The monk walked the abbey, bare feet whispering against the cobblestones. The Latin singing of his brothers was far off to him. He was shrouded in his own thoughts.
He came at once upon a large door and heaved the bolt back. The door moaned as it opened, and the monk snatched a torch off the wall. Before him were rows and rows of blank parchment and ink bottles. He passed the other work benches where his brothers did their translating. He hung his torch on the back wall and took a seat.
His old bones protested to such movements. Even the act of sitting down was enough to pain him, if only mildly. From there, he dipped his quill into the inkpot and unlatched a large book. Dust sprayed the air as he thumbed through the pages. He had been deciphering it for weeks, yet only now was he truly beginning to understand its lexicon.
He had received the book from an Earl. William de Roumare, his name was. There was talk all through the abbey that he had died quite recently.
The monk said no prayers for him. The Lord had, charged a hefty sum for the tome, yet refused to say where he had obtained it.
His price was too much for the monk, but he had to have it. Even if he had to pilfer a few coins here and there.
Since the Earl sold him the book, and he had spent almost every waking hour henceforth pouring over it; deciphering its contents while no one was looking.
He drew his quill from the inkpot and scratched the first three words of the latest page onto his parchment. He squinted at the text. His old eyes made reading difficult, and near impossible by candlelight.
Time became lost to him. All that mattered were the words. He needed to translate this book. The thought compelled him like an insect drawn to light. Nothing else mattered. Only the Earl’s book.
The monk thought he heard a howl in the distance, far and away. Or was it close? His eyes were not the only thing failing him in his old age.
He shrugged it off and continued his translations.
* * *
Robyn ran through Sherwood Forest, acutely aware of the blood running down his calf. The wolf had broken his yew bow in half with a single clamp of its jaws, then set its claws on him. He had only his sword left, and he could hear its ragged snarls behind him.
He leaped over a branch, but his bad leg landed first, and he stumbled, hands braced as the forest floor reached up to meet him. A moment later, he sprang back to his feet and hurdled through Sherwood.
The fall had only delayed him by a heartbeat, but this was more than enough for the wolf to close the distance between them. Robyn ran three long strides before the wolf pounced and brought him to the ground.
Robyn pulled a dirk from his belt and slammed it into the wolf’s paw, giving him time to snake out from underneath the beast. He drew his sword and levelled it at the wolf.
It let out a low growl from deep in its stomach. Robyn could feel the palpitations of his own heart pounding against his entire being.
The wolf growled. It fell back on its haunches when Robyn lashed out, opening the wolf at the shoulder. He pressed the attack before it could recover, but the beast withdrew, yelping as it padded into the darkness.
Robyn fell to his knees. “Are you a werewolf, John Little?” he asked himself. “Are you truly framed?”
* * *
Baron Fitzwalter led his squire through the courtyard of Nottingham Castle. He watched as his men-at-arms drilled with wooden swords. He was beginning to regret offering his services. For weeks he had been hunting the wolf, and for weeks he had found nothing. He was trapped in Nottingham under his own word.
“My Lord,” his squire said, “Why do these men drill so late?”
“They are conscripts from Nottingham,” Baron Fitzwalter answered. “They must learn to fight before we go off to the Holy Land.”
They reached the stables, and the squire rushed to fetch the Baron’s saddle and fasten it to his horse.
“Good,” the Baron said. “You’re learning, Gisborn.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” Gisborn replied. “If I may ask a question?”
“Why do we stay here in search of the wolf? We were on our way to the Holy Land. Why do we tarry with talk of wolves and other perilous creatures?”
The Baron frowned at that and gave his squire a look fixed Gisborn in place. “We need all the men we can muster against Saladin. Richard is captured, and now his Lords must come to his aid. How will it look if someone like Balian of Ibelin came to the Holy Land with more men than I? Whosoever has the most men at his disposal shall display the most effectiveness in battle. And the most effectiveness shall be rewarded.”
“And you now have these conscripts—”
“In exchange for my services, yes. I mean to find and kill the wolf that plagues Nottingham.”
“Yes, the wolf,” Fitzwalter said. “Spare me your superstitions, Gisborn. We all know of the false charge laid on John Little. If the man has any sense he’ll stay far away from Nottingham. If not—well, I’ve offered my services.”
“And how shall you do that? Kill the wolf I mean.”
“How do you think?” The Baron slapped his scabbard and without another word he swung onto his saddle and led his horse through the postern gate.
He rode his horse through the sunset, drawing his cloak about himself as a snow began to fall. Autumn was creeping away from the land, and now winter was coming. He across the shire of Nottingham, until he chanced upon an abbey. He reined his horse to a halt and it stood there, hoofprints fresh in the snow. He swung down from his saddle, tied his horse and entered.
He passed monks and friars singing their holy songs, and meandered about the twisting courtyards until he came to a church. The double doors boomed open, echoing through the room. He walked between the pews as he readied himself for confession. He had sinned a great deal. And he hoped that cleansing himself of all ties to such sins would help him in his quest in the Holy Land. There were few nights of late he had not confessed in some way.
He came upon the altar when he spotted another man leaving the confessional. He knew that face. Yet the memory of it eluded him.
It was only when he saw the man’s stature that he put a name to it. “Halt!” he cried, voice echoing through the abbey. “John Little!”
The man took to his heels, and the Baron chased him, back through the winding alleys and twisting roads until the man ducked out of the abbey. And when the Baron went to follow him, the man was gone. He had been ten seconds behind at best, yet the goliath had disappeared. Did he know some back road that the Baron didn’t?
“It’s not possible…” Fitzwalter said to himself. “It can’t be possible.”
He drew his sword, and pulled his shield off his back. He circled about, ready for the outlaw to attack.
It was only when he came upon his horse that he realized the gravity of the situation.
His mount lay utterly rent. The flesh of its neck had been riven from the bone. Blood stained the snow red and the pooled in streams between the cobblestones. As he knelt to inspect the wounds, he noticed it had not been a blade that had done this. There were teeth marks.
With a growl the beast was upon him. Only the Baron’s instinctive shield-raise saved his life, as the wolf’s claws tore the paint off his coat of arms.
The Baron cut the wolf across the cheek in retaliation.
A full moon lit up the sky as the wolf and the Baron faced each other. Fitzwalter’s shoulders rose and sank with each heavy breath. He drew his shield close and held his sword out, ready for the wolf’s next attack. It was a large wolf. Nearly the size of his horse.
He did not expect it to pounce.
Once again, Fitzwalter raised his shield, which took the brunt of the impact. Pain exploded in the arm behind it. And the force of the wolf’s attack knocked him back, where the treacherous ground took his legs out from under him.
When he recovered, the wolf’s paw landed on his shield, trapping one arm. Desperately, he thrusted with his sword arm to take the creature through the heart, but the wolf pawed down his sword-arm and sank its teeth into his mail.
It had just worked its way past his mail when the Baron heard a squeal, and the wolf shrank back. Something whispered through the air and landed heavily in the wolf’s back.
The wolf shrank into the shadows, whining, The Baron saw four arrows lain in its back before it ran off.
Lord Fitzwalter rose to his feet, rivulets of blood running down his mail. The bowman had saved his arm, if not his life. He looked around for his savior, but saw not a soul around the abbey.
And then he heard a voice from the rooftops. “We are not enemies in this, you and I,” said the bowman. “We share a common goal. Therefore I beseech you—stay out of Sherwood!”
“Robyn Hood!” Baron Fitzwalter shouted, “Come out of the shadows, outlaw! Face me like a man! Face the justice you deserve!”
“There are worse things than me hiding in the shadows, my Lord” said Robyn, and Baron Robert Fitzwalter was left on the steps of the abbey to ponder what had transpired.