I had planned to debut today a fantasy pastoral based on the music of Bruce Springsteen that’s been simmering for several years in my mind. However, in starting to write it, I discovered that not every piece lends itself to flash fiction and cliffhangers. It kept demanding a slow burn with lots of subtlety and characterization. SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM, on the other hand, came out of nowhere three weeks ago and demanded at gunpoint to take the Friday slot. Who was I to say no?
Part One (of Five)
I resigned myself long ago to the realization that I would never be the hero of the story. If the way I treated my brother when we were children had not set my place in history as a villain, it had at least cast me in the role of eternal repentant. In the year eight hundred and fifteen, at the age of nineteen, I pulled myself from the muddy gutter and foreswore both drink and violence, the only two skills in which I had thus far shown any competence.
The story of that night of epiphany is not the tale I set out to tell, though. As I said, I am no hero to immortalize in word or song. There are only two men I have ever met who deserve that particular distinction. The first is obviously my brother, of whom more has been written than any man living, and any insight I could bring to his youth would only further condemn me.
It is the second man whose story needs telling, from his unexpected arrival to his final stand. His “Christian” name–whatever he meant when he described it in such terms–was Jericho Pale, but we knew him best as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Five years I had served at the monastery of Our Lady of Peace when Father Onree summoned me to his cell for our final and fateful meeting. I had made it a particular duty of mine to assist the Father as his health was frail despite his relative youth. In return, he had been a constant inspiration to me, his patience and belief in people’s innate goodness a contrast to the bitterness and temper of my conflicted soul. As I arrived, I could see that something weighed upon my friend. He sat on his cot with a scroll in one hand, the seal broken.
“Brother Achidan,” he said, thin lips beneath his greying beard pronouncing my name carefully. “Thank you for coming.”
I nodded at the unnecessary thanks.
“I have recently received ill news,” Onree continued, sadness in his eyes. “An old friend of mine has passed on.”
“I am sorry,” I said.
“It is not the grief that burdens me, though. Rather, he leaves behind a problem that it is my duty to oversee.”
“What sort of problem?” I asked, curious at what endeavor outside the confines of the monastery Father Onree might possibly be involved in. To my knowledge, he had never left our walls.
“You know that some of Our Lady’s servants still take appointment in the outer world, bringing her peace to the tumult of the great war? Even with the Grey Judges, it is still our duty to do what we can.”
“Well, Carolus–my late friend–had taken a position some years back as a local healer in the Sylvan town of Nottingham. Recently he found something there… something neither he nor I have been able to explain, but which we both believe may someday be a great force for peace.”
“Found?” I recalled the day my brother first discovered the buried blade. My face flushed with remembered shame. “Like a relic?”
Onree laughed, then coughed, then laughed again.
“A weapon, maybe, but not a relic. If anything, it is quite the opposite.”
I looked confused, but allowed him time to catch breath and explain.
“He discovered a man,” Onree said. “A man unlike any before seen in our lands. A man who might be a hero.”
It was as if he had offered me a second chance.
“I will take his place,” I said.
“I knew you would, my friend. I knew you would.”
The ride to Nottingham was long, but the discomfort of traveling through the Sylvan Vale was a far different–and more welcome–one than serving the vineyards of the Abyrline Monastery as a penitent. The Vale was much as I had been told, wild forests without road or farm. My prayers for traveler’s aid had been answered by the Lady with a blue star in the sky I could follow day and night. After five days ride, I finally emerged from the forests into a valley clearing. It was a comfort to see civilization, and the farmers whose land I rode through were friendly to me. Still, there was something of a nervousness about them when I first approached that told me that not all was well in the lands around Nottingham.
That sensation only increased as I approached the village on its main road. Eyes peered out from behind curtains as I passed homes. When I finally approached the stables of the town’s public house, a young woman dressed in boy’s clothes but with an unmistakable curly red mane of hair raced into the street and took position between myself and the stable entrance.
“You be the new healer?” she asked more as challenge than curiosity.
“I am Brother Achidan,” I said. “I…”
“About bloody time! Give Hencher your horse and get thee to the sheriff’s room!
On my other side there was suddenly a young man who I assumed was Hencher. He held out one hand meekly to take my horse’s reins. I dismounted quickly as the girl seemed to deem my presence a matter of some urgency. By the time I was standing on the cobbled stones of the road she was already racing in the door of the tavern. I barely had a moment to notice the sign outside as I followed her in. It was new, freshly painted, and made little sense to me. What kind of name for an inn was the incomprehensible “Sixth Shooter?” I presumed a shooter must be some kind of local term, but before I could think on it, I was running through the aleroom and up a set of stairs to the private lodgings.
“Here!” the girl yelled, opening one of the doors. Propelled by her urgency, I made the distance of the hall in ten steps and turned into the room to see what the emergency was.
Laying on the bed was a wounded man in odd garb. I could see the sheen of sweat on his head indicating that he was deep in a fever. Next to him a beautiful elven lady with black hair so night-like that it might have contained stars sat, holding the sleeping man’s hand in hers. I had long ago given up on seeking the comforts and companionship of the distaff sex but seeing this vision, a long-forgotten pang of jealousy rose, unbidden, to my heart.
“I got the pray-healer,” the girl at the door said to the elven woman. “He’s going to be all right now, right?”
“He has been getting worse,” the vision said to me. “He is beyond my minor magics. I do not know if he will make it through another night.”
I bowed once before stepping to the other side of the bed to look at the man. “I will do what I can,” I said.
The man was wearing a white shirt stained with blood around a deep cut on his right side. Infection had, in fact, already set in on the wound. I had seen this sort of thing before, though I didn’t want to admit where I had come by such knowledge.
“It’s a goblin poison,” I said reaching into my satchel for my blessed salts. “Left unattended he wouldn’t awake until he passed on, but easily burned away by Our Lady’s grace.”
With one hand I shook the salts over the wound. There was a fizzing sound as Abyrline’s healing gaze fell upon the man and he shook violently in the bed for a moment before once more falling still. There was a basin of water on the table next to the bed and I dipped a cloth in it, wiping his brow clear of sweat.
“Now we must let him sleep,” I said. “Alone,” I added.
The redheaded girl took the hand of the elf maiden. “Come on, Dorienne, Sheriff’s a-going to be better now, the Father said so!”
Without a word, the Lady Dorienne followed the girl out of the room, and it is not to my credit that I was sad to see her go. Taking the man’s left hand in mine, I bowed my head forward and began to pray for his full healing.
There was a strange sound, a metallic click. Something cold touched the side of my head. I raised my eyes to meet those of the sheriff, awake and glaring with threat. His other hand was holding a strange device with a wooden handle and a metal tube. The open end of the tube was pointed at my head.
“You got ten seconds to tell me who you are, stranger, or I’m a-gonna shoot you where you sit.”
It seemed I had learned exactly what a “shooter” was.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.