Robyn shoved the Bishop into the dark woods, all but prodding him along. The further into the dark they went, the more Robyn’s jolly demeanor vanished, in favor of a grim mien. He drove the Bishop further into the woods, away from all trails. Away from all men.
But then the Bishop lashed out, attempting to strike Robyn. The outlaw caught him by the wrist and tripped him by the ankles. The ground rose up to meet him. Robyn unsheathed his sword and laid it on his neck. “Is it chance that brought you to me, or fate?”
“I will kill you, Locksley,” the Bishop said. His voice sounded only half-human, as though holding at bay the hiss of a serpent.
“Are there more of you, then? How many?”
The Bishop kicked the outlaw’s legs from under him and hurled himself on top of Robyn. The Bishop’s flesh sloughed off his face and arms, revealing the scales beneath. Leathery wings sprouted and unfolded off his back as his bones restructured. His teeth turned to dust as his snout grew, and in his mouth rose jagged daggers. Smoke misted on his every breath and sparks fell off of his tongue.
“A Wyvern,” Robyn muttered. “The two legged dragon. I should’ve guessed. That explains the hoarding.” Robyn struck his palm against the Bishop’s chin, momentarily incapacitating him. He hauled the Wyvern off of him and cut at the creature, who danced away from the strike. Fire burst from his lungs.
Robyn lunged to the side and thrust his blade for the monster’s neck. Yet at the last, he held his blade back from a killing stroke. The tip of his sword lay poised at this neck.
The two stood, locked in the other’s gaze. Their shoulders heaved with every heavy breath. “I will give you only this one chance. Leave.”
“Your kind has given us a choice, Christian. We are to accept your God or face extermination. We have done so. Why now do you still hunt us?”
“You do not follow our God. You are using Him.”
“He is our vehicle, not our master.”
“Your kind received your powers from gods, before time. They used you. I must admit I did not think you would do the same.”
“That was then,” the Wyvern said. Its smiles displayed rows of sharp teeth. “This is now.”
“Enough!” Robyn hissed. “Men will not be used for your benefit. Use any God you wish, but men will not be toyed with as your former masters did to you, else you will meet the same fate.”
“And how do you propose to stop us?”
“Leave this land, or I will spread word of you.”
The Wyvern’s laugh sounded like pebbles rattling. “Mankind has never handled a grim truth well. You think it wise to tell the world that their nightmares have a face?”
“It may take time. No one will believe me at first. But soon enough people will whisper this secret. They will grow suspicious. Yours is a dying kind. And if men turn on you, how long do you expect to survive?”
“We are more powerful!” The Wyvern protested, flaring its wings as if in demonstration. “We have been on this earth from before time began. This is our land. You cannot take it from us. Robyn did not flinch.
“Your kind ruined your chances at this land in your own quarrels. This is our time. You say your power is greater, and in this, you are right. But there are too many men in the world. You cannot raze all of us. So tell me, are you willing to take this risk?”
The Wyvern’s smile died on its lips, and smoke trailed between its teeth. “You are wise, Locksley. Be glad no blood has been spilt this night, for such a peace may not have been so easily reached.”
“If I discover you are meddling in the affairs of men once more, I will end you.”
“How will you know?”
The Wyvern nodded, and then backed away; and with two flaps of its wings it took to the sky.
Robyn watched it leave. He could not say how long he stared at the sky. He waited until sunrise for its return.
It never came.
* * *
In the days to come, Sir Richard of Lea came back to Sherwood with a procession trail following him. He swung down from his horse to embrace Robyn, and told him of how his usurer fled, and that his debts had been forgiven. “I must pay thanks to you!” Richard said. And the knight called upon his men to bring the pack horses forward.
Sir Richard had the packs laid on the ground and opened, whereupon a great shout went up that made the forest ring again. For the knight had delivered ten-score bows of finest Spanish yew, all burnished till they shone, and each bow inlaid with fanciful figures in silver. Beside these were ten-score quivers of leather embroidered with golden thread, and in each quiver were a score of shafts with burnished heads that shone like silver; each shaft was feathered with peacock’s plumes.
Sir Richard gave to each yeoman a bow and a quiver of arrows.
But for Robyn, the knight took him aside. “I have heard word from my son in Palestine. He has sent me a gift to give to you.”
“A gift?” Robyn lifted an eyebrow.
“On behalf of our King. I am ashamed to say that I do not know the purpose of such a reward, but questioning the King is not my place.” He unrolled the last pack to reveal ten-sore goose-feathered stakes.
“I’m not sure what it means,” Richard said.
Robyn stared at the pile, stakes clattering as they rolled over each other. “It means I’ve got work to do.”