Lockhart and Kate stopped a short way down the trail. Katie made them bring their horses into the woods to hide them from the trail before they tied them off, and she whispered her complaint. “These men are on foot. We could have gotten the wagon out of range soon enough.”
“They have to have horses nearby. Better they don’t follow.” Lockhart whispered his response.
Katie was not going to argue. She took the lead, and Lockhart followed. She had the elect senses to pick up enemies and danger. He had a policeman’s intuition, but hers were more like a superpower.
She stopped and signaled him to take a spot beside a tree. One moment later, they heard voices headed toward them.
“That did not work well,” one man said. “They ran out of range. They did not stop to defend themselves.”
“You fired and gave us away too soon,” another man said.
“Well, the others should get them,” the first man said.
“But now they know what’s what,”
Lockhart stepped from behind the tree. “Hold it right there.” Three men stopped where they were and stared at the giant of a man. One turned, but Lockhart fired his shotgun into another tree, and between the thunder and shattered tree, he screamed and ran. The other two also scattered to get lost in the woods.
“I didn’t even get to say the Decker line. “Don’t make me kill you.”
Katie put all her sarcasm into her grin. “Your idea did not work too well either.”
“We better get back to the horses before they disappear. It shouldn’t be hard to catch up.”
“U-huh,” Katie agreed and wanted to take his hand but did not dare let go of her rifle.
They got to the trail in time to see about ten soldiers stopped there. Clearly, they did not hide their horses nearly well enough. Lockhart whistled, and Bay and Seahorse tried to break free of their captors, but Katie knew what she had to do. “God forgive me, Friar Tuck,” she said, and began to shoot the soldiers. She shot the ones holding on to the reigns of their horses, and after a few seconds, three arrows came from the trees. One hit a horse, one a soldier, and one missed.
Lockhart pulled his handgun and he and Katie shot two more men while Bay and Seahorse trotted into the woods. The soldiers did not stick around. They rode off toward Rainworth Water and left one dead man and a wounded horse behind.
Katie and Lockhart met the three archers on the road. They stared at each other for a minute before Katie smiled and one of the men stepped forward.
“We are travelers,” Lockhart said. “Pilgrims, you might say.”
“Not ordinary travelers, I would say, with weapons like thunder,” the man said.
“I’m Lockhart and my wife is Katie.”
“Alan,” the man said and stepped to face them. “Alan Odale. My companions are Gerald the hunter and Giles our tinker. Mostly, he goes by the name, Tinker.” He looked up in the face of the big man, but Lockhart smiled and shook his hand.
“We better get off the road,” Katie said. “How far to Maunsfeld? We are looking for Helen de Lovetot. Do you know her?”
“Her Dibs. I should have guessed,” Alan said, and the other two snickered. “She is safe enough. This way.” he led the way back to the road.
Boston and Sukki screeched to a halt in front of thirty or forty armed men who were mostly on foot. Suki did not know what to do. She prepared to panic, but Boston recognized these were not soldiers, so she guessed they were the thieves. It might make matters worse, but she had to do something, so she shouted.
“There are soldiers on the road, and they are going to hurt my friends. Hurry. We have to save them.”
The six on horseback rode up to meet the girls, and the big one, big as Lockhart and Decker, shouted back to the men on foot. “On the double.” The one dressed in a flaming red shirt with equally flaming red hair smiled for Boston’s red hair and indicate, after you.
Tony drove the wagon off the road. Elder Stow had some discs ready. He kept two, gave two each to Lincoln and Alexis, and Two to Tony while he moved to the rear of the wagon. They all went invisible, including Ghost and the horses, but they did not get the wagon before the soldiers arrived. Alexis whipped up a good wind, blowing dust in the soldier’s faces, while Tony and Elder Stow attached the discs to the wagon and the wagon vanished.
The soldiers stopped. “I thought I saw something in the woods there,” a soldier said.
“I saw something,” Sir Guy confirmed, but before they could check it out, the two women that rode out front came back with a bunch of thieves. He did not like the idea of being outflanked. He turned his horse and shouted to his men. “Regroup.” He started off, but some of the men were slow.
A sharp beam of light, easily visible in the afternoon sun, came from the woods and struck the road. Something exploded. Likely the road. At the same time, Sukki raised her hands and produced her own beam of light, almost like she was responding to Elder Stow. A huge old oak exploded on the side of the road and fell to block the way. She shouted, “Sorry.” She realized the tree might have crushed some men and horses, and maybe even her invisible companions, but the soldiers did not stick around to see.
The thieves stopped short, and after a moment of shock, the red head spoke to Boston. “Name’s Will. I love your hair.”
“Boston,” she said and smiled. “I’m married and I’m an elf.”
Will pretended like he was just being friendly, but he knew that would not fly. “We would have made flaming children.” He turned to the big man who still looked to be in shock about the display of power in front of his face. “Hey, Little John. We got another one who belongs to her Dibs.”
“I should have guessed,” Little John said, as the travelers came back to the road and became visible again. The rest of the men trotted up behind, but Boston turned to the men beside her.
“Will Scarlet?” she asked.
“Some call me that.” The man nodded.
“And Little John?” she pointed, and the man nodded again. She said, “Yes!”
After a short way, Decker stopped, so Nanette, and Father Tucker stopped with him. “Keep moving,” he said in echo of Lockhart’s words. “I can see the river from here. I’ll catch up.”
“Decker.” Nanette wanted to complain. They could ride away and maybe escape, but he insisted.
“I’ll be careful and be right behind you.” He heard the horses and got his rifle ready.
“Come on,” Nanette said to the priest, though she did not sound happy.
They stopped and got down beside the river. It looked swollen and showed some whitewater. They wanted to be sure it was safe to cross. They got surprised by a handful of men with their weapons ready. The leader stepped right up to them, a long knife in his hand.
“Well, well. Here I was coming to fetch you, and you came to me. And I crossed this river once to do it. I hardly feel it is fair to make me cross it again. Monk. I think perhaps you should carry me across.” Father Tucker looked at the horses. “Oh, don’t worry, my men will bring your horses, but you only have two horses, you see, and I would hate to deprive the lady of her horse.”
They paused when they heard the rapid fire of Decker’s gun. The man made another comment. “Big woodpecker.”
“Biggest, meanest woodpecker you have ever seen,” Father Tucker said, knowing what made that sound.
The man turned again to the priest. “No, no. Bend over. I will ride on your back. I don’t want to get my feet wet.”
“Very charitable of you,” Father Tucker said with a scowl and bent over.
“Yours is the act of Christian Charity, being kind to a man and his poor, hurting feet.”
The other men laughed and helped Nanette and the horses across the stream.
Decker rode up a couple of minutes later and saw a man in the water, spitting water from his mouth, Father Tucker standing in the stream, and Nanette and some other men standing on the far bank, laughing. He did not know what to make of it.
“Decker,” Nanette saw him and shouted across the water.
He crossed over and reported to his two companions. “I left three soldiers dead. The other six rode off, but I don’t guarantee they won’t be back.”
The man in the water immediately sent most of his men down the trail to guard it, and if the soldiers did not come back, to bury the bodies before they started to rot. He paused to introduce the one who remained. “George is the pinder in these parts. He lives at the king’s house up the way. Maxwell is our resident Scot, and George Whitehand.” George Whitehand was a black man and he smiled for the couple. “I have been given the ignoble name of Robin Hood.”
Nanette spoke before the others. “I am Nanette, Decker is my fiancé, and the man who is going to marry us, your own personal horse, is Father Tucker, but the others have taken to calling him Friar Tuck.”
“It is the name by which I was first known and still am in many places,” Father Tucker admitted. “But to you, it is Father Tucker, and now that I have found you, I can see that you and your men are in serious need of spiritual guidance.”
“Yes,” Robin said. “We are all terrible sinners in these parts.” He grinned and started them down the path toward Maunsfeld.