A blackbird landed deftly on the dirt street and pecked at the corn. It had only been a short while ago when a bag of corn had slid from a rickety wagon and ripped open. The farmer had stiffly jumped from his cart, cursing and calling out to the bystanders, blaming them for his misfortune. Expressions of displeasure had passed over the faces of the people, but they had hurried away from the sharp-mouthed man. The farmer had hefted the bag back to its place and angrily kicked the spilled corn so that it scattered across the street. Turning away, he had caught an old woman watching him from the shade of an oak tree.
He had glared at her and asked, “What are you looking at?”
Her steady gaze had not wavered, it was like she was criticizing the farmer simply with her eyes. Irked at her abstinence, he had spit on the ground and had continued on his way.
The blackbird took a step forward, following the trail of corn scattered by the farmer’s boot. Enraptured, I watched it, hardly daring to breathe in the chance that I might scare it away. It was beautiful, the way the sun made the feathers shine. Another kernel down the bird’s throat brought it another step nearer. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a soldier approaching. Oblivious to my fascination, he frightened the bird into flying away. I ignored him, hoping that he would simply pass me by. But as he drew closer, it was obvious that he desired my spot under the shady tree.
“Alright hag, be gone. Go find somewhere else to rest your rotting bones” he said in a gravely voice.
Slowly I slid my gaze over him, taking in the oily hair and coarse features. Beneath my wool dress, I absently curled a hand around my dagger. “If you want this place so badly, you can pick me up and move me.” Surprise flickered over the man’s face at the strength in my voice.
He glared at me, debating whether the shady spot was worth a fuss, but my hard stare pushed him to the conclusion that it was not.
“Fine then, keep your place. I’ll find something better,” he said and turned away. As he passed me by, he angrily nudged my foot and mumbled, “Dirty old hag.”
I scowled at the soldier’s back and whispered, “I have a name and wouldn’t you like to know what it is. It happens to be Robin or the Robin Thief or Robin of the Hood or Robin Hood. Any of them work just fine.” Spite clouded my words for I knew he would have acted differently if he had known my name. But what bothered me most, was that he dared to bully lesser people.
I shifted my hunched position and ran a hand over my disguise to ensure that everything was still intact, “Rotting bones, my foot. What a disrespectful little bug. If he had anything worth taking, I would have cleaned it right off of him and given it to a sweet old lady as revenge at his rudeness. And another thing…”
My ranting was cut short by a pair of woman rounding the corner. Thankfully they were occupied with their gossiping about “Lydia’s husband” and were not interested in the mumblings of an old lady. They smiled and bobbed their heads at me and I return the gesture weakly as if every action I made hurt.
They strolled away and I continued my surveillance of the street. The blackbird was back, pecking at the corn with its shiny beak. I watched it for a breath of a second before focusing on the reason I came to this place. The well. Or more specifically, the men who had agreed to meet at the well. The round wall of stone was located across the street from where I sat and was near enough that I would be able to hear the conversation of the two men. Because it wasn’t there appearances I needed to discover, I needed to learn of their characters. The one man I already knew well. Devon: a leather worker who was poorer than a church mouse since no one wanted to hire him. He had killed a man in a fight and though it was ruled out as self-defense, the people still shunned him as a murderer. I was not there the night of the fight, but I had observed Devon on multiple occasions and I knew that he would never kill a man intentionally.
So it was the other man that I was really interested in. The apothecary, Silas Fitzwindle, or better known as Silas Swindle. The rumor was that he charged outrageous amounts for his medicine. He claimed it was effective and so far, no one had disproved it. But his prices were steep and with Devon’s low standing among the people, I suspected that the prestigious apothecary was up to something. Besides, Swindle had insisted that they meet at the well, away from his shop, giving the impression that he did not desire to be seen dealing with a supposed murderer.
Like an elderly lady with aching bones, I groaned, but in reality, I was hot and tired of waiting – even in the shade it was warm and the wool dress made it worse.
The black bird drew my attention again. It had come nearer than before, giving me an excellent view of its glittering black eyes and shining feathers. I didn’t like black birds, they seemed dirty and annoying, but this one was different, it was clean and beautiful. It reminded me of the soldier’s that roamed the streets harassing helpless people. Most were unkind, but there were golden hearts among them.
Movement on the street corner dragged me from my thoughts. It was Devon, nervously edging his way down the street. His clothing hung loosely on his thin frame and his cheek bones stuck sharply out upon his face. It was a clear sign that life had not been kind to the leatherworker.
Anxiously, Devon’s gaze skittered over his surroundings. His eyes briefly rested on me, then the blackbird, but determining that we posed no threat to him, he proceeded to pace nervously beside the well.
I watched Devon fidget with loose pieces of string on his sleeve. I had no doubt that we were both wondering if the apothecary would be true to his word. He wasn’t known for it and could very well have decided this morning that Devon wasn’t worth his time. But by the way the leather worker held an arm protectively by his side, it appeared as if he had something valuable beneath his tunic; perhaps, Devon had somehow been able to scrape together a handful of coins.
Only minutes following Devon’s arrival, the apothecary came striding into view. Instantly my senses sharpened and I began to take in and analyze every movement the two men made. Up until then, I had only been half paying attention for I had not believed that the apothecary would come.
Silas Fitzwindle was a stocky man, with sparse brown hair and squinty eyes. Despite the money he earned, his appearance was rather unkempt – his tunic was wrinkled, his white sleeves bore stains, and gray stubble shrouded his jaw.
“You brought the coins?” Silas asked halting in front of Devon.
Intimidated, but not wishing to show it, Devon raised his chin, “You brought the medicine?”
In response, Silas produced a glass bottle from the pouch on his belt. I eyed the little bottle. Would it heal Devon’s wife? Would it cleanse her body of the fever that was torturing her?
Taking the only chance he had left at saving his wife, Devon held out his pouch of coins, “I couldn’t obtain all you asked, but I will pay the rest of it, I just need time.”
Silas had been in the midst of handing out the bottle, but when he heard Devon’s words, he retracted his hand as if he had been bitten by a snake.
“No, I need the full amount,” Silas growled.
“I will get you the rest, I promise,” desperation raised the pitch in Devon’s voice and his face pulled together in a pleading expression.
“The delay will cost you,” replied Silas, blind to Devon’s distress.
“It doesn’t matter, my wife is dying. I need the medicine.”
I held my breath, waiting for Silas’ next words. If he knew who was listening, perhaps he would think twice about stealing everything this man had. But he didn’t know, so he smiled wickedly and said, “A copper coin for every day you fail to pay your debt.”
Devon sucked in a surprised breath and I gritted my teeth in anger. The man didn’t even make half a coin a day, how was he supposed to procure twice that per day?
At Devon’s hesitation, Silas shrugged and began to replace the vial, “It is your decision, but you are the one who will have to bear another death on your conscience.”
“I didn’t kill him,” Devon’s words were strained with anger.
“Then why did you come to me? Isn’t it because no one else dares to deal with a murderer?”
I snatched up a stone and threw it at the blackbird. Neither of the men noticed me do it, but the blackbird’s fright and loud squawking interrupted them enough that Devon had a moment to reign in his temper.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Devon spread his hands out in front of himself, “Please, Silas. I need the medicine.”
Silas regarded the man, considering him carefully. Then as if it was a great sacrifice, he said, “Fine, but only if you swear to give me your every penny till the debt is paid off.”
Devon’s shoulders slumped in relief, but I rolled my eyes. If he had to give his every penny, how was he supposed to buy food and clothing? It was a deal for disaster; and besides that, if Devon appealed to the sheriff, he would only dig himself a deeper hole since the sheriff and Silas were friends.
Annoyed at the stupidity of Devon and the cheating of Silas Swindle, I watched the apothecary hand over the bottle. There was a pleased smile on his face that I was sure would reappear each time Devon would deliver his payment. Once Silas had Devon’s bag of coins clutched in his meaty fingers, he spun around, surveyed the street, and ambled off.
Devon was not as quick to leave, he took time to catch his breath and grasp exactly what had just happened. Yes, he had obtained medicine for his wife, but would they survive without money? I had no answer to that question, but I had an answer to my earlier one. The rumors were true, Silas Fitzwindle was as rotten as a year-old apple. He cared not that Devon would go hungry, he only cared for Devon’s coins.
I suppose I will have to do his sharing for him, I thought smugly, my mind already whirling with plans to visit Silas’ home.
Finally, Devon disappeared down the street and I slowly stood – careful to continue my disguise – and hobbled away. In a narrow alley, I removed the wool dress that I had worn over my regular clothing. I rolled my shoulders to dispel the stiffness that had resulted from my bent posture and pulled a cap over my chestnut hair. To anyone who saw me, I would appear to be a boy of fifteen or sixteen, not a nineteen-year-old girl dressed like a man. It was always like this, putting on one disguise after the other. I was an old woman then I was a dirty beggar man, but most often I was a boy – a homeless boy, or a page boy, or an apprentice. But I was never myself, I was never the woman who had been cheated out of a birthright and forced to become an outlaw.
I rolled up the old woman’s rags and stuck them under my arm. With my head down so that I would not attract attention, I wove through the back alleys till I came to a section of the city that was virtually abandoned. It was really just a heap of ruins that, with its crumbling bricks and rotting wood, could be treacherous to anyone who was not familiar with it. Even I received the occasional scrape from the jagged edges if I wasn’t being careful. This time I made it to my house without injury. My house? It was one of the blackened skeletons that still stood as proof of the fire that had attacked Langcaster twenty years ago. Surrounded by the most dangerous areas of rubble, this house boasted four sturdy walls and a strong roof. Therefore, I had chosen it as my temporary home. It served its purpose for the time being, albeit the smell of smoke lingered in the stone and it wasn’t as hidden as I would have liked.
With practiced grace, I hoisted myself into the second story of the house. Holding still in the opening, I skimmed the room – a few pieces of rickety furniture, clothing, makeup, a chest of food, a sword, daggers, and my beloved longbow. All was exactly as I had left it, there had been no intruders.
Already the sun was sinking and I prepared for my excursion in the orange light that spilled through the windows. I wiped off the powder that had made my face and hands appear aged and tried as best I could to pat the flour from my hair. This sent clouds of white flying everywhere and did little to return the hair to its natural color. Giving up, I decided to wash it out in a stream in the morning and wove it into a tight braid. Next, I turned to my weapons. Longingly I caressed my bow and quiver of arrows, but they were not needed tonight. Tonight I needed daggers and my collection of lock picking tools. Lastly, I pulled my hood over my face so that my features were hidden. The sun had disappeared by then and I descended to the street. Noiselessly I glided from one shadow to the next until I arrived at Silas Fitzwindle’s home. It was a large structure with iron gates and thick stone walls. Even those who didn’t know the apothecary could tell that the resident of this fortress was a paranoid man.
Leaning against a tree on the border of his neighbor’s property, I inspected the wall. There were no footholds in the surface of the wall that I could use to climb over and if I used my daggers, I would likely damage the metal on the hard stone. There were no trees that I could use for height either. So over the wall wasn’t an option. But there must be another way in besides the front gates – no house in the city had only one entrance. Thoughtfully I circled the wall, and lo and behold, I found a little door hidden by the leaves of an ivy plant. Grinning, I chose a gleaming tool that was twice the length of my index finger and pushed it into the lock. Silas, with his high walls and iron gates, had overlooked this little entrance and I was going to neatly sneak into his fortress. Greedy, foolish man, I would make him pay for his selfishness.
The lock clicked and I cracked the door open so I could peek inside. There were ornamental shrubs, fruit trees, fountains, statues… I narrowed my eyes, I was sure one of the statues had shifted. I leaned further into the garden to gain a better view. One of the statues moved again – this time for certain – and immediately I jumped back into the alley and shut the door.
“Dogs. I hate dogs,” I whispered, stamping my foot. Dogs were dangerous, not only because of their sharp teeth but also because they could smell me. I could easily keep out of sight, but I could not so easily cover my scent.
Frustrated, I set off down the street – my visit would have to wait till I found something I could use to distract the dogs. At a butcher shop, I encountered four bones lying on the back steps and with them stowed away in a sack, I returned to Silas’s house. Once more I unlocked and opened the door, but this time I did it as if everything I touched was made of glass. The dogs were still there, sleeping under a tree. Taking hold of the bones, I threw them to the corner of the garden farthest away from the door. The dogs – I counted three – shot up and ran towards the sound, growling as they went. Hopefully, the bones would occupy them for a long, long while.
I hurried through the garden, but it was difficult going since the moon was hidden by a thick blanket of clouds. Reaching the house, I placed my hand upon the cool stone to calm my rapidly beating heart. The little dragons were occupied with their bones, I was safe. At least for now.
Moving to the window of a sitting room, I pulled out my lock picking tools and pushed one into the keyhole. The lock made a happy clicking sound and the window swung open. I hopped over the windowsill into a lavishly decorated sitting room. It had to be his wife’s since Silas didn’t give a fig about whether or not the upholstery in a room matched.
I locked the window behind myself and crossed the room to the door. Holding my breath, I opened it, hoping Silas didn’t demand to have squeaky hinges on his doors. But there was no sound and I began to relax as I stepped into a dark corridor. From there I headed upstairs to where I knew Silas’s study was located. I was almost at the door when the soft glow of candlelight appeared at the end of the hall. Reflexively, I melted into the shadows of a doorway and stood motionless. But the yellow light faded, accompanied by the sound of a door closing and receding footsteps. Once all was quiet, I continued till I reached a door that was as sturdy as a wall of stone. Silas’s study. For the third time, I curled my finger around a steel tool. The lock was more complicated than the others and I had to use two of my tools together to open it. The hinges cracked as the door swung back, but there was no movement in response. Triumphantly I entered. The room was cluttered with papers, books, and knickknacks so that as I advanced further, I became increasingly certain that the only person allowed in this room was Silas. Picking my way passed a mountain range of books, I examined the items. There wasn’t anything of particular interest, it was mostly letters, books on medicine, or discarded dishes. At the desk, I studied the layout before rifling through the articles. There was nothing unusual and I proceeded on to the drawers. The bottom left drawer proved the most fruitful; for, it held a large pouch of coins. I lifted it from its place and smiled. How generous of Silas to leave this here for the poor.
I fastened the pouch to my belt, then took from an inner pocket of my tunic, a single gray feather. It was a Robin feather. Laying it where the pouch had been, I shut the drawer. I scrutinized the desk’s surface to confirm that all was exactly as it had been when I entered. The ink pot rested upon the letter to Stephon Bradshaw, the book on herbs for headaches and dizziness was opened at page fifty-three, and the goose feather pen lay with its point facing the fireplace. The only difference to the room was the small replacement I had made.
Moving like a shadow through the house, I returned to the floral sitting room. But I didn’t exit until I had thoroughly scanned the garden for the dogs. They were nowhere to be seen. I lifted myself out of the window and into the cool night air. All was silent, it seemed as if even the trees and grass slept soundly.
My little trip had been a success, it had been a piece of cake. The gratification I received from teaching Silas a lesson of charity tasted sweet upon my tongue. Yes, it was a good night.
Behind me, there was a low growl. I froze and slowly turned. A black dog stood ten feet away, its teeth glinting and its eyes holding promises of pain.
It snarled and I put a hand out in front of myself, “Sh quiet. Everything is alright.” The dog took a step forward and I took one backward, “Easy there, nice little dragon.”
It lunged, but I had seen it coming and threw myself to the side. I was on my feet in a moment and tearing through the garden. With adrenaline thudding in my veins, I hurtled over bushes and statues and zigzagged between trees, but the dog had alerted its companions and now there were three beasts snapping at my heels. Something needed to be done before the members of the house were able to respond to the uproar.
I came to a cluster of trees and praying fervently that it would work, I vaulted onto a limb. The dogs didn’t notice my stunt till they were eight meters passed the tree and by then I had already jumped down and sprinted to the exit. They barked angrily in response to the evasion and spun on their haunches. But I didn’t look back, I escaped into the alleyway and slammed the door shut in their faces. A shout from the house sent me off, away from Silas Swindle.
I wove through the city, smearing my scent in the hope that it would make tracking impossible. But knowing Silas would have the city crawling with search parties by morning, I returned home to gather my belongings and set out for the city gate. Three streets away from the main exit, I changed directions and instead went to the back of an abandon winemaker’s shop where large barrels were stored. Between a castle of barrels was an iron grate. I moved it aside and dropped into the dark tunnel below. From there I followed the tunnel to its end and was deposited outside the city, under a rarely used drawbridge. In the dark, I had some difficulty finding my staff, but once I had it clutched in one hand, I used it to feel out the raised hill of stones that acted as a bridge across the moat. A relieved breath emitted from my lips as I stepped onto dry land. It was done, I had the money and after the excitement of the theft had worn off, I would deliver it to Devon – he would put it to better use than Silas.
I crossed the meadow towards the forest, thinking of the dogs and the way I had nearly been torn to shreds. For now, Silas could rest assured that Robin Hood would not set foot in his garden, I was not interested in having another encounter with his pets. I reached the trees and glanced back at the city. Somewhere within the walls of Langcaster a dog barked and I slipped into the safety of Kirkwood Forest.
So there you have it. My most recent short story! It was a blast to write; although, I’m super glad to have it finished so I can keep chipping away at my novel.
Please comment, I would love to know what you think!
Ta ta for now,