As the outlaws of Sherwood, aided by those who have been there for Robin all throughout his life approached Prince John's Castle it became obvious that the snow would not allow them to continue by horseback. Dismounting, Robin slowly turned surveying the distance, the outline of the castle just becoming visible on the horizon. Its towers barely visible through the blanket of snow, it still looked luminous even though veiled in white, the thick fog rising from the moat almost giving it a magical appearance.
Turning to Olwyn with a twist of his lip and one eyebrow raised Robin casually stated "I realize you said the snow would help, but this might be a bit on the overkill side"
"Mortiana has a hand in this Robin, I disbursed the spell an hour ago" Olwyn replied dryly.
"Hmmmm." Robin sighed, "I guess it's on foot from here people"
"You forget who you are with my young student" and with a wave of Olwyn's hand and a shower of sparkling gold, the six suddenly found themselves before the drawbridge of the mighty fortress, current resident of the Prince of England. The tall pines and undergrowth obscured their presence from the guards who patrolled the castle walls at even intervals.
With a large smile, Robin grabbed his mentors shoulder tightly "Never shall I doubt you again" and stepping forward began to peer out around the obscuring trees to survey the massive iron gate for a way of admittance.
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"He draws near" Mortiana leaned heavily on her crystal ball, deeply veined hands rubbing over its emerald glowing surface.
Prince John laughed with glee "Our plan has succeeded. Daniel is about to enter the lions den, and not a moment too soon! Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and if I can successfully eliminate the peoples champion at the stroke of midnight, I will remind those pathetic peasants of my power over them every Christmas for the rest of their useless lives!" His laughter echoed off of every stone wall in that castle turret as he skipped out the door, his servants closing the huge heavy structure after their ruler.
"Remind me again why he is the choice to sit on the throne over his brother, Richard?" Sir Guy asked cynically.
"Let's not start shall we?" Mortiana closed her eyes in disgust.
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After several moments of contemplation, Robin turned to the others eyebrows knit and lips pursed firmly together. Folding his arms further emphasized the fact that he had a plan and that his mind was made up.
Robin brushed a long lock of sable hair out of his eyes, licked his dry lips then turned to Olwyn "Do you think you could manage to get me inside those gates?"
"I do" the sorcerers deep voice bellowed.
"Do you think you could get me into Gweneth's room?"
The stately white-haired man gave a little choke covering his mouth. "Ah, that may be pushing it a bit lad"
"Ok, then inside the gate it is. I'll take it from there" Robin placed his hands on his hips awaiting the sorcerer to do his bidding.
"And the rest of us?" Marion queried leaning towards the young man.
"Marion, we are talking about entering Prince John's Castle. I certainly can't expect the rest of you to endanger yourselves. I will go in, having the element of surprise on my side I will grab Gweneth and slip back out undetected."
"THAT is your plan?" blurted out the good Friar, "And you expect us to allow you to go in under those pretences? Perhaps we need to rethink this a bit".
"Definitely!" exclaimed Little John; "I will accompany Robin giving him necessary back up"
"I will guard the gate," McGregor said positioning himself next to Robin.
"I could create a distraction. I've been told I can do that with guards"
Marion said with a wicked grin.
Robin began to laugh "Is anyone waiting outside?"
Olwyn looked up at the band and sarcastically waved his hand. "Great" sighed Robin, "And I suppose there's no trying to talk the rest of you out of it" he looked at the set expressions of those before him, "No, I didn't think so.."
With that Olwyn raised both of his arms, mumbled something in Latin, and the band before him vanished in a cloud of sparkles.
"Mortiana, you have crossed me for the last time" the old sorcerer hissed, then disappeared himself.
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A fire roared in the Great Hall of the Prince's castle. A minstrel plucked a merry tune in the corner of the hall and lords and ladies danced gaily around the rush-strewn floor. The smell of venison and herbs filled the room while candlelight played on the soft rich burgundy and blue tapestries that hung proudly on the cold stone walls.
Prince John slouched in his tall wooden throne, gold crown set cockeyed on his long blonde hair. He clenched a jewel-encrusted goblet that he constantly waived the wine steward to keep refilling. His air was that of boredom but in actuality he sat anxiously waiting. His witch had said his archenemy approached and for once he was ready. He had the bait, and he had his men ready to spring the trap. Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest had escaped him so many times before but this was going to be a Christmas to celebrate for generations to come. He would prove to his brother that he was truly King and that he would squash Richards's supporters once and for all! Yes! This was reason to celebrate and celebrate he would!
"Barclay!" he bellowed in his domineering voice, "Barclay!"
The plump older man shuffled from a dark corner of the room where he was happily chewing on a leg of venison, "Yes, Milord" he removed his silver helmet and bowed deeply, juices dripping from his chin.
"Fetch me my witch, I wish to hear what is taking this Robin Hood so long to bless us with his presence"
"As you wish, Milord" replacing the helmet over his snow white hair, the little man hustled through the large wooden doors mumbling under his breath as he headed for the long set of circular stairs.
After a long tiresome climb, Barclay stood before Mortiana's door and upon turning the large iron ring could clearly hear two voices through the crack.
Pausing until he could establish the origin of the other voice, it soon became apparent she was speaking with her old nemesis Olwyn. The baffling part was the voices were calm, as if it was a meeting of two old and very dear friends.
"Are you really so hell bent on assisting Prince John or is this just revenge upon me?" came a deep voice.
"Rather full of yourself Olwyn", cackled Mortiana, "He pays me well".
"Have we strayed so far from the teachings of our Master?"
"Olwyn, Merlin is long dead and gone and has left us to fend for ourselves"
Barclay could see the old woman place her hand gently on Olwyns "I have found this the most profitable and the most entertaining way. Why must we continue to celebrate this ritual Merlin insisted on".
"Mortiana, firstly you know Merlin will always be there to come to our aid if we but call. Secondly, John will cause nothing but the downfall of this mighty land. We need Richard back on the throne if only to survive ourselves, not to mention all of the innocent people John will destroy.
While I realize the latter is not on the top of your priority list, think of it this way. When Richard returns, and he will, you will be exiled from not only this castle, but also this island. Do him a good turn, even this once, and it could secure you a place in his castle. Thirdly, do you want to explain to Merlin why you have ignored his orders and not celebrated this most important rite?"
Mortiana put her withered hand to her lips "I do see your point. And you would put in a good word for your old partner?"
As Olwyn began to speak Mortiana jerked her head towards the large wooden door pointing her bony finger and in a flash, the door whipped open and Barclay flew in, propelled by magic.
"I just hate eavesdroppers" she moaned as the portly man stood trembling before her.
In as deep a voice as Olwyn could muster he bellowed "You will not mention what you heard to Prince John. Do we understand each other?"
"But, but" the older man coughed trying to clear his voice, "I have been sent here to get Mortiana for the Prince"
The old witch swung around, long white hair whipping in her face. "What does that fool want with me now?"
"He, ah, he wants to know why Robin hasn't arrived yet. He grows impatient"
"I will go and answer him Olwyn, then we will see what we can do to aid your protege" Her green eyes cut right through Barclay, "And you! I will change you into a toad if you breathe a word of this to John"
Olwyn glared at Mortiana as he mouthed "Toad?"
"No, I have a better plan" Olwyn smiled "Go and tell your master she is on her way" he instructed Barclay "Mortiana, I think this will do the trick" and he leaned his long white hair towards the old witches ear.
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The castle was enveloped in a blanket of darkness, the snow deep and cold under foot. Despite the conditions, Marion swayed her hips choosing her footing carefully and sensuously walked towards the inner Bailey smiling provocatively at the two guards positioned at the inner gate.
"Hello boys" she whispered seductively "Ohhh it's a bit nippy tonight" She ran her hands down her bare legs to warm them achieving the results she wished. The two guards followed her every move. "Think you boys could warm me up?"
As the two guards stepped forward in anxious anticipation, Marion kept their velocity going wrapping her arms around them both, their heads running together in a violent crash. Their two limp bodies fell to the ground.
"Well, maybe next time boys"
Robin ran up and exclaimed with a chuckle "You didn't even give us a chance to join in the fun"
The group passed through into the inner bailey and made a dash for the keep illuminated with torches interspersed every few feet. The light played on the stone structure almost making it look inviting, and if it weren't for their purpose for being there, it might be.
They crept along side the stone walls approaching the huge arch that towered over the heavy wood and iron door.
"Notice a obvious lack of soldiers?" Robin whispered to Little John.
"I was aware of that as soon as we entered" John said sliding along the wall.
"Well, if his lordship wishes a conference with us, I say why let him down?"
Robin said eyes sparkling, his huge white grin standing out in severe contrast to the blackness of the night. "Andrew, when we get inside, you and Marion head upstairs and find Gweneth's room. If you locate her, please take her immediately from this place and we will join you as soon as we can. John, you and Tuck stick with me. I think we must pay a visit to our fearless Prince and majesty"
"As you wish son but do be careful" Andrew said with a warm smile, as he was first to pass through the large wooden door. Once in, the stairs were immediately to his right and he and Marion silently maneuvered close to the wall.
Again Robin noticed not a soldier about as they quietly passed through the halls. Reaching around his back, the outlaw withdrew his sword, the remainder of his gang following suit. As they proceeded deeper and deeper into the castle they noticed the sound of a sitar being joyfully played and a din of laughter and conversation coming from just around the next corner.
"Gentlemen, I believe they have thrown us a party," Robin said casually replacing the sword to its scabbard.
"Oh good, I was feeling a bit peckish," the Friar said in anticipation.
The three men stood shoulder to shoulder as they rounded the bend in the hall and entered through the grand arched doorway into the great hall of the
As they entered the warm room they noticed it filled to excess with richly clad noblemen and their wives adorned in the finest of silks and jewels. They all were merrily imbibing their wine, dining on the finest venison and took no notice of the three who entered until Prince John stood from his throne on the dais and banged his heavy pewter plate on the trestle table loudly demanding attention
"My lords and ladies, our guest of honor has arrived" he exclaimed in glee obviously slightly intoxicated from the evenings festivities.
Robin, not wishing to be upstaged, leapt onto the heavy oaken table swinging around to face Prince John and bowing a deep exaggerated bow. "Your majesty. Your generosity is only surpassed by your charm. My men and I are overwhelmed, throwing a party in our honor. But I must admit I only came for one reason and one reason alone. To accept the kind donations of your guests jewels towards our ever continuing work for your brother, the true and noble King- King Richard"
Within the blink of an eye Robin drew his sword from its leather scabbard and did a back flip off of the table to face a heavily adorned woman. With a smile and a flick of his wrist he had her heavy diamond necklace from around her neck and into his hand.
"Milady" he bowed raising her hand to his lips he moved onto the next dinner guest. Following Robin's lead, Tuck and John managed to work the room in the opposite direction elevating the occupants of their jewelry, jeweled daggers and coin purses.
Prince John's smile quickly vanished from his lips, gasping for words he finally blurted out "Get him!!!!"
Leaping from the minstrels gallery above, charging through the entrance way and ducking from behind the tapestries came scores of soldiers and leading the way through the door was one of the men Robin felt he needed to even the score with the most, Sir Guy of Gisborn himself.
"Ahhh, Sir Guy. How did I know you would be involved in this whole mess anyway?" the young man leapt back to his advantageous position on the table.
"Robin" he returned with a twisted smile, "Perhaps now I get to purge the earth of your troublesome presence". Withdrawing his sword he lunged towards the table swiping the silver blade's flat edge knocking Robin from his feet. The young man fell with a bang; long sable hair flying until his head hit the floor with a sickening thud. Robin's still body lay motionless on the thick layer of rush while Guy leapt forward in an attempt to take advantage of his opponent's situation.
Guy raised his sword aiming the point of the blade over Robin's heart when John shouted "Kill him now and there is a good chance you will die as well".
Guy hesitated, listening, while Little John finished toying with the soldier he was fighting with, crashing him against the wall. "If we don't get Gweneth back to Avalon in time, everyone that she has healed will die. If your lordship will recall, that includes you, Guy, and Robin is the only one who knows where to take her"
Sir Guy lowered his sword slowly looking down at the young man below him. It was all coming back to him now. The battle in the field, the sword protruding from his chest. The blonde vision withdrawing it and making him whole again. John was right, if not getting Gweneth back in time meant his death then killing this outlaw would have to wait.
Prince John seeing Guy pass up this golden opportunity both confused and infuriated him. "Kill him" he screamed clenching both fists, "Kill him or I will!"
The formerly complacent Prince leapt to his feet and grabbed a sword out of the hands of one of his soldiers and ran forward ready to run through his nemesis. The room had gone quiet with this series of events, all watching to see what the Prince of all of England would do. As he charged across the room Little John took two steps towards Robins still form holding up his quarterstaff as Prince Johns sword crashed down. The tall blonde reached out his huge hand and grabbed his liege's throat firmly and lifted his slender form into the air . "I really don't think you want to do that do you"
Prince John gasped at the strength he felt around his throat and knew very well that he wasn't even squeezing yet. "No...perhaps not" he wheezed out.
Robins large brown eyes fluttered open, viewing above him Prince John dangling from Little Johns strong hands.
"Have I missed much?" Robin smiled rubbing the side of his head. Little John put the Prince back down on the floor and looked down at his close friend "Not really, been rather uneventful" he replied with a smile.
"Then perhaps we should leave" Robin said taking Little Johns extended hand helping him to his feet.
"You'll not leave that easily"; Prince John never really did know when to give up.
He backed into a corner motioning his jewel-encrusted hand for the remainder of his soldiers to attack and with this the swordplay resumed only this time, the outlaws couldn't help but notice Sir Guy was fighting on THEIR side.
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"Which room is hers?" Marion frantically called back to MacGregor as she opened unsuccessful door after door.
"It must be here somewhere, keep looking".
As they neared the end of the corridor Marion swung open a rather simple, plain door, one signifying servant's quarters. There, quietly seated on a pallet was Gwenneth. Her eyes were closed and her fingers intertwined in her lap. She slowly opened her eyes and smiled as Andrew rounded the corner.
"Are you alright?" Marion asked breathlessly.
"Yes" she replied simply.
"Why are you smiling?" Marion couldn't help but notice her calm serenity.
"I knew you would come for me" she said matter of factly, "but we must hurry. The hour draws neigh".
"Hour?" Andrew queried.
"Midnight" she bluntly replied hoping from the bed and straightening her long white gauze dress. "We must hurry" and she led the way from the roomdown the corridor.
Marion smiled at Andrew, shrugged her shoulders and followed.
As the three crept down the long circular flight of stone stairs they could hear the crashing of swords and the heated voices permeating the entryway.
"Andrew, we must go help Robin" Marion cried drawing her sword and heading towards the origin of the sounds.
"No my dear. Robin said to find this young lady and to get her away from here. We must follow what he said being confident he knows what he is doing" the old instructor gently placed his large hand on Marion's shoulder holding her back.
Marion looked back with large sad eyes and turned leading Gwenneth through the front gate with trepidation, to await their comrades in the silence of the darkness illuminated with only the brightness of the cold snow.
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Despite the four of them eliminating one after another soldier it seemed they could not seem to get the numbers down to the point where they could get out of the Great Hall doors. Just when exhaustion seemed to be the paramount problem, there were bright flashes of lights in the center of the room followed by a huge crashes of thunder. Leaping from his heavy oaken seat, the Prince was surprised to see appear in the center of the table before him Mortiana and Olwyn standing back to back.
They waived their hands above their heads causing a shower of golden sparks to shoot from their fingertips in a waterfall around them. As the flow of sparks intensified, the men went to crash and lunge with their swords and found their hands were empty. Void of any type of weapon they stared in silence at their empty hands then at the light show before them.
"This fighting will end right now. No blood will be spilt today" Mortiana commanded with such ferocity that even Prince John was speechless.
"Robin, take your men and leave this place" Olwyn commanded with a slight twist to his lips.
In silence, Robin, Little John, Tuck, and even Sir Guy slowly backed out of the room never once taking their eyes off of their opponents.
Finally, regaining his composure, Prince John stepped forward shouting to the pair on the table "What goes here?"
"Silence" shouted Olwyn to the man before him, "Any other day John but not today" his voice had managed some softening.
"Not today you wicked little man" Mortiana did not quite have the composure of her dear old friend.
"In fifteen minutes we will be celebrating the birth of the most powerful man whoever lived. We will not have anyone slaughtered on this most auspicious occasion" Mortiana explained patiently, "Merlin would never permit it".
"Merlin?" Prince John began to stutter and stammer "But Mortiana, I had
And with this, Olwyn and Mortiana vanished as quickly as they appeared.
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The four men ran quickly from the castle gates joining Marion, Andrew and Gweneth. Robin could see Marion's form outlined against the white snow by moonlight, the stars twinkling in the background and he sighed. Just as they got off the drawbridge the group couldn't help but notice one star brighter then all the others, its tail seeming to touch the earth.
"Look at that star" Robin gasped in amazement.
"It's only natural" Robin spun around to face the speaker. Olwyn looked up from the snow to look deep into Robin's eyes.
"Robin, its midnight. Its Christmas day, the greatest day of the year for the most special of events. The birth of the greatest man who ever lived. Someday Prince John may see this and then there will be hope for him. His brother did, and that is why he is on the Crusades. I know you fight oppression in His honor which is why you will always succeed." Olwyn stopped to wipe a tear that escaped onto his cheek "Never stop working in His name Robin, and in conjunction with this, as was the case in Bethlehem so many years ago a star has been provided to guide you to where you must bring Gweneth. He knows your cause is pure Robin"
With tear filled eyes Robin looked up at his mentor "As the driven snow,
With this he ran to his horse and mounted assisting Gweneth on behind him and joined by the rest.
Guy approached him standing next to his horse looking down as if studying the snow itself. "May I join you Robin this evening, just to ensure Gweneth gets back safely?"
"Even if it is for a greedy purpose, I see no harm" Robin replied casually.
Then reached down and touched Guy on the shoulder and smiled motioning behind him.
"Normally you would be right, but not this time Robin. Not this time" The taller dark haired man walked back and looked up at Marion, paused, then went on to Little John who reached down his arm and assisted the man dressed in black up behind him on the horse.
Robin paused a moment looking down at Olwyn "Thank you again dear friend for your help, and a Merry Christmas to you"
"And to you Robin. Take care to get to the star, I will hold time at midnight until you do"
Robin smiled at the old man. He couldn't think of how many times Olwyn had protected him and watched over him. "Thank you" was all he could say and with that he dug his heels into his grey and off they went through the snow.
They rode through the trees into a clearing where the brightness of the star touched the white snow below and where, awaiting once again, stood Gweneth's mother patiently awaiting the return of her daughter.
After mother and daughter had embraced, she looked up at Robin and warmly smiled.
"Thank you again, Robin Hood, for the safe return of my daughter"
"I cannot take all of the credit, I had a lot of help, but thank you again for allowing your daughter to assist us"
She nodded "May God watch over you and yours this blessed Christmas Day".
With that, the beam of light receded and the bright star faded from view. The group turned to face each other all stunned by what had transpired over the last fifteen minutes.
Sir Guy walked over to Robin and extended his hand "A truce between us this Christmas Day" he said very solemnly.
"A truce" Robin smiled in return.
"Merry Christmas Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest" he said turning and walking into the trees.
"And a Merry Christmas to you Sir Guy of Gisborn" Robin remounted his horse and rode around to face the group "What say we go back home and celebrate like we have never celebrated before, we have after all, our first Christmas gifts to distribute to the Villages" he patted his vest stuffed full of the jewels they had taken back at the castle. With a hearty laugh the group set off in a gallop and rode into the snow covered trees doing again what God and King needed them to do and what Robin Hood could always be relied upon to do.
The End for now.....
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