The large man lumbered through Sherwood Forest, wreathed in the dark of a moonless night. Red tears ran down the claw marks on his arm. He had left the two yeomen behind. One had torn the other’s throat out.
He had killed him for that.
Lanterns and disembodied voices chased him, snapping the foliage behind him. He heard chainmail rattling and swords clattering in their scabbards.
The Sheriff’s men pursued him.
He pressed through wave after wave of tangled roots and thorn bushes. The resounding accusations of his pursuers were drowned out by his own conflicted thoughts. The man knew the tales of Sherwood Forest. It was said to be haunted by men and more.
He was not sure if he should trust a hope that one might come to his aid.
The chuckle of a nearby stream alerted the goliath to a path of escape. He adjusted his course to carry him subtly towards it.
He was not prepared for the drop.
The hillside was treacherous—fallen branches and twigs lashed and lacerated him. He lost all sense of space until he managed to stumble to his feet.
He clung to the hillside, the sound of the stream underfoot drowned his bootsteps.
One of the Sheriff’s men barked orders from above. “Find him!” shouted the gravelly voice that belonged to Guy of Gisborn. He was still a squire to Baron Fitzwalter, but his had been a swift ascent through the Lord’s ranks.
“Find him! Find the werewolf!” The wind sang on the squire’s unsheathed blade.
For half a moment, the man considered scaling the hillside to combat the squire. But another thought stayed his hand. He needed safety and shelter first.
His throat burned and it took all that was within him to stay his hand from the stream. It could make him sick. Kill him, even.
The stream carried him around a bend and he stalked off through Sherwood Forest, voices fading to distant whispers.
He stopped only a moment, to snatch a fallen tree branch. He unsheathed a dirk and shoddily stripped it down to size. It was not the best quarterstaff he’d made, but it would do.
He wandered off into the night.
* * *
The next morning, in a separate part of the forest entirely, an outlaw awoke. He heard the twitter of birds in the air, felt the breeze on his face, and saw the old hag lying next to him, dead, on the forest floor.
Robyn of Locksley grunted to his feet, his movements bringing back the pain—and the memories—of the night before.
This was the first creature to seek him out—part of him hoped it wasn’t the last. It had cried for vengeance for the murder of its kith. Robyn Hood had yet to learn how to defend against a hag’s magic. He had been beaten and his death seemed a certainty.
Until someone had cried “Find the werewolf!”
That drew the hag’s attention. But Robyn Hood steeled himself toward his cause, and shot an arrow through the hag’s heart before her mind could return to him.
Presently, Robyn buckled his swordbelt, threw his bow over his shoulder and set off. He wandered on for some time without meeting anyone. And then he came to a river. It was wide and deep, swollen by last of winter rains. It was crossed by a slender, shaky bridge a shoulder’s breadth across.
Robyn began to cross the bridge before he noticed that a great, tall man was crossing from the other side.
“Go back and wait till I have come over,” he called out to the stranger.
The stranger laughed, though the merriment did not touch his eyes. “I have as good a right to the bridge as you. Wait your turn, for I am in a hurry.”
Find the werewolf, someone had shouted last night. The words rang through Robyn’s head. The outlaw smiled. “Pray tell—what cause have you that bids you cross in such a hurry? Why can’t you afford to tarry?”
“I cannot,” said the stranger. His knuckled went white on his quarterstaff. “I must make haste.”
Robyn squared his shoulders. “Tell me more.”
The stranger groped at empty air for the words he needed. “I—I have angered the sheriff,” he said, “And so his men hunt me unjustly.”
Find the werewolf. “Were you the man accused of lycanthropy?”
“It is a false charge, I assure you.”
Robyn drew an arrow from his quiver. He stroked the goose feathers as he notched it to his bowstring. “And how would you assure me?”
“I spoke out against the sheriff’s taxes, and in return he has laid this false charge on me.”
“And what of the deaths back in Nottingham?” Robyn questioned. “Mere wolf attacks?”
“Or the sheriff’s own doing. I care not. Why do you concern yourself with the deaths in Nottingham?”
Robyn drew the arrow to his cheek and started forward. “Go back,” he said, levelly. “Go back or I will shoot.”
The large man wrung his hands around the quarterstaff as though he wished it were Robyn’s throat. “That I cannot do.”
“My arm grows tired. I will not ask you again.”
“Nor will I.”
Robyn did not see the man start across the bridge, for it only took him three large steps, and when he realized what befell him, the stranger had smacked his bow out of the way. His arrow hissed through the brambles off the path.
Robyn met the stranger with a thrust from his bow.
The two fought swaying backwards and forwards in an attempt to keep their balance. With every stroke the bridge bent and trembled beneath them as if it would break. Robyn smacked the stranger in the chest and he keeled over.
As Robyn raised his bow to strike again, the man drove his quarterstaff into Robyn’s gut with such force that he spilled the contents of his last meal into the river below.
“What you give me, I return twice over,” the large man grumbled. He smacked Robyn across the jaw. The outlaw stumbled. He wrestled to regain his footing, yet when he stepped forward he felt only empty air.
Then something wet.
He slammed into the stream and an explosion of pain rocketed through his head. The world went white, and wisps of blood curled about the stream. He saw the goliath of a man lumbering towards him. Please, God. Don’t let it end like this…