Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flash Fiction: ROAMING HOODS

[The thing about flash fiction is that it imposes severe limits on what you can write, in quantity if not in thematic choice. Here's a story that kept trying to grow longer, kept trying to leap beyond my self-shortened leash and howl deep into the forest.]


            He hated being called “Robin Hood.” Robin Hood was a trifling piker while he was a true plunderer, a real robber-man. But that “stealing from the rich to give to the poor” just put a lot of pressure on Roaming John (as he liked to call himself) and incensed him no end. He was much more comfortable with “stealing from the rich and keeping to himself,” but he needed some goodwill from the gentlefolk and so every once in a while he’d hand out some trinkets and coppers. Every time he did so he felt a part of his gut burn as if with lye.
            Roaming John was a big man, broad of shoulder and with a beard that resisted any effort to trim and tame. He carried a sword meant for a giant, and though he often cursed its ungainly weight, he did enjoy the fear it put into nobleman’s eyes when he unsheathed its gleaming length.
            The early months of banditry yielded great gains and a few scars, but as months became years, Roaming John had to roam farther and farther to find booty and avoid capture, by either the King’s men or Robin Hood’s. As his roaming took on the appearance of fleeing, he was forced to spend even more on the poor, tarnishing his reputation beyond easy repair.
In the winter of his fourth year of outlawry, Roaming John holed up in a former nunnery with his tiny band of henchmen. The snow-covered woods were unmarked well past St. Swithin’s Day when a tiny knock was heard at the oak door. Royce of Bergen, he of the very few teeth, opened the door and gaped in surprise. Standing there was a slip of a girl, holding a naked rapier of impressive Damascene steel. Her words were blunt in the icy air: “I’ve come to kill Roaming John.” No laughter would mar this pronouncement. Stepping aside with an eerie courtly air, Royce bowed the girl in. By fortune, Roaming John was passing the oak door and was quickly faced by a rapier’s tip, rock-steady at eye level.
            Roaming John opened his mouth to speak, but Royce’s toothless grimace made him stop. “What is the meaning of this, girl?” he rumbled.
            “You stole our money. I’ve come to kill you and get it back.” The rapier was still.
            Roaming John shook his head. “Mayhaps I did, mayhaps I didn’t. But I cannot let you kill me on a simple claim. Have ye any proof?” The rapier wavered. Trembled. Then dropped to point at the cobbled floor. A trick of the light made it seem as if the girl’s eyes held tears. “I—I lack such—proof. I was merely told my family’s silver had been taken by Roaming John.”
            In a flash, Roaming John pulled out his sword and swung at the girl. Royce was startled into a warning cry, for even such as he was shocked at his leader’s treachery. With the grace of a cat, the girl ducked and rolled, rising to her feet and thrusting so quickly at Roaming John’s neck that he stumbled back. Pressing her advantage, the girl lunged and thrust, forcing the huge man and his sword to struggle to stay intact. “Royce!” bellowed Roaming John.
            With a fluid motion, the girl flung a small pouch behind her, its contents tinkling mutely on the stone floor. “Keep it and stay away!” she commanded. Roaming John’s backward steps ended against a wall and the hellish fury of the girl’s attack pinned the villain until at last, tiring, his massive muscles failed to sweep away the rapier’s tip in time and it buried itself with a meaty thwip into his throat. Gagging and gouting blood, Roaming John collapsed like a fallen tree and died.
            Turning lightly, the girl saw Royce staring agape. Pulling a larger pouch from her leggings, she said “Round up the men. Tell them there’s money now and treasure aplenty on the morrow.”
            Royce nodded dumbly. “Who are ye?”
            The girl smiled. “Maid Marion.”
Royce gaped again. “And what about Robin Hood? He hates us so.”
Marion raised the rapier’s bloody length at Royce and said “He’s dead. In the same way.” She licked the blade and grinned in carmine glee.
            Royce turned to run, stopping not until his feet touched the quiet roots of the distant Black Forest.

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