from the future. I'm sure he'll accept you with open arms. Don't forget to tell him all about the movies made about him.'
Brooklyn snorted, then returned to the question. "Who hasn't heard of the infamous Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men?"
The explanation sat well with Little John, pleased to be called infamous. But Robin was still skeptical. In the end, he just shrugged. Everyone had secrets. They continued on deeper into Sherwood Forest.
They entered a sylvan glade with several campfires going and lots of people milling about. At the sight of Robin and John, they let out a cheer of greeting. When they saw Brooklyn, those cheers gurgled in their throats and welcoming smiles turned into questioning and suspicious glances.
"Easy, fellas. He's a friend." Robin brought Brooklyn into the light.
"Too right," John backed up their leader, "Helped us out of a scrape with the Sheriff's men. He's awright."
Both Robin and Little John vouching for him, the rest of the Merry Men accepted Brooklyn uneasily if not openly. Robin of Locksley first introduced Brooklyn to Friar Tuck, the portly churchman, and Alan-a-Dale, the romantic minstrel. Tuck and Alan received him warmly, welcoming him to their fire, but Little John took Brooklyn to meet the other Merry Men.
There was John-Two-Fingers, an archer judging by his long bow. John-the-Cook, who never strayed far from the kettle. In a way, his dedication to cooking reminded Brooklyn of Broadway. Next were the twins, Thoms One and Two. The rest of the men got tired of trying to tell apart so they just called them the Thoms.
Along with Locksley, there was little Robin and Robin Goodfellow. Little Robin was a boy no more than twelve. He clearly idolized his older namesake. Robin Goodfellow was an older man, older than the rest of the Merry Men. His dark hair graying at the temples. He had the stocky build and an at-attention stance that indicated that he was once a soldier and he held his spear with knowing ease that confirmed that soldier past. After Brooklyn met most of the Merry Men, he joined Robin by the campfire for a plate of stew.
Alan-a-Dale sat next to him, with a charming smile and a cocksure attitude. He had a crown of curly black hair and carried his lute everywhere. He stared at Brooklyn with child-like brown eyes. "Brooklyn? That's an odd name?"
"Not where I come from. Normally, we don't have names." The gargoyle replied.
"It's easy to tell each other apart and names are a human custom, not a gargoyle one. But I've had Brooklyn so long it's a part of me now."
"Well, get ready for that to change." Alan looked past Brooklyn to the arguing Tuck and Little John.
The argument grew louder and louder until everyone in the camp turned to see what the shouting was about. Robin dropped his plate and stomped over to the two. The shouting match had turned to pushing and shoving. Before it came to blows, Robin stepped between the giant and the friar.
"What are you two tussling about?"
"Brooklyn's thief name," Tuck spoke up.
"Every man has a thief name." Alan whispered to Brooklyn, "To keep his true name safe, in case the Sheriff puts out a reward."
"Little John wants to name him the 'Conqueror' on account of how he handled those deputies," Tuck jumped in, "but any fool can see 'Eric the Red' is a much better choice. Just look at him."
"Robin, tell this sop with a rock for a head that 'Eric the Red' has more flair," Little John bellowed back.
"Enough..." Robin commanded. "I'll settle this. Brooklyn, you'll be called Will Scarlet. 'Will' for William the Conqueror and Scarlet for his red color. Satisfied?"
Both Merry Men nodded. Robin returned to the fire and his dinner.
"Welcome to the band, 'Will Scarlet'." Alan stood up to get another helping.
"Will Scarlet. Me?" Brooklyn, now Will Scarlet, enjoyed the first hot meal in months. He could definitely get used to this time period.
* * * * *
The Sheriff and his men returned to Nottingham Castle. The cold long ride to and from Sherwood Forest soured the Sheriff's mood. All he wanted was a mug of mulled cider and a hot meal. Instead, he got a summons from that foppish retainer the Prince sent, Thomas. He was tempted to tell that rat to take a dunk in the moat, but that wouldn't do. The Prince's spy sent reports to the court daily. The last thing he needed was Prince John's wrath. So while his men went to the main hall for that hot meal, the Sheriff climbed to the tower suites.
"Ah, sheriff," the retainer said expelling a long breath, "You have returned, but where is Robin Hood?"
"My, my," Thomas didn't sound all too surprised. "You had the men, and the advantage. The trap was foolproof. How could you bungle this? Could it be to your innate incompetence?"
The sheriff was on a short fuse and the retainer's droning voice grated on his last nerve. "Robin Hood escaped! That's all you need to know! I don't have to answer to you!"
"No, you have to answer to me," a new voice joined the conversation.
The retainer grinned nastily. Prince John emerged from behind the door. The Sheriff stammered a 'Your Majesty.'
"My loyal retainer asked you a question, good sheriff. Why is Robin Hood still free?"
"I, we, that is, ran into some trouble. A garg…"
"And you'll undoubtedly tell me some excuse why this rogue escaped with my assessments."
"Begging your pardon, but it's the kingdom's assessment." The sheriff said the wrong thing at the wrong time. The Prince's glare chilled the room.
"It doesn't matter whose it is! It's not in the counting house nor in my coffers!" John said through gritted teeth.
"Of course, your majesty." The Sheriff made a deep bow.
"You had trouble capturing Robin Hood." The Prince went by the fire. "What was it?"
"Sorcery, my lord. A ball of flame appeared and dropped a gargoyle in our midst."
"A gargoyle? What? A dragon wasn't handy?" Thomas sneered with disbelief.
The Sheriff turned to address Thomas' accusation, but the Prince rounded on him with the poker. "Not another word out of your mouth other than a ‘yes, sir' or a ‘no, sir'! Now, I've brought my escort with me, crack troops from London. Do you think they can handle this country bumpkin and his band of ragged thieves?"
"Yes, sir," the sheriff answered dutifully.
"Then, tomorrow we shall go over plans to do so. Dismissed!"
The sheriff scuttled out of the chamber to the unending delight of Thomas. Prince John looked at the door after the sheriff had departed.
"It is as I wrote to you, your majesty." Thomas oozed into the role of toady.
"You didn't exaggerate. This sheriff can't maintain order out here." Prince John nodded agreement, "Bring his men up here for interviews, first thing in the morning. I want to know exactly what happened today. I want to know whether the sheriff's incompetent or something else."
"Something else, sire?" Thomas asked.
"There are many against my leadership while Richard plays warrior king in the Holy Land. Hmm... he thinks himself another King Arthur. There are those who'd love to take advantage of the situation. These disturbances here might just be the beginning. If so and the sheriff's in on it, I want him gone."
"I'll see to it, your Majesty," Thomas vowed.
The sheriff walked down the steps. He dropped the mask of frightened subordinate to a more thoughtful visage. He had to report these latest developments, especially the gargoyle. He grimaced. Things could become very complicated very fast.
* * * * *
The camp was fast asleep in the predawn hours. Everyone was asleep save for Robin Goodfellow, who was standing watch and Will Scarlet. The old soldier was nothing like Hudson. Brooklyn kept comparing the Merry Men to his clan, a sign of homesickness. But there was no comparison with Goodfellow, especially in his eyes. They sparkled with mirth like he was laughing at some infinite jest. The rest of him was stalwart, but Brooklyn could swear he could hear him laughing on the inside.
Brooklyn stifled a yawn. Gargoyles don't sleep nights, but they don't usually spend a night in a South Seas monsoon and another night in Sherwood Forest back to back. Looking around, everyone asleep huddled close to the fires. The only other awake was Alan-a-Dale.
"Why are you still awake?" Brooklyn asked.
Alan lightly strummed his lute, trying a different bridge to a melody. "Oh, I've got a tune in my head. When the muse moves you, you know."
Brooklyn sat next to him. Noticing Alan's easy-going nature, he asked a question he meant to raise earlier.
"You don't seemed bothered by a gargoyle?"
"Should I be? Robin speaks for you. That's good enough for me." Alan returned to his tuning. "Besides, it'll make a great verse for my song. The gargoyle, Will Scarlet, joins our 'Flight into the Forest', dodging the sheriff's men, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. It's a great life."
"Yeah," Brooklyn yawned again, "Great. Boy, am I tired."
"Then sleep." Alan suggested, just as the sun peaked over the horizon. Brooklyn turned to stone before either he or Alan knew it.
* * * * *
Prince John scrubbed his face with his hands. The Prince was not a morning person. Wrapped in the royal purple robes to ward off the chill, the Prince made a diminutive figure in the large stuffed chair. Prince John was a thin man; neither tall nor husky, not muscular nor handsome. He wore a small coronet rather than the bulky full crown of state, even the smaller size coronet hung askew off his head of stringy brown hair.
He listened to accounts from the men with the sheriff during the capture. They told the same tale. A ball of flame appeared, dropping what could only be described as a gargoyle. The gargoyle had attacked them and freed the thieves. The sheriff wasn't lying. That didn't absolve him of stupidity, but that could wait. Robin Hood was trafficking with demons.
That was the only way to explain it. He must have summoned the demon to free them. Who knew a thief would sink to such depths? It was an evil to be stopped for sure, but it was too important to trust to that incompetent sheriff. What he needed was a lure, something that would draw the rats out of their warren.
"Thomas, take a message for me." The Prince stroked his chin with brown stubble.
"Yes, sire," Thomas immediately obeyed, taking quill, ink and parchment.
"Here's what I want you to do ..."
* * * * *
The monks' arrival in town was met with great anticipation. Once a week, the brothers from the abbey offered succor to the people of Nottingham. The townsfolk appreciated the comfort, but they appreciated the loaves of bread even more. Today, the village received an unexpected surprise.
An old woman found a couple of coins in a loaf and praised the Lord immediately. A mother with four children would discover a large coin in the large loaf during dinner and four smaller silver pieces in the biscuits tomorrow. A shopkeeper bit into the bread. He looked sour when he chipped his tooth. That expression turned to exuberant surprise when he saw a glint of gold in the bread. And no one suspected the monks had anything to do with it. Their vow of poverty made them unlikely suspects. It was divine intervention, especially so soon after the tax collection, when they needed the money the most.
From an alley hidden from view, Robin, Friar Tuck and Little John watched on with immense satisfaction. It made everything worthwhile to see a struggling mother suddenly smile with surprise or hear a farmer give a yip of joy at his new found fortune. Friar Tuck gave the brother out in the square a nod of recognition.
"Come on, boys. Our work here is done." Robin turned and headed out.
* * * * *
The abbey was dormant. The brothers wouldn't return from Nottingham for a few more hours. The abbot entered the refectory. Checking the candles, he spotted what he was looking for. In the wax of a red candle was an imprint of a triangle. The soft wax obscured features like the floating eye or the bolts of lightning, but it was unmistakable, the sign of the Illuminati. He stepped into the confessional. Soon, someone sat on the other side.
"It's been a while, brother," the abbot spoke into the screen.
"Robin Hood almost got caught yesterday." The Sheriff spoke into the mesh.
"Did you hear how he escaped?"
"I assumed it was some daring act on Hood's part or a bit of incompetence on the sheriff's."
The voice on the other side chuckled a bit. "Would you believe a ball of flame appeared and dropped a gargoyle to do it for us?"
"A ball of fire?" The abbot sounded doubtful.
"Yes. It sounds familiar. Isn't there mention in the records of a magic talisman that creates a ball of fire?"
"I'll have to check, but I think you're right," the abbot agreed.
"Any thoughts on what to do about this gargoyle?"
"If he interferes with our plan he'll have to be dealt with. But from what you've told me, he actually did you a favor," the abbot said clinically.
"But he's an unknown. I'd like to know where he fits in all this."
"As would I, but that's not our assignment. Robin Hood and Prince John are."
"Then I'd best get back to the castle."
"Peace be with you." The abbot blessed him.
"And with you brother," said the Sheriff exiting the confessional. Both abbot and sheriff stepped out of the booths. They revealed their Illuminati rings and gave the traditional handshake, concluding their business. The Sheriff of Nottingham quickly left, leaving the abbot to search his private records and ponder matters.
* * * * *
Thomas loved carrying out ‘Prince's business'. Prince's business gave him the authority to do anything from commandeer a horse to mobilize a village to militia. Thomas was most obnoxious when he was on such business. As long as he did what Prince John ordered, the Prince didn't care how he accomplished it. Thomas took his ride to the counting house at a leisurely pace. He stopped by a tavern, demanding a flagon of ale and roast mutton. Thomas didn't pay of course, declaring it Prince's business. When the preparations were finished at the counting house he returned Nottingham Castle to dispatch the troops. It was late afternoon when everything was in place.
* * * * *
The sun sent one last ray of crimson through Sherwood Forest before disappearing beneath the horizon. Will Scarlet emerged from his stone sleep with a mighty roar. Alan-a-Dale, sitting under him, jumped in fright. The other Merry Men turned to see their newest member awaken, then returned to their tasks. ‘Will' smiled sheepishly, shaking the last flakes of stone off his wings.
"D-Do gargoyles always awake like that?" Alan calmed down.
"So loud." Alan cleared his ear.
"Oh, that. Yeah, pretty much." Brooklyn shrugged.
"You turned to stone so quietly, I just thought you'd return to life the same way."
"I never thought about it." Will looked around for something to eat. Robin and John-Two-Fingers just returned with a roebuck. The other Merry Men gave small cheer.
"Wonderful!" Alan jumped up. "It's a welcome change from hare."
John-the-Cook began preparing the game, while Tuck broke bread for the men to eat in the meantime. Robin took a small nibble of bread then went off on his own. Brooklyn took a hunk of bread and joined Alan and Little John by the fire.
"Where's Robin going?" the gargoyle asked.
"Aw, paying him no heed, Will." Little John waved off. "Robin's just being moody."
Alan explained, "That's the way he is. You have to understand. We may be the Merry Men, but Robin's been the one with the will."
"No need to be so wordy," Little John said between mouthfuls. "Robin's always been the leader. He never had it easy growing up."
Alan took over the narrative. "When Robin was about Little Robin's age, his mother fell ill. His father was off fighting the King's wars so Robin was the man of the house. They were shepherds and a heavy tax was laid on wool. Taxmen have no sympathy where a mother's health is concerned and Robin's well-to-do relatives wanted nothing to do with an ailing sister-in-law and a troublesome nephew. Sickness claimed her in the end."
"Robin hated his relatives for letting it happen and the taxmen for wringing ‘em dry" Little John continued. "Since they caused the problem, they were going to solve it. Whether they liked it or not."
Alan jumped in. "Robin didn't want anyone else to go through that pain, suffering under the money men. He's dedicated his life to relieve the suffering of others. And he inspired us to join his cause. When Robin found each of us he gave us purpose to do more than just banditry. That's something no one can take that from us."
"True and true." Little John agreed, "I was just a strongman charging a ‘toll' for crossing my little stream, ‘til Robin thrashed my backside. He could have done me in, but instead helped me up and showed me something better."
"And what brings you here, Alan?"
"I'm a minstrel. I go where the song goes and this ‘Flight into the Forest' will be the greatest ballad ever. It's one thing to sing about legends, it's another to see one in the making."
Robin picked up a stone and skipped it across the lake's surface. It skimmed the water creating a chain of ripples.
"Nice throw." Brooklyn commented.
"Hmm? Oh, Will." Robin tossed another across the water.
Brooklyn picked up some stones and started tossing them out. "Rough day?"
"Naw, we helped out a lot of people today, caught a deer, this day has been ideal."
"So why do you look down in the dumps?"
"'Down in the dumps'?" Robin pronounced the strange phrase.
"So gloomy?" Brooklyn corrected.
"Have you ever felt out of place? Like you don't know where you are or what you're doing?"
Will Scarlet stared at the pouch that held the Phoenix Gate. "More times than I can recall."
"I mean, I help out a few people here and there, but it seems like it's not enough. In a week or two, the taxmen will come around and wring the people dry. Then we'll have to stop them and give the money back to the people. What is the purpose?"
"I know how you feel. My clan, my family, choose to protect a city, but the people hate us. Even though we've saved them time and time again, they always run away like we're going to eat them. It's like ‘What do I have to do to make you like me?'"
Robin looked up at the gargoyle. "This has really been digging at you."
Brooklyn sniffed. "It didn't used to be so bad. I had my brothers. What the world thought didn't matter much. But then there was Maggie and Broadway and Angela got together, I don't even want to think about Corinne." But the mention of her name, bought back that sunny day at the mall. "Sometimes it feels like I'm the loneliest guy in the world."
"Well, I don't know much, but I do know that loneliness doesn't last."
Brooklyn skipped another stone. Robin tossed a few more. Brooklyn laughed to himself. "I came out here to cheer you up, not the other way around."
"You have, Will. I am no longer ‘down in the dumps'. Let's see if Cook has made this deer edible."
Robin and Will returned from the lake, just as John-the-Cook started slicing slabs of meat for the men.
"Alan! How about some music while we eat?" Tuck bellowed.
Alan-a-Dale hefted his lute and strummed it, testing the sound. Alan picked a light phrase. It had an upbeat, trotting melody to it. It sounded familiar to Brooklyn, but it needed words.
"Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest,
Oh-de-ladda-oh-de-ladda, Oh-de-ladda-day." Brooklyn sang.
Everyone looked at Brooklyn. Alan kept playing.
"Didn't know gargoyles were musical," Little John commented.
"I'm learning that gargoyles are a very talented breed," Robin smiled. "Please sing on."
"Well I'm not sure how the rest of the song goes. It's been a long time since I saw the movie."
"Moo-vee?" Little John asked.
"A story." Brooklyn explained. "It's a way of telling stories. Hey, I think I know a story you'd like to hear. It's about all of you. Let's see how does it go?"
One story turned to two, then to three as Brooklyn entertained them with how the future saw them. Alan liked the Aesop way they were all portrayed in one, Little John as a bear and Tuck as a badger, Alan laughed the hardest seeing himself as a rooster. Brooklyn moved on as he was now in the midst of a joke.
"And so he says, "Captain, I must protest. I am not a merry man!" Brooklyn said in a rough imitation of a deep voice.
The men were laughing hard when a bird call caught Robin Hood's attention. He immediately called for silence. He heard it again. A woodthrush's call, Goodfellow's signal.
"A wagon's coming through the forest." Robin jumped to his feet. "Come on. Time to make the sheriff that much poorer."
The Merry Men sprang to their feet, ready for the action.
* * * * *
The wagon and its two escorts rode hard through the forest. They should have been though Sherwood Forest before nightfall, but the Royal retainer created delay after delay slowing them down. The driver knew that if this assessment of taxes didn't get through, someone's head would be on the executioner's block. He had no desire for it to be his.
Night closed in around them, making it hard to see down the road. The escorts didn't even see the fallen log until they were upon it. Quickly, they dismounted and attempted to clear the road. That was when the thieves attacked.
The Merry Men swung down from the trees, taking the escorts and the driver by surprise. Robin Hood and Will Scarlet landed on top of the log.
"It's like I said: only the stupid and the sheriff's men dare Sherwood."
"You make it sound like there's a difference." Brooklyn quipped.
"Good one!" Robin laughed. In a louder voice, Robin addressed their captives, "Evening, gents. Nice night for a robbery wouldn't you say?"
Robin hopped off the log and came around to the back of the wagon. He tossed open the flap expecting to see another twelve sacks of gold, maybe more.
"No!" Robin exclaimed in shock. The bay of the wagon was loaded with dross; scrapes of lead and iron, lumps of metal left over from a forge.
"Trap!" Robin shouted to his men, giving them only a moment's warning.
The sheriff's deputies poured out of the woods. Along the road, horsemen charged the Merry Men. For the start, they were outnumbered, even with Will Scarlet to even the odds.
Will grabbed a charging deputy, lifting him over his head and throwing him into a pack of three other deputies. Several more of the sheriff's men rushed him with clubs and maces. Will dropped to his knees, dodging the blows. He deftly swung his tail out, sweeping the men off their feet.
Little John took on the horsemen. His height put him eye to eye with the mounted deputies and his quarterstaff knocked a couple of them off their steeds. Goodfellow skillfully threw his spear into a charging soldier. He caught him in the shoulder, unseating him, but leaving him alive. Robin and the two Thoms engaged the others deputies hand to hand.
"Back to the forest!" Robin ordered. Escape was their only course. The Thoms and Goodfellow didn't have to be told twice. Robin followed with Will Scarlet and Little John bringing up the rear.
"Get going! I'll hold them off!" Brooklyn told Little John.
The giant nodded and sprinted into the forest. The gargoyle turned and growled at the approaching men. His eye glowed fiercely like two angry moons. The deputies stopped, scared to face the gargoyle. It gave Brooklyn just the hesitation he needed to leap into the trees and vanish in a few bounding leaps. The deputies pursued the thieves into the woods, but they lost all sign of them in the brush. A distance away, shadowy figures began tracking the fleeing highwaymen.
The sheriff's men trudged out of Sherwood Forest, returning to Nottingham Castle. They weren't eager to report their failure, either to the Prince or the Sheriff. But they didn't have much of a choice; both were waiting for them at the forest's edge.
"Report!" the sheriff ordered.
"We found the thieves attacking the decoy wagon. We moved to capture the scum, but they eluded us."
"In other words, you failed," the Prince smiled nastily.
The leader of the party looked fearful, then resignedly said, "Yes, Your Highness."
"Perfect." The Prince's smile grew even bigger.
"That was close." Little John commented.
"Too close." Robin replied. "The sheriff's getting smarter. That's the second trap in as many days."
"I don't like to run from a fight," Goodfellow commented, "but perhaps we should lie low for a couple of days."
"I think you're right, but where?"
"The abbey," Friar Tuck chimed in. "The brothers give shelter to pilgrims."
"Good idea, Tuck," Robin agreed, "I'll talk to the good brother. If he agrees, we'll hide out in the abbey for a few days."
"I'll go with you," Little John said quickly.
"You're guts again?"
"Call it what you like, but none of us should be alone."
"I'll go with you." The gargoyle volunteered.
"I'll take Will," Robin accepted. "John, take the men back to the glen and wait for my return."
"But Robin?" Little John argued.
"Will's wings will be of more use than your guts." Robin explained, "Come on Will."
Brooklyn landed on the belltower over the abbey. He and Robin maneuvered around the three iron bells.
"You'd better stay up here." Robin suggested. "They might mistake you for a demon."
"Believe me, I've been called worse." Brooklyn said with a hint of bitterness. Robin clapped Brooklyn on his shoulder for reassurance.
Robin made it down the tower and went in search of the abbot.
"Here's the information that you wanted." A young initiate presented himself before the abbot.
The abbot looked out the refectory doors. There was no sign of the sheriff. He wanted him to hear this. The lower echelon member stood ramrod straight as he recited what he learned.
"For your first request, about the gargoyle. Entries have been made as recently as a hundred and fifty years ago. A gargoyle clan was allied with the High King of Scotland then. English forces destroyed that clan.
"As for your second request, there has been mention of a talisman associated with fire: the Phoenix Gate. According to the entry, it creates a ball of flame and has some hold over time. There are numerous entries of its appearance; I am going through them even now. However, the most relevant entry is of its loss in Wyvern, Scotland, two hundred and eighteen years ago. It was a dowry gift from Princess Elena of Normandy to Prince Malcolm of Wyvern. Presumably, it fell to the Viking raiders who sacked the castle in 994."
"Thank you, but that won't be necessary." The sheriff stood in the double doors; "We need to talk."
"Unacceptable. Simply unacceptable!" The abbot paced the length of the refectory and back again. "The Prince said nothing of his plan?"
"No it's one big secret. Thomas seems fit to burst with it."
"Any chance of getting it from him?"
"Thomas is a rat, but he isn't stupid."
The abbot paced again. "There must be a way to warn Robin and his men."
"With all respect brother, but why are you so worried about him. He is just a thief. We can groom another one to distract Prince John."
"Not like Robin. Locksley is more than just a thief, more than just a pliable instrument. The people believe in him. He gives them hope."
"He's still a thief." The sheriff pointed out.
"But an honorable one. Truth be known I don't like deceiving him like this. He's someone who truly believes in something and we're ripping it away."
"For a greater good." The sheriff reminded him.
"The greater good," the abbot repeated, "Sometimes I wonder: if we don't have the lesser good, how can we have the greater?"
From behind the confessional, Robin heard everything. He just could not believe the abbot would betray him like this. He had to get out of here. Quietly, Robin slipped away of the refectory with neither one hearing him.
"Robin? So what did the abbot say?" Brooklyn asked.
"He said ‘no'! Let's get back to the forest." Robin said tersely. Brooklyn could see Robin was upset, but experience told him now wasn't the time to talk about it. He picked Robin up and glided for Sherwood Forest. Throughout the flight, the abbot's words rang in Robin's ears. Words like ‘pliable' and ‘plans' made his blood boil.
Brooklyn dropped Robin to the ground before landing himself. "So are you going to tell me or what?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You're angry about something. I'm guessing the abbot. So what's the story?"
"It's nothing." Robin hastily stormed off to the glen.
Brooklyn started to argue with him, but was stunned by what he saw. The camp was completely wrecked. The fires were scattered as were the tents and blankets. Signs of a struggle were everywhere. Robin was about to call out for his friends when Brooklyn saw something and clapped his hand over Robin's mouth. He pointed to a glowing ball, a torchlight, fading into the forest. Whoever caught the Merry Men, might come back for them.
Brooklyn and Robin headed over to one of the tall oak trees. Robin climbed on Brooklyn's back. With a whispered ‘Hang on', Brooklyn climbed the tree and leapt through the trees. Brooklyn soon caught them up with the invaders.
"Prince's soldiers." Robin whispered. They marched the Merry Men between their number. Little John carried an unconscious little Robin. Tuck and Thom One wore blood-soaked bandages. They had put up a good fight, but had been overpowered.
"Can we get ahead of them?" Robin asked. "I have a plan." Brooklyn nodded.
They stood on a limb above the game path the troops would past under. When the soldiers were in sight, Robin gave a raven's call. Goodfellow immediately lifted his head. He knew Robin Hood was close by. A soldier jabbed him in the back to keep up the pace. Goodfellow picked up his shuffling feet. When the Merry Men were under them, Robin lightly shot an arrow into the ground. Goodfellow feigned tripping over a rock and stumbled to the ground. He groped the ground to find the arrow. He found it and picked it up. Beneath the notice of the guards, he used the arrowhead to cut his rope cuffs.
"That's a start." Robin commented. "Now, it's time to revive some of those old wives' tales. You with me, Will?"
"You bet I am!"
With only the one torch leading the way, the guards didn't see their prisoners work their bonds. Goodfellow, Alan and Thom Two were free. In sight of the road, two baleful glows appeared and a low menacing growl sent a chill up the guard's spine. One guard stepped forward to investigate when a loud, blood-chilling roar sent him running. The remaining guards took a step back. Unsure what to do, they looked to their leader.
"Now!" Robin shouted, swinging out of the trees.
Alan, Goodfellow and Thom knocked out the guards nearest them. Little John got little Robin to safety, while John-the-Cook freed the rest of the Merry Men. This time surprise was on their side.
The troops' attention was split between their prisoners who were rebelling and the glowing-eyed monster fast approaching. Remembering their training, the troops were soon fighting back. Weakened once by defeat, the Merry Men couldn't stand against the Prince's troops.
"To John's creek!" Robin ordered. One by one, the Merry Men disengaged and fled east into the woods.
Brooklyn was busy with two troops. Dancing away from the swords, Brooklyn didn't see a third guard creep up from behind.
"Will!" Alan shouted before smashing his lute into the guard's head. The minstrel looked at his broken instrument sadly.
Brooklyn dropped on all four and spun around, his tail knocking the men off their feet. Alan was still looking at the remains of his precious lute, when Brooklyn grabbed him and shook him out of his reverie. "Where's John's Creek?"
Alan snapped out of it. "Little John's creek? Of course, follow me."
The soldiers gave chase, close on the heels of Robin and his men. The only thing that kept them ahead of the troops was their knowledge of the forest. Soon, they came to a ravine spanned by a fallen tree. Little John, with the young boy in his arms, made it across first. Next came Friar Tuck, Thom One, then Robin Goodfellow and Thom Two. Everyone made it over save Will Scarlet and Alan-a-Dale.
"Get ready to push it over!" Robin shouted as he heard several people coming. Little John, Tuck and Goodfellow had their shoulder to the fallen trunk, ready to push it over the edge. Robin waited until all his men were over. Brooklyn knew Robin's plan. He also knew that they wouldn't make it across before the soldiers did.
"Push it over!" he shouted. Robin didn't move. "Push it over!"
Reluctantly, Robin gave the signal, then hopped down and joined his men in moving the massive trunk. Brooklyn only saw a shadowy shape move, then vanish into the ground with a massive crash. They were safe and soon he and Alan would be. "Hold on!" Brooklyn said as he picked up the musician.
Brooklyn picked up the pace and jumped off the ledge. His wings and momentum were enough to carry them over the ravine. He put down a thoroughly stunned Alan-a-Dale. When he finally got his mouth working he said, "Forgot you could do that."
"Heh, I thought you said this was a little stream." Brooklyn accused Little John.
"Of course it's little. I just didn't say how deep." Little John chuckled. An arrow whizzed by, cutting short any frivolities. To a man, they vanished into the forest, leaving the troops empty handed.
* * * * *
Brooklyn found Robin by a broad river. He skipped rocks just like he did at the lake.
"Friar Tuck says everyone's okay. A few scrapes, but nothing a little rest won't cure."
This news didn't bring Robin out of his gloom. "So why aren't you happy?" Brooklyn asked.
"Because it's a lie. All of it," Robin said hotly.
"What's a lie?" Brooklyn asked.
"All this time I thought the abbot was helping us. Now, I find out he's just pitting us against the Prince like pawns in some game."
"What are you talking about?"
"I overheard the sheriff and the ‘good' brother discussing us. It seems we're just a distraction for the Prince. Something to occupy him while King Richard is away in the Holy Land."
"What? That's… that's impossible!"
"That's what I thought, but they knew so much about us. They said I was a ‘pliable instrument'. Might as well add ‘fool' to the list."
"Hey, Robin so you've been snowed. You aren't the first." Brooklyn remembered Demona for a brief flash, then shrugged it off. "You won't be the last."
"Well, I won't play their game." Robin got up. "I'm going to tell Prince John and end this ‘flight'."
"Am I missing something? Isn't he the guy who just sent those troops and attacked us?" Brooklyn couldn't help being sarcastic.
"The Prince is a victim in this too. Perhaps he can put a stop to the sheriff and the abbot."
"But if you turn yourself in, you'll be thrown in prison and that's if you're lucky."
"Better than being the prisoner of someone's designs." Robin countered.
"But who will tell your story?" Brooklyn saw a potential problem.
"Alan will sing of my deeds."
"All we'll know is that you were caught. You'll become a thief not a hero."
"What does it matter?"
"It matters a lot to everyone. You're a hero to many. You want to destroy that?"
"A hero? I'm just a bumpkin and a highwayman. I'm no one's hero."
"What about Little Robin?" Brooklyn argued. "You're a hero to him. And to the Merry Men and all the people you've helped. The sheriff and the abbot may have schemed all this, but at least you're in the role of hero.
"I know what it's like to be manipulated and I also know what it's like working so hard to do what's right and find out no one appreciates it. Believe me, you've got the best of that deal." Brooklyn tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but wasn't succeeding, "Where I come from, you can save the same people time and time again and they'll still scream ‘monster' and run away." He recalled that couple, that guy with his tweed sweater suit and the girl with the green headband. Bitter as he was, he even missed them. "You've got it sweet."
"Pardon, if I don't jump up and down with glee," Robin said with sarcasm of his own.
"I better tell you what I know." Brooklyn took out the magic talisman. "You see this. It's called the Phoenix Gate. It's magical. It takes me back and forth through time."
"The Phoenix Gate?" Robin remembered that name. "I remember the abbot saying something about it. How it was lost in some place in Scotland, called Wyvern."
Brooklyn wanted to ask more, but he needed to set Robin Hood back on history's path. "Robin, I come from the future. A future where you are one of history's greatest heroes. You know those stories I was telling earlier. They're versions of your story and in each one you are a champion of the people."
Robin tried considering Will's words, but the words of the abbot echoed back to him. 'Pliable' and 'Committed', no matter how well-dressed up a lie it was. It still was just a lie.
"Well, I'm not a legend yet." Robin stood up to return to camp.
Brooklyn sat by the river bank, staring at the water. "If he gets caught, there will be no legends of him."
"But history's immutable." A new voice intruded on Brooklyn's spoken thoughts. It was Robin Goodfellow. "According to you, he's already played his part for history. So what does it matter whether he's caught or lives to an old age?"
"What do you know about it?" Brooklyn said acidly.
"More than you," Goodfellow smirked. "Look."
Brooklyn peered into river. He saw his reflection and the man beside him, but it wasn't the old soldier. It was Puck.
"Ah, so you've heard of me." Goodfellow's voice reverting to Puck's more impish lilt.
"What are you doing here?" Brooklyn demanded.
"What does it look it?" Goodfellow hefted his weapon, "Playing the role of spear carrier. Now answer my question. Why worry about Robin Hood?"
"You can change things around." Brooklyn realized, "You can send me home."
"Love to, but besides being restricted by Oberon's law, I'm just minor character in this story. Why are you so worried about Robin Hood?"
"You keep asking that question."
"Then maybe you should answer it. History is immutable. So if he is a hero in your time. It doesn't matter what happens to him."
"It does matter!" Brooklyn answered back. "He's a hero. And I've got to convince him of it."
"For the future?" Puck smiled a mischievous smile.
"No, for Robin."
"John? Rouse the men. You're moving out. I want the men on the other side of the forest before the Prince's men pick up our trail."
"And where will you be?" Little John asked.
"I'm going to Prince John."
"This is a tremendously bad move," Brooklyn commented, coming out of the woods.
"Maybe so, but it's time to end the game. All of them."
"I'm with Will." Little John replied. "We can recover then we'll be back stronger than ever, giving the Sheriff his share of grief."
"No, John. It's time to end our 'Flight Into the Forest'."
"Robin, don't…" Brooklyn started, but a ball of flame engulfed him before he had a chance to finish. The Merry Men were startled. One minute Will Scarlet was there, the next he was gone. They searched the forest for a few minutes, but it proved futile. At last, Robin sighed.
"I'll miss him, but right now you have to get going and so do I." Alone, Robin of Locksley entered the forest and an uncertain future.
Robin sat in the cell quietly waiting his fate. Prince John didn't believe a word he said. The Prince accused him of witchcraft. He was sentenced to death at dawn. It wasn't the end he wished for, but he'd ended the abbot's games. A key turned in the door. The abbot and the sheriff entered. The abbot had a pitying look on his face; the sheriff wore an indifferent one.
"What are you doing, Robin?" the abbot asked.
"Waiting for the end," Locksley replied.
"The Prince's men said you gave yourself up willingly," the sheriff added.
"Well I know it lacks your subtly for deception, but I just can't see myself as your ‘pliable instrument' any longer."
The abbot sat on the bench next to Robin. "So you know?"
"I know that I trusted you and treat me like this!" Robin shot back.
"And what would you have us tell you?" The sheriff asked. "Do you know the intricacies of courtly intrigue? Or the state of the kingdom? Prince John would run the country into the ground and King Richard would sell the country whole to fund his little wars. Our intent was to keep them both off balance, keep them from real power."
"So I'm just a means to an end?"
"No!" the abbot answered. "You're a symbol of hope to the people. While you're out there, people feel they have a chance. We've cleared the halls. You can escape…"
"To resume my job as your lapdog."
"To be who you're meant to be."
"Sorry, not interested." Robin leaned against the wall.
The sheriff shook his head. "Come on, brother. We can find another thief."
The abbot stayed put. "What if you came back…as a partner?"
"What are you talking about?" Robin looked up.
"If you joined us, we'd keep you fully informed. You'd have say over what happens. You wouldn't be a tool. Think about it."
The abbot rose and left the cell. The sheriff followed, they left the cell door conspicuously open. Now Robin had to decide. To be a tool or being the wielder of that tool. To be a hero or be a criminal. To live or die.