Robyn heard leaves whispering from across the clearing and clapped his journal shut. Five of his men burst through the underbrush, ushering in William de Roumare, one of his men-at-arms and a Bishop.
Others scurried to ready a small feast. The gang laid out a tablecloth and decorated it with cheeses and hams stolen from the finest overpricing merchants. Robyn’s men jested and laughed like fey folk who had brought unwitting mortals to the Otherworld, half dancing as they prepared the meal and jesting at the Lord’s predicament.
They were closer to the Otherworld than any of them knew.
“Bind them,” Robyn commanded. And so they did. “Leave us,” he said, and with a wave of his hand Robyn’s men left.
“Such power,” said the Bishop.
Robyn looked the him in the eye. “The Bishop of Hereford. Am I correct?”
The man nodded, jowls wobbling.
“What brings you to Sherwood?”
The Bishop made no move to answer.
He turned to the man-at-arms. “What about you? Surely you have some reason to be wandering the forest this late. Is your cause the same as the reputed Earl of Lincoln who stands before me?”
The man stared back, implacable.
“And you, Lord de Roumare? What cause have you to be wandering through my forest at such an hour? And in such fine attire, no less. Is that silk?”
The Earl knitted his brow.
“It’s dark out,” Robyn continued. “Bandits and highwaymen traffic these roads at this hour. But never fear. I’ll keep you safe from them. For a token payment of course.” Robyn thrust into a piece of ham with his dagger and brought it to his lips, red juice dribbling down the dagger, and his chin.
He gestured to the food in front of him. “You’ve traveled far, have you not? You must be weary. You must be hungry.”
No one attempted to take any food.
“Surely you know how this works,” Robyn Hode said, flashing a smile. He placed the meat on the tablecloth and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. “I am a man of honor, my friends. If you are honest with me, you shall receive no punishment, no matter how severe your crime. Lie to me, and…well, I presume you can infer my meaning.” He went grim-faced. “They say Sherwood is haunted, you know.”
“Lies,” the Bishop spat, crossing himself. “Nothing but lies and rumors to keep you and your men safe. There are no monsters here.”
Robyn’s raised his eyebrows, as taut as bowstrings. “What did I tell you about lying to me?”
William de Roumare made a move to interject, but Robyn outstretched his hand and words fell silent on his tongue. “I’m talking to the Bishop of Hereford, here. Now Father, you haven’t answered my question: what did I tell you about lying to me?”
“Where have I lied, outlaw?”
“There are no monsters here, is that correct? No—don’t look to your friends for help. Look at me. Is it true, to the extent of your knowledge, that there are no monsters here in Sherwood Forest?”
The Bishop bobbed his head, flaccid skin wobbling on his neck.
“Taal isti nead mi cuno.” Robyn muttered. He shook his head and took another bite of ham.
It seemed there were uses to living in a place unbound by time. He’d learned much with the old one and hadn’t aged a day.
The man-at-arms was the first to speak. “What is this gibberish? Some sort of Saracen tongue? What are you saying—?”
“He knows what I said. Don’t you, Father?”
The Bishop did not look at Robyn Hode. “I know what it means, damn you.”
“Then tell me.”
Robyn’s words tiptoed on each other. “You test my patience, Father. Would you like to know what happens when it wears thin?” The Bishop flinched at the thought. Robyn leaned forward. “What have I said to you?”
“I know you are false. That’s what you said.”
“Good.” Robyn looked at William de Roumare and his man-at-arms. “But you two knew that, didn’t you?”
“How would we—?” the Earl began.
“Because you wouldn’t be traveling with this man if you did not. Because I have been forewarned of your presence. Because I know you have helped Shai’da get into Lincolnshire, and so, Nottingham.”
“What do you mean?” William interrupted. “What are–”
Oh, you know Shai’da. Don’t bother to interject. I saw those looks. What is your relation to them? Do you shelter them?”
The man-at-arms turned red in the face. “Indeed.”
The Earl’s jaw dropped. “Jon!”
“We cannot lie to this man!” Sir Jon replied.
“Why do you shelter them?” Robyn asked.
“My man-at-arms knows not what he says,” the Earl of Lincoln began. “He is tired—confused—”
“Why?” Robyn leapt to his feet. “Why have you done this?”
“Because they are the future!” the Bishop of Hereford shouted. He still had not looked up. “It would have killed us if we did not. His kind will kill us all in time anyway.”
Robyn’s countenance softened. He had not expected this. “You help them out of futility?”
“I thought it best to delay my demise.” He looked up. “Would you have done differently?”
The outlaw drew his dagger. “You suggest that I would help creatures here to destroy all of our Lord’s creations? Our King fights the same battle in his Crusade. To defy these creatures is a duty—any other response is treason.”
The monk stood and stared Robyn down. “You are young and foolish, Robyn Hode. You know not the ways of grown men.”
Robyn leapt over the makeshift table and seized the Bishop by his collar. His knife pricked under his chin. “I can taste the wine on your breath, Hereford. How would you like to avert your demise this time?”
“I will do what’s necessary to survive. No more, no less. What would you have me do?”
“Tell me what I need to know. How many there are. Where they are—”
“There is only one,” Hereford said. “And he rarely stays in Lincolnshire.”
Robyn backed away and lowered his dagger. “My men and I will escort you from these woods,” he said. “I hope it will not inconvenience you if we collect a price for our troubles.”