Disclaimer: Everything belongs to the Beeb.
Title: Past Sins
Word Count: 2754
Warnings: Mature themes, non-graphic sexual content
Characters/pairings: Much, Robin, Djaq [implied Robin/Much, shades of possible Much/Djaq]
Summary: Much thought he left those memories in the Holy Land...
Robin woke them at dawn, reminding each as he did so, of the plans they'd made the night before. They had received word through Marian that the taxes were ready to leave Nottingham for London but she had not been able to say when. Sooner rather than later, was all the information she could provide. So the only course of action was to rise early, take position and wait.
Robin had laughed good naturedly at Much's protests that he hadn't been given time to make breakfast.
"We should not lay in ambush for hours without a good meal." He had said.
Robin had cupped his chin and smiled. "We used to march to battle on emptier bellies, my friend." He reminded him. "And fight on emptier still."
But huddled in the dew damp bushes at the side of the road to Nottingham, chilled to the bone, Robin wished, not for the first time, that he'd listened to Much. A bowl of the thick warming broth he made would be most welcome.
Time passed, the dew dried and the sun came out, weak at first but gaining strength as it rose higher in the sky until it blistered down and the outlaws stripped down to their jerkins. As the heat rose, so did the tempers and Robin had been forced to hush the outlaws on several occasions.
At last the whistle came from Will that signalled the approaching wagon. The outlaws readied themselves to jump out. Much's hand tightened around the hilt of his sword and he felt his heart rate speed up.
The wagon rattled at it came closer, flanked by mounted guards and by those on foot. The metal boxes laden with taxes glinted dully in the sunlight.
Much caught the smile in Robin's eye and went to smile back but then...
One of the guards turned his head, revealing his fleshy arrogant face. Much heard his own breath hitch.
Thomas of Alderbury.
It was a face and a name he would never forget, no matter how hard he had tried. He felt a warm hand on his, turned to see Djaq's concerned frown.
"Much?" She asked.
"Much?" Thomas' chuckle was dry and harsh. "Not 'much' of a name, that."
Much shuffled his feet, trying to hide his nervousness. He could be punished for leaving his post at Robin's side and sneaking into the ration store and Thomas knew this.
"My master sent me." He lied and he could see from the narrowing of Thomas' eyes that he heard the untruth for what it was. "For...um..." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "For food."
"The rations have been distributed."
"But..." Much looked around, weary of listeners. "The other servants...they say you...can help."
The smile that crossed Thomas' face turned his innards to ice.
He snapped back into the present at the sound of Robin's voice. The outlaws were already on the road, bows ready.
Much left the concealment of the bushes, his sword in his left hand, and came to stand at Robin's side. He could feel the eyes of Thomas of Alderbury settle on him.
"Put down your swords and I promise no one will be harmed." Robin told them.
Much watched Thomas smile that smile, that slow curling of his lips, eyes locked with Much's.
"No." Thomas said and swung his sword at Robin.
Little John's staff parried the blow and it was as if, with that dull clang of metal against wood, all Hell broke loose.
The guards fought well, but the outlaws fought better.
As he cut and thrust with his sword, his motions fluid, Much could feel Thomas' eyes upon him. It was enough of a distraction for the man he was fighting to slice into the flesh of his thigh. The pain focused him enough to turn the battle to his advantage and within minutes, he was running the foot soldier through with his sword.
Instinctively he knew the moment that he turned from his kill that Thomas would be there and raised his bloodied sword in readiness.
The clash of their weapons reverberated up Much's arm and he almost stumbled, regaining his balance just in time to parry yet another blow.
"You fight well." Thomas panted, sweat beading on his brow.
Much lunged, slicing his blade at the man's shoulder.
Thomas parried. "But then you always did know how to handle a man's sword."
The guard of the ration store continued to smile."Did they tell you my price?" He asked.
Much shook his head. He knew it wouldn't be pleasant, from the whispers of the other squires, but what that was no one had dared say.
Thomas told him, calmly and without shame.
Much hid his face in horror at such sin. He had heard of such things, of course, and sometimes...sometimes he and Robin...
But that was different. That was Robin and Robin wouldn't sin.
He stepped back, shaking his head. Thomas caught his arm and Much shuddered with sudden horror that his refusal was not accepted.
"I have bread and meat." He told him, smiling that smile again.
Thomas turned and opened one of the chests in the store. He took out a bundle wrapped in cloth, pulled apart the ties and showed Much what it contained. In the centre was a large chuck on bread and haunch of cooked meat.
Much's mouth watered at the sight and the smells. It had been so very long since he had seen so much food and even longer since he had slept without hunger gnawing at his innards. But he shook his head. "I can not."
Thomas wrapped the food again and Much swallowed a mouthful of saliva.
"Is there not...is there not something else I can do?"
Thomas smiled that slow smile again. "Such as?"
"I could, um, clean, or I could mend...clothes and...things."
Thomas laughed. "Such gifts indeed!"
Much's desperation overcame his fear. "Please, there must be something!"
Thomas reached out and placed splayed fingers in the sun bleached mass of Much's hair and leaned in so close that Much could feel the heat coming off his skin and the soft whisper of his breath against his neck..
Much pulled away, his heart beating loudly. Heedless of the danger of being seen, he turned and fled from the ration tent.
Much swung his sword at Thomas' throat and was almost knocked from his feet at the larger man's impressive parry.
"Does your master know," he spat, "what you did?"
The heat that day had been overwhelming. The constant marching in blazing heat over the scorched sands on so little food and water took their toll on even the strongest among them. And the rations... so little, so very little. How was a man to stay strong on such pitiful amounts?
By the time the night came, Much learned what Thomas already knew – that there wasn't much that man would not do if he were desperate enough.
The wool blankets had felt sandy and rough under his belly and smelt strongly of horses. The oil from the lamps had felt greasy and dirty against his skin and Thomas used it in ways that Much was sure he would go to Hell for just knowing about.
But Thomas was right. It did make it easier.
Much knew his anger worked against him. He could feel his arms shake with fury when they should have been steady with their purpose. But Thomas' words cut so deep and while he knew the others were all to busy with their own battles to pay attention, fear was growing in his belly that at any second enough of Thomas' words would sink in and everyone would know how gravely he had sinned.
A terrible sense of relief flooded him the moment his sword sunk into Thomas. Their eyes met over the blade that pierced Thomas' heart. Blood trickled along the metal to dribble warmly over Much's fingers.
And Thomas smiled, that awful terrible smile...
It faded along with the light in his eyes and the man slumped to the ground, sliding off the blade with a slick wet sound. Much looked at blood on his sword and remembered the blood he had shed in Thomas' bed that night.
He could hear the other's cheering as they each in turn overcame the guards they were fighting. And then the excited chatter as they unloaded the taxes but it was as if the sounds were farther away than at his side.
Robin clapped him on the back, but his eyes lost their celebration when he saw the dead man at Much's feet. He knelt down beside Thomas. "I know him." He said, but the frown on his face told Much that his master did not remember his name.
"He was a squire," said Much. "For Sir Ailric of Alderbury."
"Ailric." Robin repeated. "He was a good man." And he reached out and gently closed Thomas' eyes.
Much handed out the stew he had spent the last hour making while the other outlaws had buried the dead and taken the prisoners to a spot in the forest where they would be found before too long. Then got his own bowl and went to sit by the fire.
He picked at the food, pushing it back and forth, thinking over its relative abundance here compared to the Holy Land. He barely noticed when the others joined him.
"You look like John when he's sure you have cooked a squirrel." Robin laughed as he sat down at his side.
"I am not hungry." He replied and then snapped. "And it's not squirrel!"
"We know it's not." Robin told him.
"Only cos John shot the boar hisself." Allan added and there was ripple of laughter.
"And how can you, Much," Robin smiled, "not be hungry?"
"I am not always hungry."
Robin laughed. "Yes you are!"
Much stared at the meagre ration in his lap. All around him, the other soldiers of the King's Guard were eating like the starving men they were. They had marched continuously that day, the sand biting into their skin, the sun blistering down...
He should be just as hungry and his lack of appetite was drawing concerned looks from Robin. If only he knew...
Then that concern would turn to disgust and Much could cope with the endless marching, the heat and the sting of sand, with the blood and the fear of battle but not that.
He forced a mouthful of food, swallowed it down. But Much's mind was too full of terrible things, shadows that all of Saladin's armies could not wash away and he did not want to eat...
Robin frowned. "Is this about Sir Ailric's squire?"
"Thomas." Much sighed. "His name was Thomas."
His master squeezed his shoulder in silent support over the loss of a friend and Much leaned in to the comfort and didn't hurry to correct him.
The outlaws counted the money after they had eaten. Much didn't join them. He sat beside the fireside, poking occasionally at the embers and sending sparks flying up into the chill night air.
In his other hand, he held one of silver marks they'd stolen. He had found it on the forest floor, when it must have fallen in the outlaws haste to move the taxes to their hide out. He rubbed it between his fingers and watched it glitter, picking up the orange hues of the fire.
Soft footfalls sounded behind him and when he look up, it was Djaq. She sat cross legged at his side and placed a bowl of water with a rag in it in front of her.
"Dat needs to be cleaned." She said and gestured at the gash on his thigh.
He looked down. The long slice into his flesh had long since stopped bleeding. It throbbed a little.
She squeezed out the rag and went to press it against the wound.
Much shuffled away. "That's not that stinging nettle mash, is it?"
"It ees just water." She told him. "Lay out your leg."
Much did as he was asked and winced as she tended to the wound. After the initial sting, the cool water began to soothe.
Djaq looked up from her work. "You knew dis Thomas of Alderbury, did you not?" She asked softly.
"He was...your friend?"
Much tensed and she jumped at little, probably startled by the hatred he knew was written on his face.
"No." He replied, hearing the bitterness in his own voice.
Djaq returned to cleaning the wound.
"He was in the King's guard," Much found himself telling her. He talked too much, he knew that, even when he knew he should keep quiet.
"Like you and Robin?"
"Like me at least. We served the king because our masters did." He flinched as she pressed a little too hard. "That was the only reason we were chosen, if we were chosen at all. Ow!"
"Sorry." Djaq's ministrations became lighter, gentler. "Dis Thomas, he was not a good man?"
Much didn't know the answer to that. Thomas had used his position as guardian of their rations to his own ends and he had taken enjoyment out of reminding Much of the deal he had made, but he had been loyal to the King and to Sir Ailric and he had been a brave fighter.
And had he, Much, not made the choice? Thomas had taunted him with that.
"He served the King and his master well." Much finally said. "Sir Ailric was killed in the battle of Arsuf and I never saw Thomas again. I thought he had died as well."
And Much had prayed his sin had died along with him.
Djaq finished cleaning and carefully wrapped a clean rag around his leg. He thanked her and they fell into a long silence.
"Robin says dere are 357 marks." Djaq murmured at last. "Enough to feed de whole of Nottingham for de winter."
"Well, three hundred and fifty, um, three hundred and fifty..." Much held up the coin. "He did not count this one."
Djaq took it from him. "It is shiny."
"I polished it." Much said and pointed to a dirty patch on his sleeve. Then he looked down. "It's strange... Money, I mean..."
She watched him. He could see her at the corner of his vision, quietly waiting for his words, but he dared not turn to look at her. "Only 3 things had any value in the Holy Land." He said. "The first was food and there was never enough of that. Then there was water and there was even less of that and...and..."
"And de third?"
Oil that trickled slowly, thin tracks of blood that ran faster, the smell of Thomas' body over his, the pain and the terrible occasional flashes of pleasure...
Much poked at the fire. Flames jumped. Through the tongues of orange he could see his master laughing with the other outlaws, celebrating their victory.
"Friendship." He replied softly.
Robin...weak from fever, stumbling often as they marched through the blistering sands but too proud to ask the King to let him ride. Much could see his master's health failing and knew if he didn't recover enough before the battle he would fall easily under a Saracen blade. And how could he regain his strength without proper food? Proper sleep?
Robin... belly full of Thomas' stolen rations, sleeping peacefully, undisturbed by pangs of hunger...
Robin...who never asked where the extra food came from.
"Still," Much said a little too brightly, "357 marks. That's good. That is really...good." He took the coin back and got up. "And this one, of course."
He looked down at her. There was a gentleness in her eyes that always startled him. Djaq reached up and took his hand, her skin cool against his. He curled his fingers around hers and knew he would tell her everything if she asked.
He talked too much.
But she did not ask and Much let go first and walked into the night.