When he awoke, Robyn was slumped against a large Blackwood. His heart throbbed in his temples and as he came to he saw that the large man was crouched across from him. His clothes were wet and clinging to him tight as a lover. His makeshift quarterstaff rested between them. “You’re him, aren’t you?” the man said. “Robyn Hood, I mean.”
Robyn’s attempted to speak, but only managed to muster a sound like steel scraping an anvil. He nodded in affirmation. His lips moved, but not a sound escaped them. How did you know?
“How’d I know?” the man said, “They tell tales of you all over Nottingham—you’re a legend in the making, and your fighting is something to be rivaled.”
Robyn managed a terse reply. “I should be saying that of you.” He sputtered out coughs.
“You’d beat me on level ground, I’m sure of it. One battle does not a victor decide.”
“Wise words.” Robyn grunted to his feet and held out a calloused hand. “Shall we try again?”
The man swatted his hand away. “Save your strength, Robyn Hood. I have a feeling you’ll need it. The Sheriff’s men are not done looking for me.”
“So that’s why you saved me.” Robyn’s voice was coming back.
“You want refuge from the Sheriff and his men.”
The giant shook his head. Droplets of water scattered through the air. “I’ll not deny it,” he said. “But think on this—why would I save you after you accused me of lycanthropy?”
Robyn opened his mouth to speak, but no words came to him. “You want to join me?”
“Then kneel. Don’t stand there gawking. I won’t be taking your head off your shoulders.”
Hesitantly, the man knelt. Robyn grasped a branch and hauled himself to his feet and over to a patch of grass where his swordbelt lay. The leathers were of no use anymore. But this bandit had taken his sword from the sheath. He’s smart, Robyn thought. He smiled, despite himself.
Robyn grasped his sword and stalked over to where the man knelt. He leveled the sword, and said, “State your name and title.”
“John Little of…of…I have no title, sir.”
“It matters not,” Robyn said. “I Christen you Little John of Sherwood Forest, and of Robyn Hood’s Merry Men.” He grinned. “The tales usually omit this next part from the knighting ceremony.” He smacked John across the face with the flat of his blade. “Let that be the last blow you take and do not return in kind. You may rise.
“Little John?” the man echoed, “Is that what you’ll call me? It seems a jest.”
“It is,” Robyn laughed. “Take it in good faith. Come, I will bring you to my hideaway. There are many you have not met.”
Little John raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think me a werewolf?”
“You trust me?”
“Aye,” Robyn said. “I trust you.”
* * *
Night fell over Sherwood Forest, leaving only moonlight to glitter through the treetops. Robyn crept to his feet. The men in his camp did not stir—and the outlaw was cautious not to wake John Little.
He stole away through the dead of night. He was surefooted, moving like a carefully chosen word. He trained his eye on a Birchwood on the horizon. With every step, his movements grew slower as if walking through tar. The world blurred around him like wet paint. His stomach somersaulted.
He wished he could say it was his first time the sensation came over him.
It was the price he paid to visit his mentor.
The world crumbled around him. His heart pounded like in his chest. He fell to his knees.
Everything slowed and came back into focus when he saw the familiar fire. The old one sat with his back to him, shrouded in his fur cloak. His face obscured by the wolf’s-head hood. He had copper skin—stretched so thin it looked like mere sleeves for his bones. He rocked front to back so much so that Robyn often wondered if he would one day fall into the fire and set himself ablaze. Though the place and the fire were warm, the old one never seemed to find comfort.
“This place is always cold.” he would say “but it is still my place”
“Christian?” the old one asked as Robyn approached. He hacked a gob of saliva into his fire.
“I told you to call me Robyn,” the outlaw said.
The old one clicked his tongue. He took up a stick and prodded the fire. “Ah, but I cannot do that. Names are powerful things, and there are beings who may yet hear us even here, where time and place are nothing.”
Robyn sat across from the old one. “Do you know why I’m here?”
“Have you been practicing your spells?” the old one asked as if he did not hear Robyn. “You must learn incantations. It can save your life.”
“That is not why I came.”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“And you, mine.” The old one smirked.
Robyn pressed his lips together. “I have,” he muttered. “But nothing works. There’s not enough power behind the incantations.”
“Then you have not the willpower to master your command.”
“Why do you ask this of me?” Robyn cried, extending his arm towards the old one. “There are more pressing matters all throughout Nottingham, and you would have me go off in secret practicing spells and enchantments—”
Anger flared in the old one and his fire roared skyward. “Robyn of Locksley!” he bellowed, “I did not save you from Shai’da to hear your petty complaints. Men and more have died without knowing the words to an enchantment that could save their life! I chose you to fight off darkness while your race fights its holy war—and it is not a decision I have taken lightly.”
The fire dwindled to its normal proportions and the old one smiled, not unkindly. “I expect better of you.”
Robyn stared unblinking, chest heaving with each breath. Sweat dampened his forehead and soot littered his raiment. “I will learn your spells,” Robyn swore. “On my honor.”
“The honor of an outlaw,” the old one mocked.
“The honor of a Christian,” Robyn countered.
“Very well,” the old one croaked, “Then I will have to be sure you are truly doing so. If you succeed, I will grant you a gift.”
“Succeed?” asked the outlaw. “Succeed at what?”
“Freeing Nottingham of its infestation.” the old one said.
Robyn raised an eyebrow. “Infestation?”
The old one spat another gob into the fire. “What else do you call a werewolf? Do not get too close to it, or you’ll catch it yourself.”
The old one sighed. He closed his eyes, ready to bequeath his knowledge to the outlaw. “Lycanthropy,” he said, “Is a disease found in Shai’da. To them, it is nothing more than what you might call a cold. But if a human shares too much physical contact with a creature with the virus, it will infect them quite differently. They become half man, half monster.”
“And how do you cure it?”
“You don’t. It will work its way out of the system in time. In a week, a month, years, decades—it varies. Find the werewolf, Christian, and keep him from all others.”
“And if I cure Nottingham of this threat? What then? You’ve promised me a reward.”
The old one smirked. “I promise no one shall find your encampment who you do not desire to set foot there.”
Robyn chuckled. “I see now why you tell me to practice enchantments.” Robyn stood, and made to leave.
“It would be wise to follow my instructions,” the old one said. His realm crumbled around Robyn and he was on his knees again in Sherwood Forest, moonlight glittering through the trees.