In the month that had passed since Kate's visit, my men and I continued to protect the people in the Hawk's stead. Not only did it earn us admiration, but it infuriated the Sheriff, who was receiving complaint after complaint from the soldiers still loyal to him. The thing was, he couldn't do anything about it. Trying to stop us from aiding the townsfolk, which was our job after all, would be a slap in the face to the townsfolk. No longer would he simply be neglecting to help, he'd be actively trying to make sure the townsfolk suffered, and he'd have a riot on his hands in no time.
All he could do to stop us would be to either dismiss us, which he didn't do simply because he knew that's what we wanted, or kill us. And that wouldn't sit well with anyone. Not the townsfolk, not the other soldiers, and most certainly not the currently docile Hawks. He would never have the guts to do it.
The men were getting antsy, the Falcons most of all. More conservative folk might call it war-mongering, and in a way I suppose it was, but when you signed up to protect good folk from trouble, and there was no trouble, your job turned into standing. There was no downtime. If nothing was happening, it didn't matter, you didn't get to go home. You kept patrolling until something did happen, and while nothing was currently coming from the Hawks, there were finally signs that something was up.
While the women of the forest were no longer raiding, or openly aiding the townsfolk, sightings of slender hooded forms were becoming more and more frequent. It was no longer a surprise to walk into the barracks and find the Falcons speaking in excited, but hushed tones, as one or two of the lucky few recounted tales of trysts with a beloved Hawk. This raised the men's spirits, though only made them more restless for something to happen so they could reunite with their enemies-turned-friends.
I hadn't seen any sign of Kate, but for her sake I hoped that meant that she was once again busy running the affairs of her group, whatever those affairs were. I could have sworn that I recognized a Hawk or two among the Sheriff's new playthings. I didn't investigate too much for fear of an angry Kate chewing me out for ruining a plan that had been weeks in the making. Obliviousness was the order of the day.
"Who wants to take a stroll through woods?"
Ok, so maybe not complete obliviousness.
Eager faces looked up, hands reached for weapons, and armor rattled as it was strapped on. The entirety of the Falcon force had decided to join me on the impromptu excursion I had cooked up to get the men some fresh air, if nothing else. After we passed through the first line of trees, I motioned for the men to spread out. There was an air of familiarity as my horse galloped through the brush. I was brought back to my first few weeks on the job; failure after countless failure, defeat after defeat, fruitless search after fruitless search.
And then of course, the grand revelation that the prey was a bunch of women.
How foolish we all were to have underestimated them.
"Really takes you back eh Marshall?" asked the Captain, as he pulled up beside me.
I chuckled, "Indeed it does, in fact I was just reminiscing myself."
"The raids... the searches... the one-sided battles..." he replied wistfully.
"The first time I was shot" I commented dryly, and the two of us laughed once again.
"And then it all changed" he said somberly, after the laughter subsided.
"Yes it did. The camp... the friendships... the one-sided battles that went in our mutual favor-"
"The second time you were shot," interrupted the Captain, prompting more laughter.
"Well, you know what they say, third time's a cha-"
The laughter stopped abruptly and I looked down to see an arrow lodged in the space between my arm and chest.
I blinked, waiting for the wave of pain to wash over me, but it never came. Tentatively touching the arrow made a clinking sound, and the projectile spun. I gave it a yank and it came out freely.
"Sir! Are you-"
"I-I'm fine" I said a little shakily. "It must have hit a ring and gotten tangled in the chainmail. But who-"
"Hands up Marshall! You're not the first I've put in the ground!" said a voice.
A very masculine voice.
I slide from my horse, and drew my sword, "No skulking! Show yourself and fight me with honor!"
"Honor!?" scoffed the voice, and a green clad form dropped from the trees. "You desecrate the word. But let it not be said that Robin Hood runs from an honest fight."
Slinging his bow around his shoulder, the man pulled a staff from a leather sheathe on his back and hefted it a few times before settling into a ready stance.
I snorted, "A stick? Very well," then I charged.
I reeled back, a sharp pain on my shoulder, that even the armor didn't completely mitigate. The weapon may have only been wood, but the man was no novice when it came to using it. I brought my sword back up and began to circle the man slowly, taking him a bit more seriously.
Feinting a lunge, and bringing up a mailed gauntlet, stopped the staff short, and gave me an opening. I struck out, but the green clad figure had already danced away, with a speed and grace that rivaled the Hawks themselves.
He came at me this time, taking me by surprise. A blow glanced off my armored ribs, but I snapped a leg out, knocking away the staff. The man, Robin, I think he said, ducked under my swing and launched a kick of his own. I dropped my sword and caught the foot as it came in, twisting the leg sharply to the left. He cried in pain, but using my hold as an anchor, he brought his other leg up and around to smack me in the face.
I dropped his foot, and we both fell away. I scrambled for me sword, while he pulled his bow off his shoulder and fitted an arrow. Swinging hard, I aimed the bow, hoping shear it in half before the shot could be fired.
An arrow ricocheted off my sword, throwing it off its path, while another projectile sheared through my attacker's bowstring. We both stared at each other for the briefest of moments before looking up into the trees.
Kate and Jem waved.
The two dropped to the ground, mock disapproval on their faces. Or on Kate's face at least, I couldn't tell with Jem.
"Calm yourselves gentlemen," Kate started, while Jem snorted at her use of gentlemen. "Robin Hood, meet the good Marshall Corin Twynam. Corin, this is Robin Hood, of Sherwood Forest."
"Sherwood?" I nearly shouted when I finally made the connection. "You're that Robin Hood?" I had heard tales of the man from other enforcers like myself. At the time I had despised the man, or the thought of him at least. But now, after all that happened...
"Well, I suppose I am" he said nonchalantly. "Apologies for shooting you."
Kate's eyes bugged, "You what?! Corin are you-"
"It's ok Kate, he missed."
It was Robin Hood's turn for outrage, "I what? Robin Hood never misses. It was a simple stroke of luck that save you from death at the hands of-..." he trailed off after catching a look at Kate's face. It scared me, and I had seen it before. Several times.
"-I mean, of course I missed. On purpose," he added, with a glance at me.
Kate opened her mouth to speak but another Hawk dropped from the trees, a worried expression on her face.
"Kate! We just heard word for our informant in the Castle! The Sheriff is planning to move today! He's-"
"What?" I asked, "What's he planning?"
Kate and the Hawk turned concerned glances towards me, and heart nearly stopped. They couldn't be serious.
"He's not... you don't mean he's planning to-"
Shouts broke out not too far away from our position. I retrieved my sword and started to rush off, but Kate grabbed me, and held me back.
"Corin, you can't he'll take you too."
"Take m- I can't abandon my men Kate!"
"You can't help them if you're in chains Corin!" she said. "We've been expecting this, we have a pla-"
"You what?" I growled. "You knew about this? Why didn't you tell me? I think I deser-"
Kate held a finger up to my lips, "Corin there is no time for this. You just have to trust me ok? Now come."
I looked around for the Captain, but his horse was nowhere to be seen. He must have heard the commotion and gone off without me. The shouts and sounds of battle were fading away, and then they abruptly stopped all together. All I could do was stare off into the distance, clenching and unclenching my fists.
Kate's hand found mine, and I allowed myself to be pulled away.