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Episode 2: The Witch of Elsdon

A series of images blend into each other, Herne, a man, grain and coins mixed together, the Sheriff's face, a pitcher of water, men's figures rolling, the lifeless figures of the band, and Gisburne.

Robin wakes with a start, the dream's images fresh in his mind, his brow furrowed with confusion. Marion wakes next to him, what is it? What does it mean? Slowly Robin returns to his place on the forest floor.

Credits roll.

The next day the Sheriff and the Abbott hold court in the village of Elsdon. Gisburne brings forth the accused, Jennet and Thomas of Elsdon.

*~*~*~*~*

In the forest, the group waits skeptically while Robin paces, trying to decide which road they should follow. They voice their doubts, how can their leader base his decisions on a dream? Toward Ruford, he decides.

Marion wants to go with them, but Robin asks her to stay behind.

"No please, I want you to stay."

"Because of the danger?" she asks in disbelief, disappointment coloring her features as she watches them go.

"We don't even know what we're looking for," John protests.

"We will when we find it," Robin answers.

*~*~*~*~*

In the village, Gisburne makes the accusation of witchcraft. He claims that Jennet even tried to bewitch him.

*~*~*~*~*

In the forest, a cart moves slowly along the road. Robin and the others stop briefly. "Now where?" John asks. The cart continues on its way, its driver's face an image from Robin's dream.

*~*~*~*~*

In the village, Gisburne reads the testimonies of two villagers before the Abbott cuts him off. Jennet protests against the charge and declares that the testimony must have been forced by Gisburne. She urges the villagers she and Thomas have helped in the past to speak out. She reminds them of the times they've been healed by the couple. Abbot Hugo seizes on the statement as blasphemy, she's admitted to interfering with God's plan. Jennet accuses Sir Guy of making the charges because he wanted her and she refused him. He blusters, but is cut off when the Abbot sentences the couple to hang in four days. The Sheriff smirks, needling Gisburne over Jennet's accusation.

"What a paragon of virtue you are, Gisburne. I'm really quite impressed. If she'd tried to bewitch me, I'd have been inclined to let her."

*~*~*~*~*

In the forest, Robin and his men come out of the trees to stop the carter. The man recognizes them as outlaws.

"Why're you with them, brother?" he asks.

"I like 'em," Tuck responds.

Once Will introduces himself, the man realizes one of them is Robin Hood. He asks them not to harm him as he only has a few sacks of grain in his cart. Little John is quick to reassure him, but Robin seems doubtful. He asks the man's name and doesn't seem to believe his answer. He stalks to the back of the cart, the man getting nervous, and the rest of the band telling him to leave off and let the man go. He ignores them and plunges his sword into one of the sacks. As the grain spills out so do the silver coins that glint through the brown kernels.

Robin advances on the man, the outlaws now understanding the trick.

"Now Master Carter, I'll have the truth!"

The man, Gregory, admits to being a tax collector, and the outlaws fall on him, jerking him about and terrifying him. He pleads that he never wanted to be a tax collector, but they're unconvinced. He's happy enough to take the people's money. He offers his own money, and they suggest they tax him an arm, leg or even his head. But before they have the chance to do anything more, two soldiers ride over a small hill. The outlaws move quickly and shoot them down, but more soldiers are on the way and the cart is stuck. Men in mail pour onto the road and the outlaws draw their weapons. Nasir fights one soldier with the two blades of his sword, while Will and Robin fights others with their blades. John uses his staff to choke a soldier and Tuck uses his belly to bump another away, then beats him over the head. Much watches as the fight progresses and the outlaws quickly gain the upper hand. When all the soldiers are gone they re-group. Gregory has slipped off in the confusion, but they doubt he'll be happy facing the Sheriff with news of the theft.

"How'd you know about the money?" John asks.

"A little bird told me."

"Was he a robin?" Much asks. The others exchange a look, then grab the boy and toss him up into the cart.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The Sheriff and Gisburne ride through the forest transporting their prisoners back to Nottingham. The Sheriff tells Gisburne he'll have to be careful of the steward, especially if he doesn't get what he wants. Gisburne defends himself from the veiled reference. "The woman is a witch!"

"Of course she is," the Sheriff agrees. "And a very pretty witch too."

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Sherwood, Marion approaches John and Nasir. She hands John a cup, and he asks her what's in it. "Marjoram, bay, and fennel." He takes a sip, but as soon as her back is turned he spits it out.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The Sheriff and Gisburne are still riding. The Sheriff talks dismissively of Robin.

"If Robin Hood wants to prance around the forest and worship Herne the Hunter or any other bogeyman, why not let him? He can paint himself bright blue for all I care." Sooner or later, the Sheriff is sure someone will earn the price on his head.

"And the Lady Marion?" Gisburne asks.

"What about her? The poor girl's gone native. He'll tire of her. It's only a matter of time. One woman and half a dozen men, it's a perfect recipe for disaster.

*~*~*~*~*~*

At the camp, the men laugh uproariously around the campfire, reliving the raid and imitating Gregory's pleas. Marian watches them stone-faced, then gets up and leaves the group. Robin calls after her, then a moment later, follows her.

She sits beside a lake, looking out at the water, and Robin attempts to sneak up behind her. He tosses a stone into the water and runs up to look in the water saying "It's a fish!"

"Are you trying to be funny?" Marian answers.

"Oh Marion, what's the matter?"

"Nothing," she says, hunching over her knees.

"Well, why are you behaving like this?" he asks. "This is ridiculous."

"Oh I'm ridiculous now, am I?" she asks indignantly.

"No. I didn't say that."

"What am I to you, Robin?"

"Everything."

"Everything. You're right. Wife, cook and nurse."

"Oh, don't be angry."

She gets up and leaves. "I had more freedom in Kirklees Abbey you know."

*~*~*~*~*~*

In his castle, the Sheriff is in a rage, screaming at the tax collector and tossing him around the room. He accuses the man of telling Robin where the money was, but Gregory denies it. "He just knew."

"He can smell money can he? See through sack cloth?"

The Sheriff orders that the man have his hands cut off, and he's dragged away screaming for mercy.

Then the Sheriff turns his attention to Gisburne. He admits that he was wrong about Robin Hood, and Gisburne says he'll go after him. The Sheriff dismisses the thought; if they go after him in Sherwood they'll be shot down before they realize anyone is there. But they can't get him out of the forest. Gisburne helplessly says that they'd need a ferret and the Sheriff is struck with an idea.

"What did you say? Of course, that's brilliant, Gisburne, brilliant! Almost inspired. A ferret, that's the answer."

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Sherwood, Marion lies next to Robin in the darkness with her head on his chest.

"I came to Sherwood because I love you. Whatever happens, whatever the danger, I want to be with you."

"You could have been killed out there today," Robin says. Marion raises her head from his chest and looks down at him. "If you'd been with us." Marion shakes her head.

"Do you think I'd want to go on living without you?"

Robin sighs, "Marion."

"I'm one of you," Marion argues. She finishes softly, "I have to be." She changes her tact, "The boy fights with you."

"The boy's different."

"Why?"

"Well, for one thing he's a --"

Marion cuts him off. "You taught me to shoot, and I can out-ride any of you." Robin shakes his head. "Do you think they'd spare me if they catch us? You know what would happen to me."

Robin answers her arguments simply, "No."

"We're outlaws, all of us, bound together by the powers of light and darkness." She puts her head back down on his chest. "Our fate must be shared, Robin. It must."

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Nottingham Castle, the grate over the dungeon is lifted and Gisburne calls Jennet out alone.

She's brought before the Sheriff, and Gisburne is dismissed.

"I'm going to save your lives, yours and your man's," the Sheriff begins. "You don't believe me, do you?"

"Why should I?" the woman asks. He shows her the pardon he has just finished writing. Then he asks if she's heard of Robin Hood. She'll help him catch the outlaw.

"You'll burn in hell first," she snaps. He dashes a glass of wine on her face and she gasps in surprise. He threatens her; if she doesn't co-operate she'll be forced to watch them torture her husband to death. She doesn't owe the outlaws anything; they didn't help her or her husband. He holds the edge of the parchment on which the pardon is written to a candle flame. Her decision is made.

"How can I help?" He mentions the herbs she uses for her "innocent country miracles," then the poisons that grow beside cures. He wants her to make a potion that will not kill Robin Hood, but make him helpless. Then once she's ready, she'll escape into the forest pursued by soldiers.

The Sheriff's words becomes truth as she walks into the forest with a group of soldiers following her. Much and Will watch from their perch in a tree. Will explains to Much that the soldiers are hunting.

"Hunting? What, like us?" the boy asks.

"No, Much, not like us."

Jennet continues father into the forest, but is suddenly grabbed by a figure underfoot. Scarlet puts his hand over her mouth to stop her scream, but reassures her that they won't hurt her.

*~*~*~*~*~*

A soldier falls from his horse, his armor pierced by an arrow. Scarlet calls out that the men are surrounded, and begins a count to ten. Gisburne calls a retreat and the soldiers fall back.

Scarlet asks Jennet why they were chasing her. She explains they were taking her to be hanged. Why? "Do they need a reason?"

*~*~*~*~*~*

In a village nearby, the rest of the band is re-distributing the Sheriff's grain. Nasir sits on top of a thatched roof, keeping watch. "And remember, we may need your help next time," Robin says. He smiles at an old woman who kisses his hand, then leads the horse and cart away with Marion by his side and Tuck sitting in the back. John comes up carrying two young men who want to join the group. He tosses them to the ground. They're bondsmen; they tried to rob him while he was sleeping. Robin tells them they're free men now.

"Free to hang," Tuck amends. John introduces them as he tosses them into the cart. Martin is the fair-haired one, James the dark...or is it the other way around?

Nasir slides down from the roof and they continue back toward the forest. John brings up the Bishop of Lester. Should they try to rob him as he travels? How many men does he have? Thirty odd. Robin's incredulous.

"Seven against thirty!"

"Eight!" Marion insists. Tuck and John exchange raised eyebrows.

They return to the camp where Much, Will and Jennet have already gathered. Marion asks who Jennet is with a knowing smile on her face. Will introduces the other woman, and Marion goes over to speak to her.

"You'll be safe with us here," she assures the woman. Jennet bursts into tears, and Marion gives her a hug, motioning Will away.

*~*~*~*~*~*

After night fall, Robin raises a wooden bowl full of water and says "Herne protect us." The others repeat the phrase while he takes a sip of the water. He passes the bowl to his left, and each of the group takes a sip.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The next day, Martin and James wrestle each other while the others watch. Much keeps trying to jump into the fray, but Tuck pulls him away and throws the two newcomers together. John brings up the Bishop again, Robin listens while watching Much beat the new members of the band, then get thrown onto the pile of bodies by Tuck. The friar sits on all three and gets a round of applause from the outlaws.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The band talks about the upcoming raid on the Bishop. They talk about what time would be best, and where to set the ambush. They decide on Darkmere as the place to set the trap. With things settled, they gather what they need and head off. Marion walks with Robin.

"Will we need the horses?" she asks.

"Marion, listen, you're gonna have to stay." Robin hurries on, knowing she's upset. "Because of the girl, nothing else."

"Then let Will stay with her."

"Will?"

"Why not, he brought her here."

"Marion, I cannot ask Will to stay. I mean that would be daft." Marion keeps up with him, her anger growing.

"You promised me, Robin."

"I promised you nothing."

"You promised!" she insists, stepping on his toes, then kicking him in the leg. She watches half-satisfied while he hops in a circle on one foot. Then she leaps on his back. He staggers, trying to get her off while she pounds on him with her fist. The others come over when the commotion starts and urge the slim redheaded girl on. "C'mon Marion, give him another!" Robin manages to flip her over his head and she lands on the ground. He turns to leave with the others, but her groan stops him. Stricken, they gather around her, worried that she's hurt. Robin and John help her gingerly up. Standing again, she elbows John hard in the stomach and grabs a small leafy green branch, flailing at them with it. They run out of her reach, and she tosses the branch down. "She's worse than, Gisburne," someone mutters.

*~*~*~*~*~*

At the camp, Jennet fills a pitcher with water from a keg. She sprinkles several pinches of a mixture of herbs into the water and swishes it, praying to God that it will work. Then she pours the water into a leather bottle.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Marion sits by the lake, staring at the water. She splashes the water with her hand and tosses a rock out into the lake, annoyed and alone.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Later that day, the others have returned to camp. Jennet brings Robin the water and pours it into the small wooden bowl. The others gather round and repeat the previous night's ritual. As Robin drinks he blinks, his face twisting, but he passes the water on. Will tells Jennet to come eat, but she says she's not hungry. They begin talking about the raid again, but the potion begins to affect them. Swords are half drawn, but they fall useless. The potion acts quickly and the outlaws stagger, struggling against the effects, before each falling. Robin sees Jennet and remembers the water bottle in his dream; understanding comes too late. The outlaws roll down a hill and come to rest at the bottom, powerless.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Marion is still at the lake, unaware of what's happened at the camp. Her meditations are interrupted when a dense fog starts to roll in over the water. Visions of Robin in distress and Jennet's face flash before her. When she looks into the surface of the pool she sees not her own reflection but the figure of Herne. "The powers of light and darkness are with you. Use them. Act quickly." The fog dissipates, leaving the surface of the lake clear, but Marion's mind still clouded with confusion.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Gisburne enters the main hall of Nottingham Castle. The Sheriff greets him. "Well if it isn't the flower of chivalry." Gisburne explains that the Abbot is angry. It's the third day, and the Abbot thinks Jennet has made a fool of them. The Sheriff promises that after she's led them to Robin Hood, Gisburne will watch her burn.

"If she returns, my lord," the steward points out.

"What a worrier you are, Gisburne. You really must learn more patience if you're going to work with me. And tact. You're very short on tact."

"I believe in action."

"Ahhh, yes. Action. The eternal excuse for not stopping to think." Jennet is brought into the hall. The Sheriff explains that she returned at dawn, and that the outlaws lie in the forest unable to move. "Take as many men as you need, Gisburne. And don't mess it up this time."

A group of soldiers, some mounted, some walking head out of the castle. Jennet walks with the soldiers on foot. They pass through a village and the peasants quickly hide.

*~*~*~*~*~*

At the outlaws' camp, everyone is still, their bodies motionless on the ground. The soldiers approach and Jennet points toward the camp, showing them where to go. The soldiers move forward, with Gisburne in the lead. He sees the bodies scattered around the camp. Then he notices Robin. He approaches the leader and leans over him.

"Remember me, Loxley?"

Moving with sudden speed, Robin kicks Gisburne, his movement a signal to the others who also spring into action. Jennet runs when she realizes what's happened, but Marion sees her and runs after her. Gisburne and Robin's swords clash over and over. John smashes two soldiers' heads together. Much is hidden in the bushes, but uses his slingshot to hit one Norman. His second shot goes wild and hits Will, who glares at him before going after another soldier. Robin gains the upper hand and disarms Gisburne.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Marion spots Jennet and runs to cut her off. She corners the other woman and bears her to the ground.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Gisburne is lifted out of the water dripping and panting for air. "Animals!" he yells at the outlaws who have him tied to a wooden platform they can dip into the water from the shore. "What's wrong with animals?" Much asks. The others urge Robin to kill Gisburne.

"What's your life worth, Gisburne?" Robin asks.

"Nothing," the steward answers and is dunked into the water again.

Marion approaches with Jennet. Will stalks over to them angrily, and confronts Jennet with the betrayal. "I believed you!"

"She was to be hanged, and her husband," Marion explains. Her face falls as she sees the surprise on Will's face. Husband? He realizes she made a deal with the Sheriff and squeezes her face in his hand. Marion stops him.

"We'd all be dead if it hadn't been for you," he says to Marion. "Because of her."

*~*~*~*~*~*

Abbot Hugo and the Sheriff wait in Nottingham Castle for Gisburne's return. They discuss what to do with Robin Hood. The Abbot suggests putting his head over the gate. "What about the stench?" the Sheriff asks. "Aren't you forgetting the prevailing wind blows from that direction?"

A soldier rides into the castle. He is dressed in Gisburne's armor, on Gisburne's horse. But it is not Gisburne.

The Sheriff and the Abbott bring up Marion. The Sheriff suggests they pardon her, then get her out of the country, sell her to the highest bidder. Gisburne's horse enters the courtyard. The two men head down to meet him.

"Well?" the Sheriff says. "Where's the villain's head?"

"On the villain's shoulders," the man answers, taking off his helmet to reveal he is Robin Hood. The Sheriff orders his two guards to attack, but Robin fights them off. The Sheriff picks up a discarded sword, but Robin tells him to put it away. He's come to talk. The Abbot seizes on that...yes, talk, no swords.

Robin explains that he has Gisburne. They want Thomas of Elsdon in exchange. The Sheriff doesn't care about Gisburne or his men.

"So you've nothing to bargain with, have you?"

"Haven't I?" Robin asks, raising his sword. He and the Sheriff fight. The Abbot runs upstairs to get a parchment, ink and quill while the two men fill the tower with the sound of metal on metal. The Sheriff is disarmed, and Robin places the tip of his sword at the man's throat. You'd like, Gisburne back, wouldn't you? he asks. The Sheriff has no choice but to say he would. "He'd like him back," Robin says to the Abbot, who brings the parchment. "You can kill a man with that feather, or you can save his life," Robin tells the Sheriff, poking him with the point of his sword.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Robin rides toward their camp, his helmet gone, but still wearing Gisburne's armor. Marion runs to meet him, and Jennet runs as well when she sees Thomas sitting behind Robin on the horse. Jennet and Thomas are reunited joyfully, hugging and kissing each other. Will watches them for a moment silently, before turning away.

Robin dismounts and gets a kiss from Marion. Then the rest of the group surrounds them. Robin shows them the pardon, and John says it looks like Gisburne's life was worth something after all. Tuck's eyes pop open as he remembers Gisburne and runs for the lake.

The steward is still submerged underwater, forgotten by the others. Tuck heaves himself down, and Gisburne comes up coughing and gagging.

The others are still in a celebratory mood, but Robin speaks to Marion by his side. "It wasn't Gisburne's life I bargained with, it was the Sheriff's and now he'll hunt me 'til one of us is dead.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The whole group goes with Jennet and Thomas to return them to Elsdon. While the married couple greets their friends, the outlaws look on.

"Brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?" Tuck says to John.

"It will do if you don't get off me foot," John responds. They turn back to the forest.

"So Gisburne goes free," Marion says, not completely satisfied.

"To face the Sheriff," Robin points out. He says they'll be left in peace for a while. But not for long.

"No, they'll be back."

"But we'll be ready for them," John adds.

"We'll be ready for them," Robin agrees. He moves closer to Marion and hugs her. "All of us."

end

So why is it one of my Favorites?

The main reason I love the episode is because of the Marion story line. Her struggle to be a real member of the group instead of just "Robin's wife" is funny and touching by turns. Her nighttime talk with Robin really reveals a lot about who she is. She has no illusions about their life-style or the consequences if they're caught. She made herself very vulnerable by coming to Sherwood, put herself in an uncomfortable situation, and separated herself from the genteel life she knew. She set herself up for death or rape because she loves Robin. And while she's not afraid to face those consequences, she wants to make sure she didn't give up her old life for nothing and that it's worth the consequences. She wants more than just Robin's love. She wants respect. She wants to be considered an equal, a useful member of the band. She's chosen to carry the same title of outlaw, and she wants to be treated the same as the others.

That many parts of her struggle are humorous doesn't belittle her. The episode doesn't make a mockery of her desire for equality, but it manages to keep the tone light (which fits in perfectly with the Merries' chemistry in the next few episodes as well.)

It's also interesting to compare Jennet's life/problems with Marion's. Jennet is like Marion in her strength. Her ability with plants and as a healer give her power. But it's her body and face that the people around her focus on. The reason she's being accused of witchcraft is her refusal of Gisburne's sexual advances. And the way she joins the band is mainly through allowing Will to think he has a chance with her. Her pretty face has gotten her into trouble, and she has to use it to try to win the pardon. But ultimately she is completely faithful to her husband. Like Marion she made her choices for love. Like Marion people tend to see her as simply a woman rather than looking at the other qualities she possesses. But unlike Marion who finally gains acceptance from the group, and can return to the freedom afforded by Sherwood. Jennet returns to the village where she may well face the same kind of stereotyping and sexual advances again.

If I have any complaint it's that we didn't get to see Marion actually reviving the other outlaws. It would have been nice to actually see what she did to prove herself. But I can understand that the element of surprise or uncertainty, not knowing whether the outlaws are powerless when the soldiers come, was important as well.

Overall it's a fun episode. The Merries are finding their comfort level with each other. They don't trust Robin's instincts completely yet, and they haven't all found their places yet, but things are coming together. And it's interesting to see the Sheriff's dismissive attitude toward Robin change to full blown hatred by the end of the episode. The first episode brought the group together, but this is the one where you can see them testing out their new lifestyle and companions.

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