Robin Hood the One Who Looked Good in Green Read online

  The door bangs closed and the man behind the bar squints out at us. He gives Friar Tuck a wave and finishes wiping out a glass with a rag. He has two fingers missing on his left hand. I try not to stare, but I doubt I’m doing a good job. I’ve never seen anyone whose body did not heal itself.

  “You’re coming next week, ain’t ya?” the barman asks with a lopsided grin. His teeth could use a good brushing, but who am I to say so? I haven’t brushed mine in two days.

  “Indeed I am,” the friar replies. “Haven’t missed a chance to judge the sheriff’s archery contest in ten years.”

  “Good to hear it,” the barman says with a satisfied nod. “You’re the only honest judge in the bunch.”

  “It’s the sheriff I have to keep honest,” Friar Tuck replies in a low voice. Then he orders himself a large glass of ale and adds, “And my newest student here will have your finest wine.” Then he thinks better of it. “Make that water. And be sure to clean out the glass this time.”

  But instead of water, the bartender hands me a chipped mug full of an orange liquid. “Pumpkin cider,” he says. “House specialty.” Steam rises from the top of the mug, and my hands feel warm holding it. I take a sip and instantly scald the roof of my mouth.

  “Delicious!” I declare, trying not to show how much pain I’m in as I take big, gulping breaths. The drink tastes sweeter than the little blue fruit balls, if that’s possible. I manage to scald myself only a little bit less on the second sip. Friar Tuck shakes his head. “Didn’t your mother teach you to wait for your drink to cool?”

  I shake my head. “Actually, no.” I don’t tell him it’s because I’ve never tasted anything hot before.

  “Marrying off this young lady to an old coot, too?” a man hunched over the end of the bar suddenly asks. In the gloom, I hadn’t noticed him there. He steps forward, and I can see he is about twenty years old, dressed in colorful clothes and scarves and holding an instrument of some sort. He strums the strings and music fills the small room.

  He bows his head in my direction. “Alan-a-Dale, wandering minstrel, at your service. You may call me Alan.” Then he turns to Friar Tuck, purses his lips, and gives him a hard stare.

  Friar Tuck holds up his hand. “It is my duty to perform Lady Elly’s wedding, Alan. I am sorry her marrying causes you pain.” He pats the man gently on the shoulder.

  Alan strums a melancholy tune and sighs. “ ’Tis wrong of me to blame you for doing your job. But we are in love. She does not love Sir Stephen — I’m certain of it.”

  Friar Tuck shakes his head. “I’m afraid love has very little to do with marriage.”

  Alan scoffs and turns back to me. “You don’t believe that, do you, young lady? A girl’s heart should be won with poetry and song and not given away to the highest bidder, no?”

  His question takes me aback. I’m entirely unused to people asking me my thoughts on any subject, let alone a grown-up question like this. I decide to be honest. “Well, back home we do not marry for love, either.” I don’t add that I’m not even certain what romantic love is supposed to feel like.

  He frowns. “That saddens me greatly. From where do you hail?”

  I feel my cheeks grow hot as Friar Tuck also pauses in his drink for my answer. “It’s far from here, and, um, very different. A city, actually.”

  I’m spared further questions by the door banging open. A hulking man dressed all in black steps inside — and all talking in the pub instantly halts. Instead of a hat or hood, the head of a skinned animal sits on the man’s head. For a split second I worry it’s Deedee, but this animal is darker and furrier. Was darker and furrier.

  My stomach churns just the same.

  Friar Tuck reaches out one arm and pushes me behind him. Alan steps forward, and together they hide me from view. The man grunts as he stomps past us, and my nose wrinkles at the dank smell that rises off him.

  “Pint of ale!” he barks at the barman. “Now!”

  “Sir Guy Gisborne,” Alan whispers as they shuffle me out the door, still hidden. “The sheriff’s number one henchman.”

  “What’s a henchman?” I ask.

  “A bad man doing the bidding of a worse one,” Friar Tuck answers. Once we’re back in the busy marketplace and have left the pub behind, his face relaxes again. “Where are you staying these days?” Friar Tuck asks Alan. “I know your family worries.”

  “I am keeping safe,” he insists. “I have good people around me, and we take care of each other. Although I confess I am not the best company these days.” He holds up his instrument. “Still, a man with a harp is always welcome at the table.”

  “Then we will be on our way,” the friar says. “Safe travels on your path.”

  “To you as well,” Alan says with a nod. To me he adds, “Do not give up on romance, young miss. I know I won’t.” Then he rests his harp on his chest and strums the strings as he walks off toward the forest.

  Friar Tuck sighs and shakes his head. “Musicians.” Then he points in the opposite direction of the forest, where I can see the roofs of low buildings tucked into the hillside. “We go that way,” he says. “To the School of the Perpetual Now.”

  “The School of the what now?” I ask.

  “The Perpetual Now,” he repeats. “We aim to live in the moment. Our modern lives are so busy, as I’m sure you know. We must learn to be where we are, at every moment. We do not worry about the future or dwell in the past. When our students finish their studies and go out in the world, they spread the message by example.”

  I have to strain hard not to let my jaw fall open. He thinks his world is modern and busy? He has no idea. All I can do is nod politely. “I appreciate all that you’re doing for me,” I tell him as we leave the town square behind, “but I don’t have anything to pay you.”

  “Don’t fret about that for now,” he says. “We’ll work something out with your family once you’re settled. I’m sure they will want to know you’re safe and not wandering through the forest.”

  I open my mouth to tell him that he will find no family here when my eye catches the suitcase he’s been carrying for me since we left the forest. The suitcase with only one item of value in it now. Even though Grandmother can no longer speak, I think she’d be proud of me for what I’m doing. At least, I hope so. Pushing past the lump in my throat, I say, “Actually, I do have something I can pay you with. It’s in the suitcase.”

  We stop on a dusty footpath that climbs into the hills for a rest. Friar Tuck lays the dented suitcase down on a flat rock. I give him a nod, and he swings it open. Grandmother’s headpiece glitters in the sunlight. Friar Tuck lifts it out and turns it around in his hands. He tucks it into his robes. “This will be more than sufficient.”

  I feel a flash of panic that I just gave away my only bargaining tool in this new world. But Father always said never to be indebted to anyone for anything if you can help it. Now I am officially a student, albeit one without any way to pay for anything.

  As the friar clicks the suitcase closed, I spot a tiny white marble and recognize it as the pearl on the necklace Robin stuffed in there. The rest had rolled underneath my old clothes. I have not given away my last item of worth after all. The knot in my throat loosens, and I mouth a silent thank you to Robin, wherever he is.

  As we resume our walk up the winding path, Friar Tuck begins telling me the history of the school. Then he pauses at the sound of footfalls above us. My first thought is that somehow the men from the forest have found us — but no, of course they wouldn’t be here. Bounding down the hillside toward us is a pretty girl in brown pants and a red tunic. Her dark braid swings behind her.

  “Was that Alan-a-Dale you were just talking to?” she asks Friar Tuck breathlessly when she reaches us. “He’s soooo handsome.” Her eyes get all soft and, well, gooey. “And he plays so beautifully.” She turns to me, waiting for me to agree, I suppose. “Um, he’s okay, I guess?” is the best I can offer.

  A flash of surprise crosses her face as