Scarborough to Filey, Yorkshire
The sun was riding high in the sky as Alice left Scarborough Castle on the small, chestnut mare that Guy had chosen for her from the stables. The horse was compact and fast, yet had a steady and reliable nature. Burne rode beside her on a huge, piebald cob, his chainmail discarded so he could pass unnoticed through the streets of Scarborough.
The town and the glittering sea basked under the summer rays, but Alice was too preoccupied to notice the beauty of her surroundings. A tumult of emotions rushed through her as she set the pace, urging the mare into a flat-out gallop. She was terrified for Allan, alone in the castle dungeons, but she trusted Guy to ensure he wasn't yet harmed. But she worried for Guy, forced to conceal his betrayal from the Sheriff without Alice by his side for support. Part of her was reluctant to leave him, yet another part was exhilarated at the thought of her imminent return to Filey. She felt dread and excitement in equal measures at the thought of meeting Roana again; dread that she would have to deliver such terrible news, yet excitement to see her again and bridge the gap that her allegiance with Guy had forced between them. That Guy wanted to rescue Allan, and was willing to appeal to his hated rival to make it happen, could only redeem him to an extent in Robin's eyes.
Alice knew that there was a long way to go before Robin and Guy would ever be on good terms, yet she still hoped beyond hope that there would come a day when she could bring them all together without fear of unrest. She wanted so badly to keep them all in her life.
Burne, who she had grown to know quite well, kept a tactful silence as they galloped towards Filey. He was aware that he was putting his own life at risk by accompanying Alice, but Guy had asked him to, and Burne was loyal to a fault. He didn't agree with a lot that went on within the walls of Nottingham Castle, but the Sheriff paid a decent wage, and Burne had mouths to feed. He put his head down and got on with his job at the best of times; at the worst, he went home and complained to his wife, Ginny, who begged him to leave and pick up a trade instead. The money was too much of an allure, though, and being a guard was all he really knew. He was liked and respected by the other members of the garrison, as well by Gisborne and Vaisey, and it suited him to keep his trap shut and carry out the work obediently.
An easygoing fellow, Burne had grown close to Allan during his time as the spy in the castle, masquerading as Gisborne's man, and he didn't particularly want to see him hang. But if it happened, it happened. Burne would not risk his life to rescue him from the dungeons; however, he was prepared to follow Gisborne's orders and ensure Alice remained safe. He knew that Guy would protect him while he was away. Alice's safety came first with the black knight; anybody could see that.
Part of him was also keen to meet the great Robin Hood. The outlaw's reputation preceded him within the castle walls, and he was sworn enemy of both Vaisey and Gisborne. But Allan had only spoken well of him. Burne liked to form his own opinions of people, and he vaguely recalled the teenage Earl of Huntingdon from years before. A fine and friendly fellow, he had been, and Burne didn't expect that to have changed much. The villagers still loved him, after all.
Alice spoke little on their journey. Not one for unnecessary chatter himself, Burne appreciated her reticence. He had been mildly surprised at her romance with Guy. She was a mixture of social awkwardness and blunt, unthinking outspokenness, which had been all fine and well, even highly amusing, among the staff, but which Burne had felt wouldn't go down well with Gisborne. How wrong he had been. They were inseparable.
After allowing the horses to rest for a while, walking side-by-side in companionable silence, they set off again at a brisk canter, and, before long, they passed through the small, seaside village of Filey and headed out to the manor.
Nerves fluttered like butterflies in Alice's stomach as the familiar track came into sight, and she brought the mare to a halt at the new gate that stood guard at the entrance to the manor. Burne reined the cob in next to her.
"Is this it?"
Alice nodded. "But this is new." She dismounted and handed the reins to Burne, before approaching the gate. It was sturdy, and fortified quite constructively. Alice looked at the intricate fastening in bewilderment.
"Don't move," a voice said, quietly, from just beyond the gate. There was a rustle of leaves and Will Scarlett emerged from the bushes and trees that lined the main track to the manor, an arrow nocked and aimed straight at her. He was flanked by Djaq and a huge mountain of a man who Alice didn't recognise.
"State your business," Will continued as Djaq moved around him to aim her own nocked arrow at Burne, who looked surprised.
"Will, it's me," Alice exclaimed. "Alice."
Will stared at her in incomprehension until recognition crossed his face. "Alice! Sorry, I didn't recognise you with your hair down." He looked at Burne, still up on his cob. "Who's this?"
"It's Burne," Alice replied. "He's with me. We have news about Allan. Please let us in."
Djaq and Will exchanged glances before Will fiddled with the latch on the gate. It immediately sprang open and he pulled the gate ajar to allow them through. Burne dismounted and lead both horses through the opening, where the big man met him, looking him up and down, suspiciously. Djaq still had her arrow nocked and aimed at him as Will refastened the gate.
"Who are you?" she interrogated him, her accent more pronounced in the harshness of her tone.
"I'm a friend of Allan's," he said, holding his hands up in surrender as the big man took the horses from him.
"You are the Sheriff's guard?" Djaq said, looking from him to Alice.
"Yes, he is. But he's alright," Alice explained, quickly. "He's not here as a guard. Just a friend and protector."
"Be that as it may..." Djaq gestured for him to walk ahead with the tip of her arrow and followed him closely. The big man walked up ahead, leading the two horses and glancing back every now and again at Burne, his face blank and threatening.
"How's Allan?" Will asked, falling into step with Alice as they followed.
"He's alive," Alice replied. "But not for long. Which is why I need to speak to Robin and Roana."
As they entered the courtyard, a group of people approached them with Robin and Much at the forefront.
"What have we got?" Robin shouted to Will, his eyes skimming over Burne and then resting on Alice.
Alice searched the crowd desperately for a friendly face before her eyes settled on Roana, who was pushing her way to the front, her face pale and drawn. Their eyes met.
"Alice!" Roana gasped, her voice breaking, and Alice immediately left Will's side and flew across the gravelled ground, pulling her into a tight embrace as Roana crumbled.
"My lady, it's alright," she whispered as Roana buried her face in her former maid's shoulder and let out a flurry of sobs. "He's still alive. It's alright."
She stroked Roana's nut-brown waves, soothingly, and looked over at Robin, who was watching with a grim expression on his face.
"Alice." He nodded at her in greeting. "What have you got for me?"
His question took Alice back to all those months ago, when Roana had first joined the outlaw gang, and Alice had remained in Nottingham Castle, feeding information to Robin where she saw fit. She had always respected Robin, and he had treated her as an equal and not as a servant, which she had appreciated. She only hoped that his attitude towards her would not change while the spectre of Guy loomed between them.
"Guy sent me," she said, and he grimaced but waved her on. "Allan is due to hang the day after tomorrow, as a gift from Vaisey to Prince John. Guy needs your help. He has requested that you attend the hanging and rescue Allan."
"What?!" Much spluttered in incredulity, while Robin laughed, humourlessly.
"A trap, then?"
Alice shook her head, fiercely. "No, no. Guy wants to save Allan, but he fears the repercussions from the Sheriff. He would like you to help."
Scowling, Robin looked from Alice to Burne, and nodded in his direction. "And who's this?"
Djaq, stood so close to Burne that the tip of her arrow grazed his back, said, "He is a Nottingham guard." At the same time, Burne stepped forward and away from her.
"My name is Burne, my lord. I am a friend of Allan's. Guy sent me with Alice for protection."
"My lord?" Robin laughed, this time genuinely. "It's been a long time since anybody called me that. Are you Alfred of Locksley's son?"
"That's right, my lo.. I mean, Robin." Burne nodded, eagerly. "I've been longing to reacquaint with you."
"But you're a guard," Much scoffed. "More like you've been longing to catch him for the Sheriff."
Burne shook his head, adamantly, and glanced at Little John, who had advanced from the crowd with his staff and was standing beside him, threateningly.
Burne held his hands out in surrender. "Look, I'm not looking for trouble. I'm just escorting Alice. Honestly."
"I can vouch for him," Roana said, moving out of Alice's embrace and wiping her eyes on her sleeve. She gave Burne a watery smile. "Allan always said he was the best of a bad bunch."
There was a ripple of laughter amongst the outlaws, and Robin relaxed.
"Truly a compliment, coming from Allan," he said with a grin. He signaled to Little John and Djaq, who stood down. "Alright, Burne. So, why exactly are you here? Gisborne needs my help?"
Scarborough Castle, Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire
All dungeons looked the same, from a prisoner's point of view, anyway. The same grubby, perspiring walls. The same tiny, murky cells. The same smell of sweat and despair. And the same idiot jailer who thought he was God because he had a ring of keys attached to his belt.
Scarborough Castle dungeons were no different from Nottingham's dungeons, and Allan was reaching the end of his tether.
"Oi, can I have some more water?" he shouted for the fifth time. "I'm bleeding parched. Come on, mate. Just a little bit, at least."
The jailer, a small, wiry creature with rat-like features, glanced at him and then looked away, dismissively, with a sneer curling his top lip.
"Oi," Allan yelled, then punched the door in frustration, hurting his fist in the process. He cursed, loudly. His head was pounding with a dull, steady pain, and he desperately needed a drink to soothe his dry throat. And now his hand was hurting. He paced the small cell, desperately. What was happening? Did Roana and Robin know where he was? He wondered if Auden had got word to them. After the awkwardness of his last conversation with Roana, Allan hoped beyond hope that she was aware of his capture, and that she didn't assume he had just upped and left her. In the past, running away from his problems had always held a strange allure, but he had changed. He would never leave her. He would never do to her what his mother had done to him and his brother, Tom, when she had disappeared without a word, leaving them to the mercy of an abusive father. Roana was safe with Robin and her family, and maybe she was better off without Allan. But she wasn't going to get rid of him that easily. He just hoped that there was a way out of Scarborough Castle that didn't involve him dangling at the end of a rope.
There was the sound of footsteps in the corridor outside his cell, and then the low murmur of voices. Allan crossed to the door again.
"Hello! Any chance of some water before I die of thirst?"
The shadows seemed to move outside his cell and then the hatch on the door opened and a flask was thrust through the gap.
"Here," came Gisborne's low voice. "Drink this. And keep the noise down."
"Gis, thank God." Allan grabbed the flask and drank deeply. The coldness of the water immersed his mouth in a chill that froze his brain, and he paused for a moment, scrunching his eyes shut against the pain. Gradually, it eased, and he finished the flask, handing it back to Gisborne, thankfully.
"Gis." He met Guy's eyes through the bars of the door. "You've got to help me get out of here."
Gisborne gave a mirthless laugh. "I've not got to do anything."
"Come on, Guy. I can't die here. Help me!"
Gisborne glanced back at the jailer, who mercifully wasn't paying attention, and moved closer to the bars. "Allan, I said keep it down. I can't help you; not here."
Allan stared at him in disbelief. "So you're gonna let me hang? I thought we were friends."
Eyes flashing, Gisborne glared through the bars at him. "We were friends, until you betrayed me."
"You know it wasn't like that, Guy," Allan insisted with passion. "I told you. I betrayed the Sheriff, not you. Why are you even still with him?"
"Allan, be quiet!" Gisborne glared at him, fiercely. "Now, listen. I've sent for Hood. You are due to hang the day after tomorrow, at high noon, and I'm sure your real friends will be here to rescue you then. That's the best I can do. I'm not putting my neck on the line for you again. This is the last time. Alright?"
Wordlessly, Allan looked at him, hope flickering his blue eyes, and nodded once. "Thank you," he said, almost inaudibly. Then, suddenly exhausted, he moved to the back of the cell and settled down on the stone floor, lowering his head to his knees. He needed to sleep, and to build up his energy for Robin's rescue. He would not be dying any time soon. Robin and Roana would see to that.