Title: The Feint (2/2)
Author: Rusty Armour
Fandom: Robin of Sherwood
Characters: Sir Guy of Gisburne, Robert of Huntingdon, Tuck, Little John
Category: General, adventure
Word Count: 2943
Summary: Some plans are more foolproof than others.
Spoilers: Brief nods to “The Witch of Elsdon” and “The Greatest Enemy” and more significant spoilers for “Herne’s Son,” Parts 1 & 2 and “The Time of the Wolf”.
Notes: It only took a year, but I finally wrote a conclusion for this story, which was originally published in Addie Faction’s RA Magazine. Call it laziness if you will, but I wrote the first installment quickly and always planned for it to end on a cliffhanger. Not surprisingly, most readers weren’t happy about that, and at least a few people asked me to continue the story. I stubbornly refused, determined to stick with the cliffhanger ending. Of course, the main reason I refused was because I had no idea how to conclude the story. Then, one day, not that long ago, a possible solution to the cliffhanger dilemma came to me and I decided to run with it. I doubt it’s the best solution. I’m not even sure if it’s a good solution. However, it’s all I’ve got and it’s not like anyone else ever offered any suggestions. *g* Anywaaaaaaaay, I hope this long-awaited conclusion will suffice and not be too disappointing…
This takes place some time after “The Time of the Wolf”.
Disclaimer: This story is based on Richard Carpenter's series Robin of Sherwood. The characters are the property of Richard Carpenter, Robin May, Anthony Horowitz and the RoS production team.
John was glaring at Gisburne with a venomous look that Tuck had rarely seen on the gentle man’s face. There was an almost murderous gleam in his eye, and Tuck knew that if John took it into his head to kill Gisburne, there was little he could do to stop him. Tuck lumbered to his feet with a grunt and bent over to tap John’s shoulder. “Come on, get up. I think we need to stretch our legs.”
John stared at Tuck, too surprised to argue as his friend tugged him away from the fire. “Why?” he asked once they were out of earshot.
“We have to talk,” Tuck said. He glanced back at Gisburne, who was watching them curiously but didn’t say anything.
When they were outside the camp, Tuck nodded at the moss-covered log, hoping John would sit down, but John remained standing. Tuck sighed and crossed his arms, leaning against a tree. “We can’t kill him, John.”
“Why not?” John exclaimed. “You heard him. He’s no use as a hostage and he certainly won’t help us get into the castle!”
“It would be wrong.”
“Who cares? He deserves to die! And the way he described things, we’d be doing him a favour!”
Tuck shook his head. “That’s not true, John, and you know it. You’re beginning to sound like Will.”
“Well, maybe Will’s been right all along. We should have killed him years ago. We should have killed him right from the start.”
Tuck sighed again and closed his eyes. “Whether we’ve done right or wrong sparing Gisburne all this time doesn’t matter because Robin asked us not to kill him and he’s still leader.”
“He might be dead now for all we know,” John said.
“But what if he isn’t? John, we have to find a way to get into the castle.”
“It’s impossible!” John cried, kicking the log angrily. “Maybe if Gisburne was worth something to Clun, we could exchange him for the others, but you heard what Gisburne said.”
“Then we’ll have to find another way. Maybe if we disguised ourselves as…” Tuck broke off as his eyes fell on some purple flowers just beyond the log.
“As…?” John asked. Then he realized that Tuck was no longer looking at him. “What is it?”
“When I was at Thornton Abbey, there was a novice who was helping Brother Alard replenish the stock in the infirmary. He picked foxglove instead of comfrey and might have killed someone if Brother Alard hadn’t noticed.”
John was also studying the purple flowers. “Foxglove is poisonous?”
“Oh, yes. It’s quite deadly.”
John chuckled. “Too bad we can’t give it to Gisburne.”
“But that’s what I intended to do,” Tuck said.
John’s head whipped around. “But you said – ”
“It won’t be enough to kill him. We’ll ground down the leaves and just give him a tiny amount. That should only make him ill.”
John frowned in confusion. “What good is that going to do?”
Tuck smiled. “Well, it won’t do Gisburne any good, but it might help us.”
Gisburne was eyeing the cup suspiciously. “What is it?”
“Just water,” Tuck said. “I thought you might be thirsty.”
“Why should you care?”
Tuck met Gisburne’s gaze steadily. “Because Robin told us to keep you alive.”
Gisburne scowled. “That wolfshead could be dead by now.”
“Possibly,” Tuck said, “but until we know for sure, we have to keep you alive.”
Gisburne’s eyes fell on the cup again. “You drink some first.”
“Very well.” Tuck took a long sip and then held the cup out to Gisburne.
Gisburne glared at Tuck. “Well, I can’t drink it with my hands tied, can I?”
“I’ll hold it for you.” Tuck knelt down in front of Gisburne and pressed the cup to his mouth. “There you go. Drink it all down.”
Tuck set the cup down on a rock by the fire when Gisburne had finished drinking. “Let me know when you’d like more and I’ll bring it to you.” Tuck was about to sit down, but John grabbed him roughly by the arm and hauled him away from the fire.
“Are you mad?” John whispered. “You drank it!”
Tuck pried John’s fingers off his arm. “Before I added the foxglove. I thought Gisburne might not trust us and ask me to taste the water first. I managed to slip in the foxglove as I was bringing the cup to his lips.”
John’s own lips twitched in suppressed laughter. “Are you sure you’re really a monk? You seem much too devious to be a man of the cloth.”
“Really? Some of the most devious people I’ve known have been men of the cloth. Look at Abbot Hugo.”
“Aye, I suppose you’re right.” John glanced at Gisburne. “So how long do you reckon it’s going to take?”
Tuck shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never poisoned anyone before.”
“Well, he’d better hurry up and get sick because we’re running out of time.”
Tuck first suspected that the poison was taking effect when Gisburne closed his eyes and leaned his head against the tree. Under other circumstances, Tuck might have assumed that Gisburne was trying to sleep, but Tuck was watching Gisburne closely and could see that his eyes were squeezed shut and his mouth was contorted into a grimace. Then Gisburne opened his eyes and blinked a few times, as if attempting to clear his vision.
Tuck nudged John, who had begun nodding off. “I think it’s starting.” He placed his hand on John’s shoulder and hoisted himself off the ground. When he arrived at the tree, Gisburne stared up at him in confusion, as if he couldn’t understand why not only Tuck was there but why he’d been tied to a tree in the first place.
“What did you do?” Gisburne asked.
“There’s something…You did something to me…”
Tuck crouched down in front of Gisburne. “What’s the matter? Are you ill?”
“I…I don’t know. Everything’s…blurry. My head…” Gisburne winced as if in pain and shut his eyes again.
“I think it’s time,” Tuck said. “John, get over here. We need to cut him free.”
“How do we know he’s not pretending?” John asked when he reached the tree.
“Because I don’t think he’s that good an actor. Besides, look at him. He’s pale and that’s sweat on his brow.”
“All right, all right,” John grumbled. He pulled out his knife and started working on the ropes. Gisburne’s head was lolling against the tree trunk, and Tuck wasn’t sure if he even noticed John.
“I think we’ll need to help him to his feet,” Tuck said once the ropes had been cut away. He grabbed Gisburne by the arm and managed to pull him up. It was only John’s quick reflexes that kept them both standing when Gisburne nearly toppled. Tuck bit his lip as he looked at Gisburne. “We’ll definitely have to help him. I don’t think he’ll manage on his own.”
John sighed, shifting his hold on the knight. “I wish Robin hadn’t taken Gisburne’s horse. We really could have used it.”
Gisburne might have actually made it all the way to Clun Castle on his own two feet, but he grew so sluggish that John was forced to carry him over his shoulders.
“It won’t be much longer now,” Tuck said.
John glared at him. “This had better be worth it. If he dies before we get there, I’ll kill you.”
Tuck smiled, though there was a nervous look in his eyes. “He won’t die. He’s young and strong and…and I only gave him a tiny bit of foxglove.”
“Try telling that to Gisburne,” John growled. “He feels like he’s dying to me.”
Tuck stared up at John, his forehead furrowed. “How do you reckon that?”
“Because he’s a dead weight,” John said.
Tuck wisely remained silent for the rest of the journey, only speaking again when they reached the main castle gate and encountered three guards. “Greetings. I’m Brother Thomas. I found this poor sick man not far from the castle and I hoped you might take pity on him. He seems to have been robbed as he’s been stripped of most of his clothing and doesn’t have any possessions.”
Two of the guards seemed genuinely surprised and perplexed, but the third guard studied Tuck suspiciously.
“You’re not from here,” the guard said.
“No, I’m not. I’m a friar, you see. I’m never in one place for long. I was on my way to St. Leonard’s when I came across our unfortunate friend.”
The guard’s eyes narrowed and he jerked his chin at John. “And who’s this? He doesn’t look like any monk I’ve ever seen.”
“He’s a kindly shepherd who came to my aid when I found this knight.”
“Hold on,” one of the other guards said. “How do you know he’s a knight?”
Tuck frowned. “Well, before he passed out, he told me his name was Sir Guy of Gisburne.”
“But that can’t be right! He’s here already!”
The third guard tapped his comrade on the shoulder and shook his head. “That wasn’t him, remember? It was…” He shot a quick glance at Tuck and John. “Well, it doesn’t matter who he was. We just know it wasn’t Gisburne.”
“Well, how do we know that this is Gisburne? He could be an imposter too for all we know.”
The third guard jerked his chin at John again. “Set him down on the ground.”
With the assistance of the guards, John lowered Gisburne from his shoulders and placed him at their feet. Gisburne then rolled over and threw up before curling up on his side, looking miserable.
“Well, you were right about him being sick,” the third guard said, “and he does seem to fit the description we were given. Dal, go fetch the steward and find out what we should do.”
While they waited for Dal, Tuck knelt down beside Gisburne in a mock show of solicitude, tutting and fretting and patting Gisburne’s back ineffectually. For an instant, John crouched down as if he were also concerned for their charge, silently slipping his knife to Tuck, who quickly hid it in his sleeve, knowing he might attract the guards’ attention if he tried to pass it back. He would have preferred it if John had kept the knife, but he knew John had been unhappy at the prospect of him entering Clun Castle unarmed, even though it aided his disguise as a friar.
When Dal returned, he was accompanied by the steward, a man with a long, saturnine face and thinning red hair.
“My Lord of Clun wishes to extend shelter and hospitality to the sick man and asks that we bring him into the castle,” the steward said. Then he turned to Tuck. “My Lord of Clun is most eager to speak with you and express his gratitude for the kindness you have shown Sir Guy.”
Managing to ignore the nervous flutter in his stomach, not to mention a faint twinge of guilt, Tuck nodded. “I would be most honoured to meet him.”
“Very good. I will take you to him at once.”
As Tuck walked beside the steward, he tossed an anxious look back at John, who had helped Dal lift Gisburne off the ground and was following them through the gate. Tuck fervently hoped that John would be able to sneak away from Dal and make it down to the dungeons to rescue the others – if they were still alive.
Tuck had been standing in the solar for several minutes when Cadoc of Clun arrived. Tuck wasn’t sure if he should be worried or relieved when Clun smiled at him warmly and invited him to sit down.
“I apologize for keeping you waiting, Brother Thomas,” Clun said, “but I felt it was only right to attend to Sir Guy first. Soldiers make such clumsy nurses, and I needed to see for myself that he was receiving proper care.”
Tuck inclined his head in agreement. “Of course, my lord. I am glad your servants are attending to Sir Guy. He seems most grievously ill. I pray to God that he will be spared from this terrible affliction and make a swift recovery.”
Clun poured some wine into Tuck’s goblet. “This illness is most mysterious, Brother. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. God willing, the physician will cure him.”
“Amen,” Tuck said.
Clun smiled and sipped some of his wine. “It is very fortunate that you came across Sir Guy when you did.”
“It is, indeed, my lord. If I had travelled down that stretch of road any earlier, I might have missed him. He had only just managed to crawl out from some bushes before collapsing in the dirt. I could see that he had been robbed and beaten.” Tuck sighed. “The world can be such a wicked place.”
“Yes, it certainly can be,” Clun said. “In this very castle, there is a ruthless band of cutthroats who I suspect were the perpetrators of this crime.”
Tuck glanced wildly around the room, his eyes wide with fright.
Clun laughed. “Fear not, Brother. These men are safely locked away in the dungeons.”
Thank Heaven for that, Tuck thought, happy that his friends were still alive. “I’m glad to hear it, my lord. Who are these men you speak of? They sound like a dangerous lot.”
Clun poured himself some more wine. “It is Robin Hood and his men.”
“Robin Hood!” Tuck cried. “But I thought he only plagued the wretched souls in Nottingham. What could have possibly brought him this close to Wales?”
“Money, Brother. Money from my coffers.”
Tuck shook his head. “I’d heard this Robin Hood was bold, but I never imagined that he would dare…Oh, it is a wicked world!” Tuck crossed himself and gazed earnestly at Clun from across the table. “My lord, I am so pleased you were not hurt and truly thankful that you have rid us of such dangerous outlaws. I shall feel much safer now.”
“I hate to contradict you, Brother,” Clun said, “but I’m afraid that I haven’t been entirely successful. There is at least one member of Robin Hood’s band who has managed to elude me. Until a short time ago, it was two men, but the giant known as Little John has now been captured, which just leaves a corpulent monk who apparently enjoys the taste of good wine.” Clun chuckled quietly to himself. “Should I call for my men or will you allow me to escort you to the dungeons myself?”
Tuck smiled sheepishly then sprang to his feet, reaching out with his left hand to pull Clun forward on the table. With his right hand, he pressed John’s knife against the side of Clun’s neck. “I hate to impose even further on your hospitality, my lord, but I’m afraid I’m going to need your help.”
Cadoc of Clun proved even more useful than Tuck had imagined. By holding Clun hostage, Tuck was not only able to free his friends but collect the money Clun had intended to give to the king. Unlike his uncle, Cadoc of Clun made it past the portcullis in one piece, even though he screamed and ranted at his men to kill the outlaws. In the end, Nasir was forced to knock him out. The outlaws left Clun lying by the river, returning to their camp for a brief rest before starting their journey back to Sherwood. They hoped to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the castle in case Clun decided to retaliate.
“I don’t know how you did it, but thank you,” Robin said as they gathered around the fire Much was building.
“How did you do it?” Much asked, looking up from his task.
Will snorted. “Well, they snuck in, obviously.”
John smiled, glancing at Tuck. “We didn’t have to sneak in. We had Gisburne.”
Robin shot a startled look at the tree, noticing for the first time that their prisoner was missing. “You used him as a hostage?”
Tuck bit his lip, not quite meeting Robin’s eyes. “Umm…not exactly.”
“Tuck poisoned him,” John said.
Will’s face lit up. “You poisoned Gisburne? E’s actually dead?” He jumped to his feet and flew at Tuck, throwing his arms around him.
Robin was staring at Tuck in shock. “You killed him, even though I told you not to, even though you knew – ”
“I didn’t kill him!” Tuck cried, managing to squirm out of Will’s embrace. “I only gave him enough foxglove to make him ill. I thought the guards might allow a friar and shepherd to enter the castle if they were escorting a sick knight who just happened to be Sir Guy of Gisburne, the man Cadoc of Clun had been expecting.”
“Hold on!” Will said. “You mean, Gisburne isn’t dead? Tuck!”
“Well, he wouldn’t have done us much good if he had died, would he?”
Will wasn’t ready to give up just yet. “Are you sure he didn’t die? Maybe the poison worked.”
John shook his head morosely. “He was getting better when I last saw him. He was able to say the bloody password and betray me to Clun. The bastard’s going to live.”
Robin was still gaping at Tuck. “Poisoned?”
Tuck threw up his hands. “Well, Gisburne wouldn’t help us willingly and he seemed the best way into the castle. In case you’ve forgotten, you thought the same thing when you decided to impersonate him.”
Robin grimaced for an instant, but then he smiled, clapping a hand on Tuck’s shoulder. “All right, Tuck. You win. Next time, you can come up with the plan.”
Crossposted at http://rusty-armour.dreamwidth.org/143349.html