Disclaimer: Not mine
Time line: Pre-series, bar the last paragraph, in which the S3 finale is spoiled.
Summary: Much and how he ended up stuck wearing that ugly cap of his.
Warnings: There wasn't meant to be any slash in this but it's arguable that some inevitably came out. Read it as slash if you like, or just a boyhood curiosity if you don't.
If the Cap Fits...
Much ran ahead of his master, leaving the younger boy to puff and pant to keep up. He was glad that no one from the manor could see them because such a transgression was likely to result in having his ears boxed severely and his supper denied him, but he'd recently discovered there was a thrill in pushing against the very elders he'd been keen to appease before.
Much looked over his shoulder. Robin was really struggling now, his shorter legs unable to cover the distance that Much's longer ones could. Much knew his advantage came only because of the growth spurt his ill fed body had gone through over the summer, turning his small skinny body into a tall, even skinnier one, all arms and legs and...hairs.
And...thoughts...odd thoughts, new thoughts, strange thoughts...dangerous thoughts...
But he also knew this advantage wouldn't last, for Robin was close behind him in years and would soon go though his own growth spurt and then Much would be back to being the one struggling to keep up. But for now, he was strangely compelled – those thoughts again – to exploit it as much as he could.
Much finally reached the lake side, hand clasping the rope swing that was their finishing post and threw up his arms in victory.
Robin huffed to a stop beside him. "You get the first five swings then." He puffed out as Much gleefully began to strip. It didn't take long, for this summer had been especially hot and neither boy was wearing more than the basics that modesty required.
"I would make it ten," Robin added, as Much took hold of the rope swing. "But I am not sure you can count that high!" And he shoved his servant, sending him flying on the rope over the water.
Robin watched Much hit the water and splutter up, long blond hair stuck to his forehead. His strokes were strong as he swam for the bank.
The changes in his servant fascinated Robin, from the deeper voice to the snarls of darker blond hair sprouting between his legs. The extra height was something to be envied, but the thinness of Much's body was not. As a serf, Much was meant to be a bit skinny. All the serfs were. But now you could see his ribs and count every one.
Robin tried not to stare as Much returned to the swing for his second go but his eyes travelled across his servants body all the same.
That part of Much had grown too, thick and long like a man's.
He had seen some of the wrenches casting looks at Much but he could not see what was so different now to earn their appreciation, apart from the height and, well, he doubted they had seen...that. Much's face was much the same, no beard growth yet, his long hair as untidy as it always was, although it had been bleached by the sun this summer and glinted brightly.
Much whooped as he sailed through the air a second time.
Robin grinned and began stripping, deciding he was missing out on the fun. He beat Much to the rope swing before he could have his third go and launched himself off, laughing.
He missed the look of hurt on Much's face as he swung out over the lake.
Robin looked up at the bank.
Thornton stared down at him with a harried look upon his face. "Your father has been looking for you."
Robin sighed and began wading for the bank. Much reluctantly followed.
"And you!" Thornton grabbed Much by the ear, "lazying around while the rest of us are working! Go back to the manor and help with the preparations!"
"We were only playing, Thornton." Robin told him.
"Not when Much here has work to do." He let go of Much's ear. "Well hurry, boy, the first guests will be arriving soon."
Much nodded and began pulling on his clothes.
"And be sure to change out of...those." He pointed at Much's dirty, worn and ill fitting clothes.
"At least you are clean." Thornton cuffed at Much's head, pushing him towards the manor. "Do not get dirty on your way back."
Robin caught his eye as he ran off and gave him a smile.
Much had dressed in clothes that could almost be called fine, the pale jerkin in particular made him feel grand enough to be a lord and Mary had fussed over Much's hair, combing out the knots that playing in the river had put in.
He spent the next few hours fetching and carrying and seeing to the guests horses. He enjoyed the rare occasions when the manor entertained nobility. While there was always more work to do, and sometimes very exhausting work at that, there was also an abundance of leftover food and the fires were all kept fully stoked so that even the servants quarters were warm.
And the last time one of the serving girls that came with the guests had... well he'd learned that there were other types of warmth a man needed.
When all the guests had arrived and the troubadours had set about entertaining them, Much's usefulness ended, at least until the guests were ready to depart so he decided to return to the kitchen in the hope that there might be some scraps he could have.
Halfway there, someone yanked at his arm, pulling him into the shadows.
His young master grinned at him and put his finger to his lips.
Much sighed to himself when he saw the glint in Robin's eye. He was going to get into trouble again.
"Such charming lands."
Robin's father smiled in pride at the Lady's words. "It is not the largest estate in Nottingham, but none that could boast such good people as ours."
Lady Bromley graced him with a smile. "Good people flourish under good management."
There was the sound of muffled laughter behind them and the lady turned.
Robin's father sighed when he saw his son and Much sneaking out of the manor. No doubt Robin had coaxed Much into abandoning his duties. Thornton would not be pleased.
"Is that your son?" she asked.
He smiled. "Yes."
"A handsome boy, indeed."
He felt a flush of pride.
"And such pretty hair, like wheat in the sun."
He flinched, eyes flicking to Much. Taller now than Robin, with the beginnings of a man's stature in the set of his shoulders, and dressed in one of Thornton's own jerkins, he could see why she had made such a mistake. He could not correct her Ladyship without embarrassing her. Certainly he could not tell her she had mistaken a common serf for a noble's son. And it was entirely his fault, allowing Robin to treat the boy almost as an equal.
That would have to change. And boundaries had to be drawn.
Robin's father took her Ladyship's arm and led her away, least she discover her mistake. "Bromley is a large estate I understand?"
Much staggered under the weight of the spit as he and another of the servant boys brought the feast's main spectacle into the manor. The smell of the slow roasted meat was wonderful and the guests all turned to watch the boys place the boar at the centre of the table.
One of the lady's came to his side and smiled directly at him. She looked around at her host.
"Your son is not joining us, Lord Locksley?" She asked and for some reason she stroked at Much's blond hair. "Oh but he must. I insist. He may sit with me."
The other guests chuckled and Much heard mutterings of "serf" and the tutting of tongues. The lady coloured at her mistake and was quickly rescued by Robin's father making an announcement for everyone to sit.
The lord caught Much's eye and the steel that Much saw there made him flinch. He hurried off back to the kitchen.
The moon was full when the last guests departed. Much's stomach rumbled as he made his way back to the kitchens. The earl was a generous master and the servants reward for tonight's good work would be a share of the remaining food.
Thornton blocked his way.
Even though this wasn't expected - Much had known letting Robin talk him into sneaking out would lead to this - there was something in Thornton's eyes that surprised him. It took a minute for him to realise it was...regret.
Footsteps sounded behind him and came to a halt right at his back.
"My Lord," said Thornton.
Much turned immediately. No servant should show his back to his master.
Robin's father stared at Much and the boy realised that he'd grown enough that the earl no longer needed to look down.
Much lowered his eyes. He expected to be denied the supper. Or have his ears boxed. Or more likely both.
He didn't expect what came out the master's mouth.
"Two lashes. No more."
Thornton grasped his shoulder.
"B-but...master-" His words were snapped off as Thornton cuffed him. Talking back was a privilege their master usually tolerated, but never when it questioned his orders.
Robin's father stayed Thornton's hand and Much might have thought his plea had been heard were it not for the sorrow in the lords eyes.
"Quick and clean." The earl said. "Do not make him suffer."
Robin ran through the servants quarters, heading for the large, almost barn like room at the back of the manor that the servant boys shared.
Much's bed, such as it was, was against the back wall and on it sat Much and one of the kitchen girls, Mary. She was dabbing at Much's bare back, but he quickly covered it when he saw Robin approaching. He might have stopped to ask why had he not been so excited.
"My father gave you a present." Robin gushed.
Mary and Much exchanged looks, not the kind that Robin had been noticing around Much this summer, but like those of startled deer.
He held out the present his father had charged him with giving his servant. It was a simple and plain cap and Robin knew it wasn't the finest in the land. In fact when his father had first given it too him, Robin had thought it ugly, not that he would ever say as much to his father. But then he remembered his books and realised what his father really meant by given Much the cap and he had excitedly run off to find his servant without stopping to thank his father for his kindness.
Much took the cap and pulled it on over his blond hair. It slipped down over his eyes and he had to push it up.
Robin grinned. Now Much looked just like the pictures in his books. "You will grow into it." He told him.
Mary frowned. "It hides your pretty hair."
Much fiddled with his cap. It felt uncomfortable and itchy on his head.
Mary pulled it off and began fluffing at Much's hair. The look on her face as she touched Much annoyed Robin.
"Much, you do not understand." Robin told him. "Wait here." And with that, he disappeared back into the main house.
Mary lifted Much's shirt and returned to dabbing at the fresh lash welts. "I think it is ugly."
Much hissed as she pressed at little too hard. "Ow!"
"Well it is. And your hair is not."
Much flinched away, biting his lip against the pain. "Still," he said through gritted teeth, "it is a gift."
"No, Much." She told him softly. "It is a brand."
"It may not mark your flesh like the lash, but it still says serf."
"No, my master and his father would not use-"
Mary tutted and showed him the blood spotted rag she was using to clean his welts. "This is a brand, is it not?"
Much shook his head. "It is my fault."
Mary returned to her task, dabbing harder.
Much winced. "I should not have left my duties."
"Then why did you?"
"Because..." The words died. She knew just as well as he did. Because Robin had wanted to go play.
"You should have refused him." Mary told him.
"He is my master."
Robin returned and Much once again hid his back. The young master was clutching something to his chest and laid it down on Much's bed.
It was one of the books from Robin's lessons, bound in leather, hand written by monks. Robin opened its crisp parchment pages, revealing the beautifully illustrated words. He pointed at one of the intricately drawn and painted pictures of freed Roman slaves. They were wearing caps.
"Do you see Much?"
Much could only see letters strung together into words he would never be able to read.
"These slaves have been freed." Robin tapped at the Roman's head. "See, he is wearing a cap." He said. "The cap of liberty. Like yours."
Much's fingers tightened around the cap. "I am not free, master."
"But you will be!" Robin whispered. "I promise."
Much remembered the rope swing and his promised five turns.
"That is the real gift, Much." He told him and carefully placed the cap on his servants head.
The welts on his back burned, giving lie to the words.
If you were really free, Mary would whisper later as he lay in her arms, you could chose not to wear it.
Much stood by the funeral pyre, watching the flames leap up into the sky. Robin's body was almost ashes now, almost completely gone from this world but Much found he couldn't cry.
He would welcome the tears but they refused to come.
Much remembered Robin's words, all those years ago as he twisted his cap in his hands. The cap he had worn it all these long years, the cap that had signified to the world that he was not free...
The cap that Robin had dashed from his head before he died.
Much had not put it back on.
Because it did not signify liberty to him. It never had, no matter what promises Robin had made.
He had worn that cap for Robin and because of Robin and now...
...now he could chose not to wear it.
Much tossed it into the flames.
Because now he really was free.
Notes/AKA writers rant: I hated writing this. I did it only because I enjoyed Sam Troughton's Brutus so much that it felt a little payback was necessary, especially as the actor was kind enough to sign my daughter's programme for her.
The plot that was in my head about the cap was inspired by a) questioning why the RH makers would cover up such gorgeous hair and b) a line in the Julius Caesar programme about Brutus' coins and the "cap of liberty." I'm not sure it came out right and I'm pretty sure this sucked as a first RH but its done. I may do more but not if they're as painful as this was.