Shy One’s Passing

A Robin of Sherwood story

by Jill Sheppler

Tuck could not stop laughing. The news from Harry, one of the band’s most reliable Nottingham spies, was too good to be true.

The Sheriff of Richmond was returning to his shire from London and was displaying the good grace of passing Nottingham by way of Sherwood Forest. That he had not been warned of Sherwood’s dangers to greedy men of means came as no surprise to the outlaws. Robert de Rainault, still stinging over Gisburne’s failure to kill Robin Hood on King Richard’s order, had gifted the band with a seemingly endless array of rich men to rob in an apparent effort to bring down the king’s wrath on the wolfsheads. Unfortunately for de Rainault, the forest was not overrun with the king’s soldiers and the villagers of Nottinghamshire were living quite comfortably on the “charity” of priests, nobles, and badly informed sheriffs.

“Do you remember him, Little Flower?” Tuck breathlessly asked Marion, referring to the Sheriff of Richmond.

“Oh, yes,” she said, grinning at the image that formed in her mind. Tall, rail thin, full head of red hair, redder than mine, wart on his nose, cross-eyes.”

“Cross-eyed!” Little John exclaimed. “From starin’ at that wart, I reckon.”

“It gets better,” Tuck laughed. “His wife is a rare sight, too.”

“Two warts,” Marion informed them. “If possible, even thinner than her husband, and nearly as tall, but she stoops. He thinks her one of the great beauties.”

“Aye,” agreed Tuck, then he added in a mocking dreamy voice, “they were made for each other.”

“Sounds like no one else’d have ‘em,” Will wryly offered.

“What I would like to know,” interjected Robin, “is how well guarded this sheriff is likely to be.”

“Well, he has his own soldiers, of course,” Tuck mused, “and since he’s been at court, he will most likely be traveling with a fair-sized escort.”

Robin nodded. “Even so, without a warning from our sheriff to put the escort on its guard, we should be able to take them easily.”

“How do we know King Richard hasn’t warned ‘im about us?” Will asked. “Just because Harry over’eard Gisburne telling one of ‘is men that the sheriff was feedin’ this fool from Richmond to the wolves doesn’t mean ‘e won’t’ve heard of us.”

“True,” said Robin, shrugging, “but warned or not, he’s traveling with too much wealth for us to ignore.”

Will turned away in disgust. “One o’ these days--” he grumbled, shaking his head.

Little John overheard the muttered comment. Since Robin’s close call with King Richard, Will had increasingly questioned their leader’s every move. Little John hated discord among them and, in attempt to forestall an argument, cheerfully declared, “It’ll be a pleasure to rob these tall, thin, wart-covered rich folk. I just hope the look of ‘em won’t scare Much!”

Much, who had been listening and laughing at Marion’s colorful descriptions of the Sheriff of Richmond and his wife, perked up at Little John’s joking comment. As usual, the irony was lost on him. “I won’t be scared,” he indignantly promised. “Robin, I won’t” When at last he caught the other’s smiles, Much flushed with embarrassment and pounded Little John’s arm. The big man responded by grabbing the youngest outlaw around the neck with one arm and mussing his hair. Soon, the giant and the boy were rolling on the ground, laughing, tickling, and wrestling, as the others -- all but for one -- cheered them on.

Martin could have found James’ grave in his sleep, he visited it so often.

Martin and James, two young serfs, had been recruited into Robin Hood’s band by Little John. The two small men had erred in attempting to rob the big man, learning too late that asleep did not necessarily mean vulnerable. Good fortune was with them that day, though, as they discovered the big man had an even bigger heart. Given a choice between serfdom and serving Herne’s son, Martin and James had cheerfully opted for outlawry. That they truly understood the danger was never an issue. Until James died.

When James died at the hands of the Knights of the Templars, the band quickly buried him at the edge of the clearing where he fell. Much had been taken prisoner and the first concern of the others was ransoming him. Later, after Much had been rescued, Martin and Little John had returned to the grave and covered it with stones to protect it from foraging animals. Soon after, the outlaws began to train Martin to fight in earnest. The shy man learned quickly, never complained, and displayed a cheerful face no matter what the circumstances.

What the others did not begin to guess was the depth of Martin’s grief over James’s untimely death. They barely knew James. But James had been like a brother to Martin and his death left a void that no one else, not even Little John, could fill.

Kneeling next to James’ grave, the young blonde outlaw placed a handful of wildflowers on the stones and murmured, “Hello, James.” He paused, swallowing tears as always, and then settled himself more comfortably. “You’d be proud o’ me, James,” he began. “They’ve started trustin’ me wiv a sword ‘n I get better ev’ry day wi’ the longbow. And y’know what else, James? I met King Richard! Aye, s’true. ‘E pardoned us all, then had Gisburne try to kill Robin, Marion, Much and Tuck. And I’m not pullin’ yer leg, James, but Marion was dead and Herne brought ‘er back to life!” Martin smiled and gently touched the stones. “Ah, James, the only thing that’d make me ‘appier was if y’ were still alive to share it with.”

Martin grew quiet then as troubling thoughts, which he had tried to ignore for some time, intruded, yet again. “Y` know, James,”he said sadly, “what I don’t know is if ... well, I’m not sure if they’d miss me, y’know, if I, well ... y’ know.” He sighed and continued, “Little John would. And Tuck, Much... even Marion. Will and Nasir, well, they don’t pay me much mind s’long’s I stay out o’ trouble ’n do what I’m told. But Robin?” Martin swallowed hard, forced a laugh, and said, “now I know y’re laughin’ at me, James. Thinkin’ me a fool.” He jumped up and turned his back on the grave. He had to confront the source of his pain, and the source of the loneliness that had become a more constant companion than the six men and one woman with whom he lived. Martin had to speak aloud his greatest fear and deepest wish. “I know he’s Herne’s son ‘n ‘e’s got more to think on than if e’e’d miss me if I was fool enough to get m’self killed. But I can’t help wonderin’, y’know, if Robin’d miss me. Can’t help it,” he said again as his eyes filled with unwelcome tears, “but I’d want Robin t’ care.

Martin’s body lay in the middle of the clearing, an arrow sticking out of his chest, blood staining his shirt, tunic, and the grass beneath. The sight stopped Little John in his tracks. He had come to fetch the young man back to camp, prepared to lecture him for going off on his own again. The sight that met him ripped the breath from his lungs. “No,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “No!” he moaned as he walked slowly into the clearing. “NO! he shouted in agony as he dropped to his knees next to the lifeless body. Pulling the accursed arrow out of Martin’s chest, Little John flung it away, and then gathered the body into his arms. And he wept. “Why now? It shouldn’t’ve been like this.”

The tears gave way to anger. After gently laying Martin’s body back down on the ground, Little John leapt to his feet. He grabbed his quarterstaff. Roaring, he struck a tree with such force that the staff snapped in two. His anger unabated, Little John ranged through the clearing, striking trees with his fists until his knuckles were bloody; cursing himself, cursing the rest of the band, cursing Nottingham soldiers, cursing God and Herne. And when he became painfully, truly aware that his anger changed nothing, could not frighten Martin back to life, the rage drained away.

Through a veil of tears, Little John bent to Martin’s body once more. He picked it up, cradling it in his arms as if he were holding no greater burden than a babe. “I’ll bring ye’ back, lad. You’ll lie next to James, I promise ye’ that. But now I must take ye’ to the others.” Little John could barely speak for the sobs that wracked him, but he continued, forcing the words out as if they made a difference. “ye’ shouldn’t’ve been alone, lad. I won’t leave ye’ alone now.”

Martin was buried beside James the next day. Weeping, Tuck spoke of innocence lost while the others, including a few villagers from Wickham, looked on in tears or in silence. The sun did not show its face -- a gentle rain fell on the mourners and it seemed the world, along with those gathered in the clearing, wept for the loss of Martin.

The band had lost its fourth follower, but this loss was different. Martin had been alone. He had died alone. And that knowledge was painful. But beyond the circumstances of Martin’s death, which the band might never learn for certain, was the fact that the young men had been with them a long time. Martin had been there through danger, excitement, boredom, carefree times, sad times, the heat of summer, the cold of winter -- Martin had truly been one of them. Little John knew it and had felt an almost fatherly pride in martin’s progress with longbow and sword. Tuck, Marion, and Much knew it. Even Nasir and Will knew it: a brother had been taken from them.

Robin knew it, too, and it grieved him almost past bearing. For as the leader of the group Robin knew that he had failed Martin. He had taken for granted Martin’s fealty. He had never spoken the words that would have let the quiet man know for certain Robin counted him as one of his band. Worse, he know Martin had needed to hear the words. He remembered the younger man’s searching looks in the days and weeks before his death. Robin knew Martin’s face would haunt him for a long time to come.

Little John found Robin kneeling next to the graves of Martin and James. He watched in silence for a few moments and then decided that his leader had been still long enough. In the days since the burial, while John and the others had spoken of their grief, sharing stories and remembrances, Robinhad withdrawn. Even marion had been unable to reach him. Little John saw that Robin had scant appetite for food and Marion told him that her husband had not been sleeping very well. So several days after the burial, when Robin left camp without a word, Little John knew beyond a shadow of a doubt where he had gone. He and the others let Robin go, knowing he needed to face whatever demons Martin’s death had raised. and when enough time had passed Little John followed him to the clearing. “Robin,” he murmured softly so as not to startle him.

Without looking at the other man Robin said, “Little John, Martin and James died not knowing how much value I placed on their lives. They didn’t know because I never told them. I could console myselft with James, saying he died before I had the chance. But Martin? I have no excuses. I had time.”

“Maybe he knew,” Little John offered, regretting the words as soon as he’d said them, knowing them for a lie.

“Why should he have known?” Robin countered bitterly. “Did I ever talk to him except to issue an order? No.” He finally turned to look at his friend. “Little John, did you ever wonder why Martin spent so much time here, talking to a grave?”

John winced at Robin’s words and his despodent expression. “I suppose because ‘e didn’t feel ‘e could talk to us.” To you especially, he thought.

“That’s whay I’m afraid of,” agreed Robin with a ragged sigh. He scribbed at his face with his hands. “I let his shyness and reserve stop me from truly befriending him. I should have said more to let him know that I considered him one of us.”

“Little John knelt by Robin’s side, then, and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Tell ‘im now,” he urged.

“I did that before you joined me,” Robin admitted, “but John, it doesn’t change the fact that, while he lived, martin could not have been sure that I cared. And I did.”

Little John rose. He understood what Robin needed now, even though his leader did not. “Come, Robin,” he ordered firmly, “let’s join the others. It’s no good grieving’ alone. Martin’s death has touched us all.”

The outlaw leader nodded, willing to be guided by the big man’s common sense during this agonizing time. Alone he was beyond silace. With the others he might find the consolation he sought. A beginning had been made -- Little John’s understanding was necessary. Of all of them, Little John could have claimed the right to be angry with Robin for the offhand way he had dealt with Martin. But Little John’s unspoken forgiveness would guide Robin to forgive himself. He rose and the two outlaws moved to return to camp.

When they reached the edge of the clearing Robin stopped, and turning to look at the graves once more, promised, “Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten. I will not forget you.”

The End

This story is based on the television show “Robin of Sherwood”TM. Characters ans situations were created by Richard Carpenter and Paul Knight and are owned by Goldcrest. No infringement is indended by this amateur, not-for-profit effort.

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