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TOC Files 12: As Time Goes By

Title: As Time Goes By
Series: The TOC Files
Word Count 6975
Summary The TOC is given a mission to discover the truth behind the legend of Robin Hood




XII. As Time Goes By

It's still the same old story,
A fight for love and glory,
A case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by
Herman Hupfield


The great hall was filled with cheering soldiers and woodsmen. A man in Lincoln green stood by the main doors with his arm around a young woman in a white gown and veil. "May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, sire," he said with a smile before exiting through the doors which then closed behind them. "The End" then appeared on the screen.

Shannon Flynn stood and stretched. "No matter how many times I see that movie, I still love it."

"Same here," said her companion, Alan Kelly. "I guess that's why it's lasted 500 years."

"And to think, the last anniversary I remember was its 50th." She switched off the screen. "It has such a romantic quality about it--the young hero, a damsel in distress, evil villain--all the necessities."

"Of course, it probably wasn't all that glamorous. Think of all the hardships; cold, starvation, high mortality rate--the list is endless."

"You take the romance out of everything," she said with a smile. The phone rang and she answered it. "Yeah, he's here. Okay, we'll meet you there."

"Who was it?"

"Gil. It seems we've got another mission."

Alan and Shannon arrived at the conference room twenty minutes later. The two other members of their team--Dr Gilbert Connor and Capt. Eric Rader--were waiting. The Committee members who chose their mission sat behind a large table, a sheaf of papers in front of the chairman. "A month ago, we were approached by an outside concern with an idea for a mission. After much deliberation, we have agreed to it."

"You going to give us a hint?" asked Eric.

"Please try to be more patient, Captain. With all the publicity surrounding the anniversary of the Flynn Robin Hood, many questions have been raised as to his existence."

"And you want us to go back and get evidence." Alan cracked a smile. "How ironic." He looked at Shannon. "You'll get to see your romantic hero first-hand now."

"Inside joke?" asked Gil.

"We just watched the vid and Shannon's yearning for romantic adventure."

"How are we going to get this evidence?" asked Eric. "We can't use any cameras, they would be somewhat obvious. If we used a recording or sketches, anyone could say they were faked."

"We've already thought of that. A small camera will be fitted to your clothes. No one will know. You'll be ready to go directly after your briefing."

* * * *

They arrived on the outskirts of the village of Ashby. People were milling about and crowding the fields. "What's going on?" asked Gil.

Eric gave it a closer look. "It's a tournament! You know, jousting, a melee and the like."

"How wonderful! Just like Ivanhoe!" cried Shannon.

After they changed their clothes, they moved with the throng and lined the lists to watch. Alan's eyes took in the heralds, trumpeters, and the pavilions at one end where the knights were housed. Opposite where they stood were galleries for the nobles and their ladies to watch in comfort. In the center of the galleries was one raised higher than the others covered with a canopy on which stood a throne. "So, they're expecting royalty."

"And here he comes," remarked Gil.

With a flourish of trumpets, Prince John and his entourage arrived. As they were not yet ready for the jousting, John ordered that the archery contest begin. "Why is this starting to sound so familiar?" whispered Shannon.

"Archery, eh? I always wanted to do this." Alan moved forward to take part in the contest. The target was a sunburst painted on skin or parchment and mounted on a stand stuffed with hay. He was expecting the concentric circles. No matter as long as he aimed for the center. Some of the other archers were in local livery and others, he learned, were men who traveled the country entering contests and living off their winnings. He looked at the others and smiled. Even if he didn't do well, he could at least say he was in a medieval archery contest.

Back in the crowd, Gil watched as his friend took his place among the contestants. "We haven't even been here half an hour and he's making a mess of things."

"Don't you remember? It was at a contest like this that Robin Hood split an arrow to win."

"So you think Alan's gonna find him this way?" asked Eric.

"Could be."

"Personally, I think he's just showing off."

"Quiet, Gil. They're starting to be thinned out."

Alan and two others had made it to the final round. The King's archer suggested that the target be set back another hundred paces to add more of a challenge. They all agreed and it was done. A fletcher from Lincoln shot first and landed in the black. The crowd cheered. The King's archer was next and his landed close to the center. Alan looked at Prince John and saw him smile. How long will that last? He slowly drew the bowstring back and felt the feathers brush his cheek. His eyes narrowed in on the target. He took a deep breath and released the arrow. It flew to the target and lodged itself in the very center, a hair's breadth from that of the King's archer.

A tumultuous cheer went up from the crowd as Alan was acknowledged as the winner. He was ushered in front of Prince John where he was praised for his marksmanship. "Where do you hail from?" asked the prince.

"Originally London, Your Highness, but now I just travel the country, working where I can find it."

"Perhaps the Sheriff of Nottingham could use you. Unfortunately, he is not here."

"Thank you, Sire. I shall make my way there this afternoon." With a bow, Alan backed away from the royal pavilion and joined the others.

"That was beautiful," remarked Eric. "Your skill with ancient weapons never ceases to amaze me."

"A simple knack, that's all." He looked at Shannon. "What's wrong?"

"That's not how it happened. You remember the contest. Robin Hood was supposed to split the champion's arrow."

"That's what we're here to find out, remember? There may not have even been a Robin Hood. Maybe he was just some romantic figure created for these desperate times. We'll get to meet one of the other key players of the legend, though."

"What are you talking about?" asked Gil.

"Prince John told me to go to the Sheriff of Nottingham to become one of his archers."

"What did you say?"

"I thanked him. What else could I do?"

They stayed and watched most of the tournament before heading for Nottingham. "We'd better make an effort to get through Sherwood before dark," said Gil.

"Why? Are you afraid of the dark?" taunted Eric.

"No, but people of this time were, so we should pretend to be."

"That was one of the reasons Robin Hood went to Sherwood," said Shannon. "No one would follow because they were afraid of devils."

"How do you know all this stuff?" Eric asked her.

"I've read practically every book and seen every movie and TV show based on him."

"Good. You can be our resident expert," Alan told her.

"And what will we do once we get to Nottingham?" asked Gil.

"I'm going to ask the Sheriff for a job. You guys should probably stay in the city and wait for me. I don't think he'd seriously consider me if you were standing there as well." He saw how upset they were. "Maybe you can find him in with the townspeople. You could find out where the feelings of the people lay."

They walked through Sherwood on the Nottingham Road, looking in wonder at the unspoiled woods. "Too bad most of this will be destroyed to make room for other towns and cities," remarked Shannon.

"Like the saying goes, 'You never know what you had till it's gone'," said Alan sadly.

They arrived late in the city and took rooms at an inn. They ate a small meal consisting of porridge and bread washed down with ale. In the morning Alan made his way to the great hall of the castle where he waited his turn amongst those asking for favors or lodging complaints. It smelled of smoke, food, animals, and fetid straw that lined the floors. He was told that the Sheriff was out collecting taxes and that his steward, Sir Guy of Gisbourne, was filling in. Alan smiled inwardly as he thought of the different representations of the man. Which was right? Was he the schemer in charge, a co-conspirator, or just the Sheriff's lackey?

As his turn approached, Alan had a better chance to watch Gisbourne in action. He was tall--close to six feet--and had a cold-looking face. His eyes were hard as he treated those asking for favors with contempt. Most of them, Alan knew to be native Saxons and were treated like animals, worse in some cases. The 1938 film got that right.

"What do you want?" asked Guy in a surly tone.

"My name is Alan, my lord. I was told that the Sheriff might want to hire me for my services," Alan answered somewhat humbly.

"Who told you such nonsense? The Sheriff doesn't need to hire peasants."

"Prince John told me after I won the archery contest at Ashby, my lord."

Gisbourne did a sudden turnabout. "Prince John told you to come here? The Sheriff is out in the shire collecting taxes. You would have to come back and let him see you himself."

"Thank you, my lord. I'll do that." Alan made a small bow and left the castle.

Shannon saw him first and called to him. "How did it go? Are you in?"

"No. I'm to come back later when the Sheriff returns from collecting taxes. Gisbourne was afraid to hire me."

"Sir Guy of Gisbourne?" asked Shannon. "It seems that we're meeting everyone that has to deal with the legend except Robin."

"If I do get hired, maybe I'll be able to find him that way." He took a swig of ale. "What do you think of your romantic adventure now?" he asked Shannon.

"Well, it's only just started, hasn't it? I can hardly make my decision."

"So when's the Sheriff due back?" asked Eric.

"Dunno. Couple of days, maybe."

"So what now?"

"Why don't we go into Sherwood and see if we can find him ourselves?" said Gil. "At least we'll get the layout of the real Sherwood Forest."

"That's a very good idea. I didn't think I could spend the whole day in an oppressive place like this," out in Eric.

The four of them walked out through the city gate and headed down the road to Sherwood.

After an hour or so later while they were walking through the woods, they heard angry shouts. They ran toward the sounds and stopped overlooking the road. A man and a boy were trying to defend their wagon and its cargo from armed soldiers. The boy was trying to hit them with whatever he could get his hands on. It was having no effect. The soldiers were spilling the sacks of flour on the ground despite the man's pleas for mercy.

Acting on impulse, Alan let loose one of his arrows. It landed in the shoulder of one of the soldiers. A second quickly followed the first, killing a soldier. Alan donned a hood to hide his features from the soldiers and motioned for the others to do the same before they fought the soldiers hand-to-hand. Seeing the odds shift against them, the soldiers rode off leaving their dead comrade lying in the road. Eric let out a loud laugh as he watched them disappear.

"Thank you, strangers," said the man. "You saved my son and me from the Sheriff's men. We owe you our lives. I have no money..."

"We don't need your money, good sir," said Gil, employing the language of the time. "We merely saw someone in need of aid."

"That aid may have cost you your lives. You have killed one of the Sheriff's men. They'll hunt you down and kill you."

"They' can't kill what they can't see," said Eric. "They don't know what we look like."

"There are lots of places for you to hide in the wood. Much, c'mere." His son jumped down from the wagon and stood by his father's side. "He spends most of his days in the forest and knows every inch of it. He'll take you to a good place. If you need anything, my mill is right down the road. My name's Dickon.

"Thank you, Dickon," said Alan. "We'll remember that."

Much, a young boy of about ten years, took Shannon by the hand and started to lead her into the forest. Eric and Gil followed with Alan in the rear. The boy bounded through the undergrowth like a young deer along paths they never would have seen. He stopped in front of a small opening in a hill. "What? In there?"
Eric couldn't believe it. "You've got to be joking."

Alan knelt and peered inside. "Only the mouth is small. It looks quite roomy inside." He turned to Much. "Is there another way out?"

"Aye. Comes out further into the woods. There's lots o' food 'round and the soldiers 'ardly ever come this far. They'd get lost."

"I hope we don't," said Eric wryly.

"I gotta get back. If ye need anythin', I'm willin'."

"Thanks, Much. I hope we won't have to involve you any further than this," Gil said with a smile. "You'd better hurry back before it gets dark." Much smiled and ran off. "Nice kid."

Shannon sat on a fallen log, a look of disbelief on her face. "This is too weird."

"What's weird?" asked Alan. "Don't keep it to yourself."

"You haven't noticed the similarities?"

"What similarities?"

"One: you win an archery contest by a hair's breadth. Two: you meet Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Three: we have killed one of the Sheriff's men and have taken refuge in Sherwood. And Four: we have met a miller's son named Much. Need I say more?"

"Come on, don't you think that's a bit far-fetched?" remarked Alan.

"Wait a minute. I think I've missed something here. What exactly are you saying?" asked Eric. "There never was a Robin Hood or his merry men?"

"No, there was, and I think it's us."

* * * *

Eric woke the next morning and stretched, hands grazing the roof of the cave. The others were still asleep so he quietly crept outside. The wood was beautiful this early in the morning. It could almost convert him to a full-fledged nature lover. He took his bow and decided to go off and find something to eat. He carefully memorized his way and started down the same path Much had used. He thought of what he should catch. One always thought of Robin Hood and his men eating venison, but he didn't exactly know what to do with it and doubted the others did. Then there were rabbits--if he could find some. He heard water. Of course, how stupid! Fish!

He came out of the undergrowth near a stream. "Great, I have no pole or bait." It was then that he saw the man asleep under a tree, a pole held loosely in his hand. This is going to be fun. He slowly approached the man and saw that he was dressed in the robes of a friar. In the pail beside him there were quite a few fish, just enough for breakfast. Maybe he could fast-talk this man into giving him the fish. "Good morrow, good friar," he said.

The friar opened his eyes and saw a young man with a bow smiling down at him. "What do you want?" he asked, sitting up straight. "I have nothing for the likes of you."

"It's not money I'm after. I am merely hungry and looking for food. I was going to fish but I have no pole. It was then that I saw you."

"You are most welcome to use my pole once I'm done."

"When will that be? Do the others at your monastery or abbey like fish as much as you?"

"I don't belong to any community. I visit the villages and administer to their needs." He stood and picked up his pole. Eric got a good look at him. He was no taller than Shannon, but very rotund. His tonsure stood out from his short black hair. He leaned over to pick up the pail of fish and Eric saw his sword.

"Perhaps, then, you could share your bounty?" Eric was not about to give up.

"Share?" He spoke as if it were an alien concept. "Why should I share with an outlaw?"

"What makes you think I'm an outlaw?"

"Why else would you be carrying a bow in the forest? If you were a forester, you wouldn't be complaining."

"So you're smart as well as armed." The friar put a hand to his sword. "I have no wish to fight you, friar. I merely wish to share your food. Surely your Christian charity won't allow you to let people go hungry while you have so much?"

The friar stood still, making his decision. Then a slow smile crept across his face. "You have quite a way about you. You could charm the feathers off the birds. Very well, my outlaw friend, I will share my catch with you."

"Good. Just this way to the camp." Eric led the friar back to the cave.

The others were waiting by a small fire. Alan and Gil had their swords drawn. When they saw it was Eric, they sheathed them. "Where the hell have you been?" asked Gil. "You could've at least told us."

"I just went to find us some food and found some fish. The friar was attached to them so he came along as well." Eric made the introductions. "This is Alan, that's Gil, and the one with the red hair is Shane. And you are?"

"Friar Tuck," said the brother.

"This is too much," said Shannon.

Tuck and Alan set about preparing the fish. Over the meal, Tuck was told how they had helped the miller and the reason they couldn't show their faces in Nottingham. "Last night we decided to use this to our advantage. We know that there is corruption at every level. They tax the people more than necessary and keep half for themselves. We plan to even things out a bit."

"You'll take money from the nobles and give it back to the peasants?" Tuck questioned.

"Aye," said Gil. "We'll rob from the rich and give to the poor." He had been dying to say that!

Tuck agreed to help them but said he couldn't stay with them all the time. "If I don't go to the villages, they'd know something was wrong."

"You can be our eyes and ears. No one would suspect a man of the cloth of being involved in such activities," said Alan with a smile.

Tuck helped them become better acquainted with Sherwood, showing them shortcuts and hiding places. They soon felt ready enough to make their first theft. They waited on the Nottingham Road and waited for just the right target. Soon a richly dressed merchant was riding into their midst. Alan jumped out in front of him, his face hooded and sword drawn. "Good day to you, fine sir. And where are you headed?"

"Out of my way." He tried to force his horse ahead but Gil grabbed the bridle. "I am on my way to Nottingham from London."

"A long journey, and so prosperous," said Gil from behind his mask. "Your purse must be weighing you down."

"Maybe if you let us hold it for you, you can reach Nottingham faster." Alan made to take his purse. The man tried to motion his horse forward, but stopped when Shannon aimed an arrow at him. Alan cut the strings that held the man's purse to his belt. "Good day to you, sir, and may God bless you for your charity." Alan and the others slowly disappeared into the woods leaving no sign of their presence except their victim.

The man spurred his horse down the road and made straight for Nottingham Castle to lodge a complaint. Guy showed little interest. After all, there were many outlaws who would wait for their victims. It wasn't until the merchant said that the man who robbed him wore a hood and his accomplices wore masks that Guy knew action was needed. This could be the same man who killed one of his men and wounded another. They said a man in a hood attacked them as well.
Word spread through the town. The merchant got a free meal in a tavern on his story alone. A man "robbing in a hood" added spice to their dreary routines and soon everyone was talking of "robbin' in the hood" and finally just Robin Hood.

Tuck visited them the following week and told them everything he had heard. He had stopped in the village of Locksley and distributed the money as planned. "If you keep this up, you could have the support of every villager against the Sir Guy and the Sheriff's men."

"When is the Sheriff due to return?" asked Shannon. "Surely it doesn't take this long to collect taxes."

"He is a very personable man and many of the nobles invite him to stay the night. It would be an affront to refuse hospitality."

"You've seen him?" asked Gil. "What does he look like?"

"He's about your height with dark brown hair, and hazel eyes. I've heard some of the ladies of the court call him handsome. I think he has a very commanding presence. Even if he were dressed in rags, you would know he was in charge."

"At least this way we'll know him when we see him on the road," remarked Alan.

"You don't sound too happy about it," said Shannon.

"I've just had the strangest feeling ever since this started. It's hard to express, really."

"Does it have to do with the Sheriff?"

"I don't know. It's driving me crazy."

Just then Much came running into camp. "The Sheriff's comin' with the tax money!"

"How many men with him?" questioned Alan.

"Ten or twelve, maybe."

"Great. Let's go." The six of them made their way to the Nottingham Road and positioned themselves where they could easily pick off the soldiers as they approached.

Once the last guard reached the tree where Alan was hiding, he shot one of his arrows, killing one of the soldiers. Gil, on the opposite side of the road, did the same. Eric and Tuck closed in from behind while Shannon and Much attacked from the sides. When the Sheriff saw most of his men dead on the ground, he called at them to stop. "Show yourselves!" he called out.

"Not until you and your men lay down your weapons!" answered Alan.

"Do as he says." The soldiers dropped their swords. The outlaws stepped onto the road, weapons at the ready and faces covered. Much grabbed the reins of the Sheriff's horse to prevent it from bolting. "Only six of you. Quite an accomplishment." He looked at Alan. "You must be the one called Robin Hood."

Alan bowed, making sure that his face kept hidden. "Glad to know that you've heard of me, m'lord, considering you've been away for some time."

"It seems that everywhere I've been I've heard stories of the outlaw known as Robin Hood. I wondered if all the stories attributed to you were possible. With you being so bold as to attack me, my doubts are dispelled."

"If you were as free with your money as you are with your compliments--no matter how backhanded--I'd have no need to be here."

"Yes, I had forgotten that part. The money you steal goes back to the peasants," he remarked with a sneer.

"Speaking of the money, let's take it and get out of here," said Eric.

"Right. Unload the bags while I keep an eye on our friend here."

They took the bags and buried them in the forest to be dug up later and distributed. Shannon moved closer to the Sheriff and looked at him closely as if to picture his face for future memories.

"I'd like to thank you for your donation to our charity, Sheriff. I'll make sure you get the proper credit."

"Perhaps you could credit me with not being so stupid as to go through Sherwood with only a dozen men." He shouted and more soldiers came riding down the road to chase the outlaws.

They raced into the woods, disappearing into the underbrush as the Sheriff's men thundered past them. Shannon became separated from the others as she tried to lose one of her pursuers in the wood. As she headed back to camp, she tripped on an outstretched root and fell into a small ditch and was knocked unconscious.

Back at the camp, Alan noticed she was missing. "Have you see Shane?"

"I saw her running once we hit the woods, but then I passed her," said Gil.

"Her?" Tuck was amazed. "Shane is a woman?"

"Short for Shannon," answered Alan. "I hope nothing's happened."

"She's probably just leading them on a wild-goose chase. If she's not back in an hour or so, we'll go look for her," Eric said. "Much can stay here in case she comes back."

* * * *

She slowly came to and found herself lying in a ditch somewhere in the forest. She slowly stood and ignored her pounding head. What was she doing here? She slowly climbed out of the hole. It would be dark soon and if she didn't start now, she'd never find her way out. Upon reaching the road, she trudged along knowing that she would reach some form of civilization soon.

She reached Nottingham just as they were closing the gates. The guards smiled as they let her in, taking her dirty clothes and mussed hair as a sign of an assignation. She made her way through the streets and stopped at the castle, demanding the guards to take her to the Sheriff.

They laughed. "What would the Sheriff want with a Saxon peasant like you?" one asked.

"Maybe she is the entertainment," said the other with a lecherous smirk.

"I am not a peasant! I shall complain to the Sheriff of this treatment," she stated haughtily. Hearing the tone of her voice, one opened the door and led her to the great hall where the Sheriff was dining. She was then passed to Gisbourne who was told her name and story.

Guy stepped forward. "What is it, man?"

"A woman demanding to see you, m'lord."

"A woman, eh? Show her in."

"Yes, m'lord." Gisbourne returned with the woman in tow and announced, "The Lady Marion of Leaford."

* * * *

I'm going to go look for her." Alan picked up his bow and quiver. "She's been gone too long."

"You could get lost yourself in the dark," said Gil.

"I feel responsible."

"She knew what she was getting into when she joined us."

"I think the best place to start looking, if you've got your heart set on it, is near where we attacked the Sheriff," put in Eric. "We may find where she broke away from us."

"Good thinking."

Much stayed at the camp in the off chance that Shannon would return. After two hours with no luck, Tuck nearly slipped into a ditch, but Eric's quick reflexes kept him from tumbling. "Hey, look!" he called. "There's something down there!" The others gathered around and Eric jumped into the ditch to pull out a piece of cloth. "It's her mask!"

"We're on the right track, then," said Alan. "Let's keep going!"

"Hold on, Alan. We're losing what little light we have. We could walk right by and not see her. Besides, she probably stopped somewhere for the night and will head for camp in the morning," Gil told him.

"But she's out there somewhere."

"She'll know to come to the camp once it gets light. She can take care of herself," said Tuck.

They led Alan back to the camp where, after fitfully tossing and turning, he fell asleep.

* * * *

"Welcome to Nottingham, Lady Marion," said the Sheriff, rising to greet her. "What an intriguing traveling costume."

"I have no idea how I came by it, m'lord. I woke earlier to find myself lying in a ditch in Sherwood wearing this." She made a face. "I walked here to where I knew I would find comfort until I can reach my father."

"Which would you care for first, my lady? A meal or a change of clothes?"

"I have suffered this long in this rag, so another hour or so won't hurt." She held out her hand for the Sheriff.

He took it and escorted her to the dais beside him. Sir Guy looked at her appreciatively. Too bad women refused to wear such form-fitting clothes, he thought. "How come we have not seen you before, Lady Marion?" he asked.

"My father and I have just returned from a visit to London. Our path lies through this shire."

"Where is your father now?" asked the Sheriff.

"I do not know, my lord," she answered after swallowing some pork. "Perhaps we were set upon by outlaws. I don't remember anything before waking up in the ditch."

"A meal, a change of clothes, and a good night's sleep should make you feel better. In the morning I will send my men to look for your father. His name?"

"Sir Richard of Leaford, my lord." She stifled a yawn.

"You are tired, Lady Marion. One of the maids shall take you to your room." He clapped his hands and a middle-aged woman appeared at Marion's side.

"Thank you, my lord Sheriff." She curtsied. "Sir Guy." She let the woman take her away.

Both the Sheriff and Guy followed her with their eyes. "Quite a morsel, that," said Guy.

"Yes, quite," agreed the Sheriff. "I've always thought so," he whispered softly.

* * * *

The following morning Alan was awake before the others and ready to search for Shannon. He left quietly. Ever since he had first seen Shannon, he felt like he had to protect her. When she began traveling with him, he discovered that she had the ability to protect herself, but he thought that if it weren't for him, she wouldn't be here in the first place. He stopped when he reached a rushing stream. Where could he cross? Walking along the bank, he found a thick log acting as a bridge. He started across and stopped halfway when he saw a large man with a staff begin to cross from the other side. "Could you let me pass?"

"You should let me pass first," the man answered with a deep voice.

"I have no time for bantering, my friend. I'm in a hurry."

"Then you shouldn't question a man whose strength is obviously more than your own," he remarked, taking in Alan's athletic frame.

"That could cost me time." Alan tried to force his way past.

The man blocked him with his staff. "I won't let you pass without a fight."

Alan saw that he had no choice. "Very well. Let me cut myself a staff." Alan quickly made his way back to the bank, found a branch, and trimmed off all the twigs. He then removed his bow and quiver so the wouldn't get in the way.

Back on the log bridge, the man attacked with a blow to Alan's left and only his battle-sharpened reflexes kept it from doing and real damage. On the defensive, Alan blocked and parried more blows; some threatening his precarious footing. In frustration, Alan went on the offensive, trying to force his opponent to retreat. When he realized what Alan was doing, the man planted himself and blocked Alan's blows with ease. As if he were some annoying fly, the man swatted him aside and Alan fell headlong into the water.

He rose sputtering, to see the man laughing. He wasn't the only one. Alan turned to the bank and saw the others. Eric was almost crying. "At least you could offer to help me out." Alan reached out his hand and, when Eric took it, pulled him in. Upon regaining his footing, Eric tripped Alan who went facedown into the stream.

The man on the bridge watched with a smile. When Alan stood, his mouth dropped open. Alan's hood had slipped forward. "You're Robin Hood!"

"Some people call me that," Alan said as Gil and Tuck helped him out. "And who might you be?" As if I didn't know.

"John Little. Friends call me Little John." He shook Alan's hand.

Alan introduced him to the others. "That's Friar Tuck, the dripping one is Eric, and the one sporting the red scarf is Gil."

John smiled as he shook Gil's hand. "You must be the one they call Scarlet," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"They said that one of the men wore a red mask. So they started calling you Scarlet."

"I kinda like it." He turned to Alan. "Any luck finding Shane?"

"No, I never got past this stream for some reason."

"Who's Shane?" asked John.

"One of our group, missing since we stopped the Sheriff yesterday."

"I've been wandering the forest for a good part of the day and I didn't see anyone."

"Perhaps the Sheriff caught her?" asked Tuck.

"Could be. We'll just have to find out. Are you with us?" he asked John.

"The reason I'm here," he replied.

* * * *

Once in Nottingham, they split into groups and began to search for any sign of Shannon. There was no need to disguise themselves since no one outside their trusted circle knew what they looked like. While waiting in front of a potter's stall, Eric and Alan heard a commotion and ran to see what it was. Some soldiers were chasing a man accused of theft. Across the square, Alan recognized Gisbourne. He pointed him out to Eric.

"Fits the description, but who's that woman with him? She's quite a dish."

"Are you always thinking about women?" Eric's only answer was a wide grin.

"That is the Lady Marion of Leaford," the potter told them.

"I was wondering when she'd show up," said Alan softly.

Marion turned towards them. "It looks like she's been with us all the time."

"Shannon must have suffered a knock on the head and has amnesia."

"But why did she chose Marion?"

"You heard what she said before. She's read everything regarding the legend, as well as seeing every movie and TV show. She must have become so immersed that she believed herself to be Marion."

"So how are we going to get to her? Gisbourne's watching over her like a hawk. We'd never get into the castle dressed like this."

"I think I have an idea. Let's go find the others."

* * * *

Shannon/Marion walked through town on Gisbourne's arm. "What will happen to him, my lord?" she asked.

"That need not concern you, my lady. The usual punishment."

That usual punishment, she knew, would be the loss of his hand. If he stole again, the other hand would go and he would be left to beg in the streets, possibly to die.

A soldier came running up to them. "Excuse me, milady, milord, but the Sheriff wishes to speak with you."

"What can he want now?" Gisbourne knew that the Sheriff just wanted to keep him from spending too much time with Marion. "Excuse me, Lady Marion, but the Sheriff must not be kept waiting." He turned to the soldier. "You escort the lady where she wants to go and make sure no harm comes to her."

"Yes, my lord." The soldier watched as Guy hurried towards the castle. Gil looked back at Shannon from under his disguise. That must have been some knock on the head for such a complete transformation. Physically, she was still the same, but there was something distant about her, as if she were possessed. He didn't exactly know what Alan had in mind except that they were all to meet in the great hall of the castle. He continued on with Shannon, carrying what she purchased and then took her back to the castle.

"Ah, there you are, Gisbourne," said the Sheriff upon the knight's arrival.

"You sent for me, my lord? I was in the midst of--"

"Yes, I know what you were in the midst of. Where is the lady?"

"I left a soldier to escort her back when she was done shopping."

"Good." He motioned Alan forward with his hand. "This man tells me he came here a fortnight ago looking for a job as an archer."

"Yes, my lord." Guy didn't know where this was heading.

"He said he won the contest at Ashby and Prince John himself told him to come here, yet you didn't hire him. Why is that?"

"I thought that since he was to be one of your personal archers, I thought that you should be the one to hire him."

"For once, you've shown some sense." The Sheriff turned to Alan. "Perhaps you could give us a demonstration?"

"If you wish, my lord," Alan replied.

"We'll have the target set up there." He pointed to the opposite end of the hall. Two soldiers immediately went to fetch it.

While the tables were being rearranged, Shannon and Gil arrived. She strode down the steps and over to the Sheriff. "What is going on here, my lord? A celebration?"

"No, Lady Marion, more of a test. This archer wishes to join my employ. Some of those who attended the Ashby tournament said he is a marvelous shot."

"And now he must prove himself before you." She took a seat beside him. "This could be amusing."

Gil appeared at Alan's side. "Where's Eric?"

"Not sure, he'll be here soon." The soldiers had finished setting up the target. "Looks like I'm on."

Alan stepped forward and drew and arrow from his quiver. A wide path was cleared between him and the target. He nocked the arrow, took aim, and shot. It landed just off-center in the black. "Well done!" came a voice from the steps. "Beautiful shot!"

All eyes turned to see a young noble make his way down the stairs. "An amazing shot. Could you do it again?"

Alan smiled. "That's what I'm here to do." He repeated the process and hit dead center. He turned to the Sheriff. "Another, milord?"

"No, that was quite sufficient. I could definitely use you."

"Thank you, milord." Alan stepped back and watched Eric approach the Sheriff. It was time to use the legend to their advantage.

"Good day to you, my lord sheriff. I apologize for coming unannounced. My name is Robert of Huntington. My father is the earl."

"Earl of Huntington? I've never heard of him."

"It is a newly created title. I'm here looking for a close friend of my family and I see she is here under your care." He looked at Shannon.

"The Lady Marion has made no mention of you. Perhaps you are mistaken."

"Her father, Sir Richard, made his way to Huntington after being attacked by outlaws. He had become separated from her and feared for her safety. We sent men to search the area and I decided to come here to ask for your assistance. I see now I don't have to."

Shannon looked closely at Eric's face. Something was familiar. He smiled at her. "It's all right. We're going home now." That simple sentence opened the floodgates to her memory. She mouthed his name and he winked.

She turned to the Sheriff. "I'd like to thank you, my lord, for your generous hospitality. Now that Sir Robert has come to take me to my father, I must leave." She stood.

The Sheriff rose. "The pleasure was all mine, my lady. I hope you will so honor me again." He kissed her hand.

She shivered at his familiar touch. "I don't know if that is possible, my lord." She curtsied and stepped down beside Eric. "What happened?" she whispered. "How did I get here?"

"I'll explain later. Let's get out of here."

Alan and Gil crossed the hall slowly to join the others. Gil felt a sneeze coming on and pulled out a kerchief--the red one. Gisbourne noticed this and got a close look at his face. "Scarlet. My, lord, it's Scarlet, one of Robin Hood's men!"

Hearing the commotion, all four ran outside into the courtyard. Shannon was hampered by her skirts until she paused and tucked them into her girdle. They raced across the drawbridge and the guards chased them through the town and out of the gates. They disappeared into the forest and the soldiers rode right past.

"God, that was close," said Gil.

"What do you think of your romantic adventure now?" Alan asked Shannon.

"I think I like it better in the vids," she said with a smile.

"Speaking of vids, we've just recorded this whole thing. Do you think they'll buy it that we became the Merry Men?"

"If they do, we'd better get the movie rights."

13. Time Heals All Wounds

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