|photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing|
The sun was high above Alexis when she entered Nottingham, the town's big ominous black gates slamming shut behind her with a startling clank. Her steps were wayward and unsure now and her head swam from exhaustion and hunger. Her shoulder ached as much as her legs and her mouth was drier than the desserts of the Holy Land where Richard was waging his useless war. "Stupid man for recruiting my father, and worse, for hiring the Sheriff and then running away, leaving us to fester here." She whispered through clenched teeth, her voice sounding gravelly and far away. She laughed, realizing if anyone important had heard her, she would be arrested for treason. "Yeah, like that's the worst thing I've done. "
Her heart sank in her chest a little at these words. She had left without saying goodbye, without thanking them. A sigh crept in her throat, but she stopped firmly in her tracks and reminded herself that she had to do it, she had to leave for her own protection, not to mention that of the men. She was far too dangerous for anyone to associate with.
After awhile, she found herself in the midst of a large crowd. Swarms of hot, smelly men, women, and animals jostled her about in the thick mud and dust beneath the heat of the sun. Something unhealthy stirred the atmosphere. Children cried unheeded and dogs barked and wined, but this was barely audible above the gathering roar. It was quiet at first, bearing the disguise of a few mingled whispers, and increasing every minute, building up into a tidal wave of screaming, shouting cries. It was deafening and terrifying. All pushed and yelled, craning necks to stare at one solitary spectacle: the gallows.
Slouching dejectedly beneath them was the form of a young man, his head covered in a thread-bare sack, his knees wobbling and his tied hands caked in blood and dust. He could barely stand on his feet and his ribs poked violently through his rough tunic. Alexis swallowed. It was like looking in a mirror.
The crowd grew more and more deafening; somewhere a trumpet bellowed. She tried to shove her way back towards the food stalls, but the mass of bodies had swarmed about her in such a way that she could hardly breathe, nonetheless move. In frustration, she turned her ruddy head back to the morbid scene.
A drum roll started, its sharp staccato taps weaving their way through the crowd, and a stifling hush fell across the town. It seemed as if the entire world were holding its breath, waiting with animal-like hunger for the prisoner's hour of judgement.
Next to the wooden death trap stood the man who was responsible for it all: The Sheriff. Glowering pompously above the throng, his thin, razor sharp lips twisted into a crooked, disgusting smirk. He was not a tall man, but what he lacked in height he made up for in ruthless ferocity and manipulative manners. His black eyes darted quickly back and forth, always searching, always starving.
The vile man cleared his throat and began some long, hypocritical speech about his duty and love for the people. By this time, Alexis was too concerned with her moaning stomach and throbbing shoulder to take any heed of his words. Besides, if she listened to him too long, she might do something desperate.
But she was pulled from her pain filled musings when she heard the name of the prisoner. As the syllables left the Sheriff's nasty tongue, she held her breath, her face paled and she stood as though frozen, scarcely daring to believe what she had just heard. But when the hood was lifted, revealing the prisoner's face, she knew she had heard perfectly. "No." She breathed, sweat gathering on her palms and fear drowning her soul. "No!"
She struggled to regain control of her emotions, to think clearly, to do something, anything, but she was petrified. Before her on the blood-soaked wooden platform he stood, awaiting death. She swallowed and forced herself to listen to his sentence. The Sheriff's nasally tones read from the scroll in his hands, claiming that his penalty was death, as a punishment for treason, failure to pay taxes and resisting arrest.
Alexis sighed. He always was one for tempting fate, and now it had caught up with him. But she couldn't let him die. She stared into his face as recognition stirred within her and memories flooded her heart. He was still handsome, but drawn, thin and haggard from days of undernourishment in the dungeon.
By now, the executioner had been summoned. There was no time to lose. Thinking quickly, Alexis pushed her way through the throng, finally reaching the platform. Avoiding the notice of two very bored-looking soldiers, she clambered up the side, a knife clenched in her teeth. She had all but made it to the top when things went completely mad. An arrow whizzed through the air and severed the prisoner's bonds clean in two. The place was in an uproar of terrified screams. She dropped the knife in astonishment and she plummeted back to earth, frantically searching for the prisoner and her dagger all while narrowly avoiding being trampled to death.
Swords were drawn, the Sheriff screamed for his guards, a man grabbed the prisoner and disappeared among the crowd with him, and before she could call out to them, a large, gloved hand gripped her throat and she felt a man's heavy breathing on her face. "I've got you now." The deep, threatening voice whispered in her ear. Guy of Gisborne stood behind her, a broad smile on his face and the dagger in his hand, held to her back.