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Episode 4: Alan-a-Dale

Little John comes out of the forest and carries a bucket to a small hut where a woman tends her goats. She comes to meet him; he kisses her and they enter the hut together.

Outside an owl is the only witness as they tumble into a bed of straw together. Laughing the woman's voice floats up into the night. "Tell me, why do they call you Little John?"

Opening credits roll

Night at Nottingham Castle. The Sheriff and Gisburne discuss the next day's activities when Gisburne will go to Wickham to find and punish a man who's been circumventing the market system.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Meg and John lie next to each other. She stares into the distance, and John watches her chewing on a piece of straw.

"Is he really as handsome as they say?" she asks.

"Who?"

"Robin Hood of course. There's ever so many stories about him. They say he talks to spirits. And some people say he's Herne the Hunter's son. They even say he can make himself invisible."

"Well we all can," John answers.

"Get away!" Meg responds in disbelief.

"That's why they can't catch us."

"Is it?"

"Would I lie to you, Meg?" he asks, then leans closer to press his lips to hers.

"Go on then," she says when the kiss is over, pulling away to watch him.

"What?"

"Make yourself invisible."

"Oh, I can't do that," John answers.

"Why not?"

"Well, I've got to be in the forest, you can't do it anywhere else."

"If I lived in the forest could I do it too?"

"I'd have to teach you."

Her smile is teasing as she answers, "That'd be nice."

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Sherwood, at the outlaws' camp, Robin talks to Tuck.

"Fishing?" Robin asks in disbelief. "At night?"

"Best time he said," Tuck answers.

"So was he fishing the night before?"

"Don't know," the friar answers, holding up a piece of cloth while Robin dumps coins into it.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Meg trails her fingers idly over John's chest.

And if I did come to the forest, would you marry me?"

The big man chokes and coughs, surprise in his eyes.

"Go on, say you would," Meg urges. "Just say it."

"I would."

"We'd jump through the fire at midnight with flowers in our hair, wouldn't we?" After a short pause. "Come on, say we would."

"Of course we would."

A commotion outside interrupts them. Animal and human noises mingle. John goes to the window and see Gisburne shouting orders. He heads out the back, but trips, alerting the soldiers to his presence. "Wolfshead!" Gisburne yells, sending his men after John. John runs for the forest and grabs a rope that hangs from a tree near the edge. He is pulled up by Nasir and Will who're perched in the branches. "Morning, John," Will says cheerfully. The soldiers enter the forest and Will takes aim, but John convinces him not to kill them.

"Where've you been anyway?" Will asks.

"Fishing."

"What, in Wickham?" Will says incredulously.

*~*~*~*~*~*

At the camp, the outlaws are counting out money for each village. John and the others enter the camp, and Will lets them know about Gisburne. Robin follows John away from the others.

"What's her name, John," Robin asks.

"Meg."

Robin asks if the soldiers saw him with her, and John denies it. He tells him not to do it again, but John protests.

"You can vanish into Sherwood and the people of Wickham can't. It's them'll suffer, not you," the leader explains.

"I didn't think did I," John says, understanding.

"No, you didn't."

*~*~*~*~*~*

Martin falls into the river with a huge splash. Tuck stands victorious on a log across the water, his quarterstaff in hand. Who's next, he wonders. Marion offers to go. "Ahhh," the friar says with a smile, "a little flower for watering." She walks onto the log with her staff and exchanges a few blows before Tuck sends her flying into the water with a splash. She laughs with the others as she surfaces and swims to the bank. Next up is Robin "another one for a ducking." The blows land hard and fast, both he and Tuck are highly skilled. Then Tuck's round face looks with surprise into the distance. Robin turns his head to look, and Tuck sends him into the water. When he gets to the bank, Much tries to help him out and instead the boy gets pulled in himself, the outlaws roar with laughter. John offers to be next, and Tuck is confident that he can beat the larger man, but he gets a surprise when John simply lifts the whole log and sends Tuck toppling into the water. The group is in stitches as Tuck swims to the side and they help him out.

*~*~*~*~*~*

In the woods a voice sings loudly.

"My heart is heavy as a stone
My tears they fall like rain.
For she who was my own true love,
I'll never see again, again. I'll never see...

Robin interrupts. "Maybe she heard you singing." The band emerges from the forest and surrounds the man on horseback.

"Let me pass," the man says.

"Not until you've paid us," Robin declares.

"Paid you for what?"

"Disturbing the peace," John answers.

"And frightening the birds," Robin adds. Will pulls the man from his horse.

"Your purse," Scarlet demands.

"It's empty," the man answers.

"I'll be judge of that," Tuck insists. He feels the man's purse. "He's right, it's empty."

"I gave all had for my steed," the man explains.

"Steed?" Will asks.

"His horse," John clarifies. The man explains that he's a minstrel. "Well that accounts for it," John says.

"For what?"

"The bad voice and the empty purse," the big man answers with a grin. The minstrel's name it turns out is Alan-a-Dale, and Robin sends him on his way. The group watches as he rides slowly away.

"Where are you going?" Marion asks.

"Nottingham."

"To seek your fortune?" she guesses.

"To kill the Sheriff." Robin's eyes widen in shock, and the others exchange a series of incredulous looks. "Hang on there, Alan!" they say as they run to catch up with him.

"To kill the Sheriff? How're you going to do that?" Robin asks coming up alongside the horse. Alan stops.

"With my trusty sword."

"Trusty sword? Will says in utter disbelief.

"My fate awaits me in Nottingham," Alan answers. "The world has become an empty place and life is merely the echo of mocking laughter."

John chuckles. "I'm not surprised.

Alan explains that he wants to marry Mildred de Brace, the Baron's daughter. Robin cautions him to be realistic. But he's determined. Love conquers all things, he says in Latin.

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Nottingham Castle, the Sheriff is in the bath. He eats some of the food placed on a board stretching from one side of the large round tub to the other. Gisburne is telling him that John was sighted in Wickham, but escaped. The knight suggests that they drive the villagers into the forest and burn the village down, as an example.

The Sheriff's voice grows louder with every word of his answer. "As an example of what? Hmmm? I'll tell you, Gisburne, shall I, since you're obviously incapable of answering my question. As an example of your stupidity. An example of your ignorance. An example of your total inability to control the people of Sherwood and to destroy the power of Robin Hood." The people are the Sheriff's property and Gisburne's "masterly plan is to drive them to join Robin Hood." In his rage, the Sheriff's send the board and the food on it flying.

Instead of Gisburne's suggestion, they will levy a heavy fine worth 6 months work for every villager. He continues to plan while Gisburne rubs him dry. The reward on the outlaws will be doubled. "The way to a man's obedience is through his pocket."

His course of action decided, the Sheriff turns his attentions to his upcoming nuptials. He's not looking forward to marrying a "pansy faced sixteen year old virgin". Can it possibly be worth 10,000 marks? Well? he asks when Gisburne doesn't answer the question. "I assumed the question was rhetorical," the steward explains. He tells Gisburne to fetch the girl and her father, and says the wedding will happen when he's "drunk enough to go through with it."

*~*~*~*~*~*

At the outlaws' camp Alan tells his story. He was DeBrace's minstrel, but the man didn't appreciate music. His daughter did however, and they fell in love. But the Baron came home early after a tournament and discovered them.

"Life's not a love song," Robin tells Alan. He advises the man to forget Mildred, she's too far above his station. Marion argues. How can he forget her?

The group wonders why the Sheriff would marry anyway; he hates women. Then they realize it must be the dowry. He's marrying for money and power. Marion's sympathies lie with the girl; Tuck advocates their snatching the dowry.

Much sees Gisburne traveling through the forest with his men. He tells the others, and they decide they'll stop him on the way back the next day so they can get both Mildred and the dowry.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The next day, Much is in a tree watching the road. A fly buzzes around his head, so he doesn't see Gisburne until the soldiers are almost underneath his perch. He alerts the others with a birdcall, and they quickly move to their positions.

Robin shouts Gisburne's name and blocks the road. He demands that they leave the girl. Gisburne tells the soldier next to him to use his crossbow. He's too late, arrows fly and the soldiers fall. Gisburne tries to escape, riding hard and bringing Mildred with him. Robin hops on a horse and gallops after them.

Gisburne leaves Mildred behind as Robin gains on them and her horse falls back. Robin pulls even with Gisburne and leaps off his horse, pushing Gisburne into a huge mud puddle. They both recover from the fall and try to fight each other, but the mud sucks at their limbs. They flail with their swords, never really coming close to hitting each other. Each movement is a huge effort. Mildred watches from her horse while the two men struggle against the clinging suction.

The Sheriff and more soldiers ride up, so Robin struggles toward the water just a few feet away. It's slow going, but he makes it. The Sheriff yells at his men to shoot and crossbow bolts fall all around him, but don't hit him.

"You cross-eyed idiots!" the Sheriff screams, watching Robin swim away. Then he turns his attention to Gisburne, still stuck in the dense mud. "Stop playing around in the mud and come up here." Gisburne starts fighting his way to the road. "You look like a decaying dungheap. Keep down wind of me for the love of Christ."

He realizes that Mildred is mounted next to him. "Lady Mildred," he acknowledges. He turns back to Gisburne. "Where's the Baron? And where are your men?"

"The Baron was wounded in a tournament, my lord; he's taken to his bed."

"And your men? Have they taken to their beds as well?" Gisburne explains the attack, and that the wagon was captured. But the Sheriff has a surprise. The dowry is safe; it was sent by another road earlier as a precaution.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The outlaws look through the chests that were in the cart. Instead of coin, the boxes were filled with old clothes. They've been tricked. How can they get Mildred or the dowry now that their in Nottingham. Tuck says they'd need an army. And Much calls out that there's a girl headed for them.

"Who could it be?" Marion asks.

"John's fish I should think," Robin answers. John runs to greet the girl and hugs her tight. She's crying and explains the fine that's been levied against all the villagers in Wickham. They tell her they'll get the money. "It's waiting in Nottingham Castle," Will says.

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Nottingham Castle Gisburne and Mildred sit at the table while the Sheriff looks on. Mildred isn't eating and tells the Sheriff she has no appetite. "No appetite for anything have you?" the Sheriff answers. He begins to berate her and makes her cry. Disgusted, the Sheriff talks to Gisburne about the wedding. There are no guests coming, most of his family is dead or in France. "It's a wedding Gisburne, not a celebration," the Sheriff says.

A girl from Wickham is announced and Meg enters the room. She says she can help them catch the outlaws if he'll pardon the village. Angry again, the Sheriff says he doesn't make bargains. Meg begins to cry, the second woman to break into tears that night, "not another sniveling female."

Meg says the outlaws are coming to the castle. The Sheriff is incredulous and disbelieving, calling her a "lying bitch!" She's taken away and Mildred asks to leave. Once they're gone the Sheriff tells Gisburne the wedding will proceed, but they'll be ready for the outlaws if they do come. Gisburne gone, the Sheriff raises his glass to the dowry money.

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Sherwood, Meg sits next to Robin. "So far so good," he says. He talks about the rest of the plan. Marion and Much turn to him both dressed as nuns. They figure out where the priest will be sent from and go to intercept him, leaving Meg at the camp.

*~*~*~*~*~* The captured priest and two monks are tied to a tree and Much tickles them with a feather. They take the clothes and while some of them get dressed in the robes, the others load bees' nests into a cart. Alan will have to do the ceremony because Tuck would be recognized, and since he's a real friar the wedding would be binding if he performed it. Alan's nervous, but Robin tries to encourage him.

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Nottingham, the wedding preparations go forward. Soldiers ride into the castle, and in the hall candles are being set. Gisburne talks to a group of soldiers, bringing up the wedding and telling them that after the ceremony they will cheer on his signal. He leads them in a couple practice cheers, and the Sheriff enters. Gisburne tells the soldiers to get to their positions.

Alan and his two fake monks enter the gate. Gisburne stops them when they reach the hall, asking where the other priest is. Alan tells the steward he's sick and implies that it was something he ate while visiting the Sheriff. He gives his name as Father Matthew.

At the gate, the cart is stopped by the guards. Marion tells the soldiers they're bringing a wedding gift of honey for the Sheriff. And she tells them that they saw Robin and his men coming out of Sherwood. The guards let them pass and they enter the bustling market.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Guy goes to fetch Mildred, who's praying by herself. He waits quietly while she tells him, "I shan't weep. Someone once told me that he loved me, not the Baron DeBrace's daughter or her dowry. But me." Gisburne remains silent as she finishes, "And I'll never forget him."

*~*~*~*~*~*

The wedding begins, and as she walks toward the priest with Gisburne, Mildred sees Alan in the priest's robes. She hesitates, but continues forward.

Alan blesses them, and the Sheriff corrects him, pointing out that he should bless them at the end of the ceremony. Will enters the hall wearing a soldier's uniform while the others are in the midst of a moment of silent prayer. Alan continues the ceremony slowly, stumbling often. The Sheriff finishes one of his sentences for him, and exclaims, "Good God man, I know it better than you do."

Alan begins to read the vows to Mildred, but is interrupted by Will running in and yelling that there are outlaws on the castle grounds. Leaping into action, Gisburne leads the soldiers out of the room. As soon as they're gone, Robin leaps forward and puts his sword to the Sheriff's neck. Will shuts the doors and brings in the cart. They begin unloading the bees. Mildred and Alan, reunited, begin to kiss each other passionately, unaware of the commotion around them. Tuck and John load the chests onto the cart.

The soldiers find no outlaws and realize they've been tricked. They run back to the room, and Will tells the others they're coming. It takes a few tries to turn Alan's attention away from Mildred, but Robin finally does and gets the minstrel to keep holding his sword on the Sheriff.

The soldiers return. Robin and Nasir shoot the tops off the bees' nests, and bees flood the room. The outlaws get into the cart as it rolls out of the room and John tosses the Sheriff over into the mass of bees with the rest of the Normans.

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Sherwood, Tuck marries Mildred and Alan while the others watch. John and Meg stand with their arms around each other and Meg pokes the large man in the chest as a not-so-subtle hint. He holds her closer, leaving the answer for another day.

A little later they open the chests and discover they're full of rocks

*~*~*~*~*~*

In Nottingham Castle, the Sheriff and Gisburne are in the bathtub together. Both of them are covered in bee stings. While they scrub themselves, the Sheriff explains that he planted the stones because he has little faith in Gisburne's ability. But now, he has the dowry and he didn't have to get married, so things have worked out remarkably well.

*~*~*~*~*~*

In the forest, Alan and Mildred prepare to leave Sherwood. Mildred offers her necklace to pay Wickham's fine. At first Robin refuses it, but when she explains that it was a present from the Sheriff, he accepts. "Long life and happiness to both of you," he says as the two of them ride away.

end

So why is it one of my Favorites?

The main reason is that it is, in my opinion, the funniest episode of RoS I've ever seen. I think every episode I've seen had some humor in it, but this one is non-stop. The episode starts out with a laugh (Meg's comment about why they call him *little* john), and the laughs just keep coming. The outlaws' banter about John's fish, their constant teasing of Alan, the quarterstaff game, even their invasion of the castle (in their disguises) are very funny. The Sheriff is in rare form as well. Barely a word comes from his mouth that isn't an insult or a joke ("It's not a celebration, it's a wedding, etc.) Gisburne is often the butt of the joke in other episodes, but here he gets a few laughs on his own as well (the practice cheering scene is priceless). The dialogue crackles with wit, practically sends sparks up the barbs are so frequent. Scenes that in other episodes would be tense end up being funny as well. Gisburne fights Robin! You'd think it was another rousing sword fight, but add in the mud and it becomes a farce.

Part of the reason for the farcical tone I believe is Alan's character. Not just because he gets mocked hilariously throughout the episode, I think his presence in general changes the tone from drama to comedy. He is a mockery of what the outlaws are, because he speaks of heroism, but doesn't truly understand it, not the reality of it that they live everyday. The outlaws are living what he had only sung or talked of, so when he is interjected into the group dynamic, everything things seems to be thrown a bit off kilter, to take on that tone of near unreality. Things are turned upside down, the Sheriff outsmarts Robin for once, but Robin also wins by getting the girl back. It's really the only episode where both good and evil win, and I think again that's part of the unreality or the disjointed reality of this episode. The stakes are not as high as in some other episodes, and everything is seen through a humorous filter of sorts.

In addition to loving the episode because it made me laugh. I also have to mention the introduction of Meg. I really like the dynamics between Little John and Meg. Their relationship is really wonderful; they clearly love each other, but there's an edge to it too. They tease each other and bait each other. I love watching them together, and I love the fact that John is in love. The whole thing just adds a lot to my enjoyment of the episode.

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