NOT MORE than two months had passed and gone since these stirring adventures befell Robin Hood and Little John, when all Nottinghamshire was a mighty stir and tumult, for King Richard of the Lion’s Heart was making a royal progress through merry England, and everyone expected him to come to Nottingham Town in his journeying. Messengers went riding back and forth between the Sheriff and the King, until at last the time was fixed upon when His Majesty was to stop in Nottingham, as the guest of his worship.
And now came more bustle than ever; a great running hither and thither, a rapping of hammers and a babble of voices sounded everywhere through the place, for the folk were building great arches across the streets, beneath which the King was to pass, and were draping these arches with silken banners and streamers of many colors. Great hubbub was going on in the Guild Hall of the town, also, for here a grand banquet was to be given to the King and the nobles of his train, and the best master carpenters were busy building a throne where the King and the Sheriff were to sit at the head of the table, side by side.
It seemed to many of the good folk of the place as if the day that should bring the King into the town would never come; but all the same it did come in its own season, and bright shone the sun down into the stony streets, which were all alive with a restless sea of people. On either side of the way great crowds of town and country folk stood packed as close together as dried herring in a box, so that the Sheriffs men, halberds in hands, could hardly press them back to leave space for the King’s riding.
“Take care whom thou pushest against!” cried a great, burly friar to one of these men. “Wouldst thou dig thine elbows into me, sirrah? By’r Lady of the Fountain, an thou dost not treat me with more deference I will crack thy knave’s pate for thee, even though thou be one of the mighty Sheriff’s men.”
At this a great shout of laughter arose from a number of tall yeomen in Lincoln green that were scattered through the crowd thereabouts; but one that seemed of more authority than the others nudged the holy man with his elbow. “Peace, Tuck,” said he, “didst thou not promise me, ere thou camest here, that thou wouldst put a check upon thy tongue?”
“Ay, marry,” grumbled the other, “but ‘a did not think to have a hard- footed knave trample all over my poor toes as though they were no more than so many acorns in the forest.”
But of a sudden all this bickering ceased, for a clear sound of many bugle horns came winding down the street. Then all the people craned their necks and gazed in the direction whence the sound came, and the crowding and the pushing and the swaying grew greater than ever. And now a gallant array of men came gleaming into sight, and the cheering of the people ran down the crowd as the fire runs in dry grass.
Eight and twenty heralds in velvet and cloth of gold came riding forward. Over their heads fluttered a cloud of snow-white feathers, and each herald bore in his hand a long silver trumpet, which he blew musically. From each trumpet hung a heavy banner of velvet and cloth of gold, with the royal arms of England emblazoned thereon. After these came riding fivescore noble knights, two by two, all fully armed, saving that their heads were uncovered. In their hands they bore tall lances, from the tops of which fluttered pennons of many colors and devices. By the side of each knight walked a page clad in rich clothes of silk and velvet, and each page bore in his hands his master’s helmet, from which waved long, floating plumes of feathers. Never had Nottingham seen a fairer sight than those fivescore noble knights, from whose armor the sun blazed in dazzling light as they came riding on their great war horses, with clashing of arms and jingling of chains. Behind the knights came the barons and the nobles of the mid-country, in robes of silk and cloth of gold, with golden chains about their necks and jewels at their girdles. Behind these again came a great array of men-at-arms, with spears and halberds in their hands, and, in the midst of these, two riders side by side. One of the horsemen was the Sheriff of Nottingham in his robes of office. The other, who was a head taller than the Sheriff, was clad in a rich but simple garb, with a broad, heavy chain about his neck. His hair and beard were like threads of gold, and his eyes were as blue as the summer sky. As he rode along he bowed to the right hand and the left, and a mighty roar of voices followed him as he passed; for this was King Richard.
Then, above all the tumult and the shouting a great voice was heard roaring, “Heaven, its saints bless thee, our gracious King Richard! and likewise Our Lady of the Fountain, bless thee!” Then King Richard, looking toward the spot whence the sound came, saw a tall, burly, strapping priest standing in front of all the crowd with his legs wide apart as he backed against those behind.
“By my soul, Sheriff,” said the King, laughing, “ye have the tallest priests in Nottinghamshire that e’er I saw in all my life. If Heaven never answered prayers because of deafness, methinks I would nevertheless have blessings bestowed upon me, for that man yonder would make the great stone image of Saint Peter rub its ears and hearken unto him. I would that I had an army of such as he.”
To this the Sheriff answered never a word, but all the blood left his cheeks, and he caught at the pommel of his saddle to keep himself from falling; for he also saw the fellow that so shouted, and knew him to be Friar Tuck; and, moreover, behind Friar Tuck he saw the faces of Robin Hood and Little John and Will Scarlet and Will Stutely and Allan a Dale and others of the band.
“How now,” said the King hastily, “art thou ill, Sheriff, that thou growest so white?”
“Nay, Your Majesty,” said the Sheriff, “it was nought but a sudden pain that will soon pass by.” Thus he spake, for he was ashamed that the King should know that Robin Hood feared him so little that he thus dared to come within the very gates of Nottingham Town.
Thus rode the King into Nottingham Town on that bright afternoon in the early fall season; and none rejoiced more than Robin Hood and his merry men to see him come so royally unto his own.
Eventide had come; the great feast in the Guild Hall at Nottingham Town was done, and the wine passed freely. A thousand waxen lights gleamed along the board, at which sat lord and noble and knight and squire in goodly array. At the head of the table, upon a throne all hung with cloth of gold, sat King Richard with the Sheriff of Nottingham beside him.
Quoth the King to the Sheriff, laughing as he spoke, “I have heard much spoken concerning the doings of certain fellows hereabouts, one Robin Hood and his band, who are outlaws and abide in Sherwood Forest. Canst thou not tell me somewhat of them, Sir Sheriff? For I hear that thou hast had dealings with them more than once.”
At these words the Sheriff of Nottingham looked down gloomily, and the Bishop of Hereford, who was present, gnawed his nether lip. Quoth the Sheriff, “I can tell Your Majesty but little concerning the doings of those naughty fellows, saving that they are the boldest lawbreakers in all the land.”
Then up spake young Sir Henry of the Lea, a great favorite with the King, under whom he had fought in Palestine. “May it please Your Majesty,” said he, “when I was away in Palestine I heard ofttimes from my father, and in most cases I heard of this very fellow, Robin Hood. If Your Majesty would like I will tell you a certain adventure of this outlaw.”
Then the King laughingly bade him tell his tale, whereupon he told how Robin Hood had aided Sir Richard of the Lea with money that he had borrowed from the Bishop of Hereford. Again and again the King and those present roared with laughter, while the poor Bishop waxed cherry red in the face with vexation, for the matter was a sore thing with him. When Sir Henry of the Lea was done, others of those present, seeing how the King enjoyed this merry tale, told other tales concerning Robin and his merry men.
“By the hilt of my sword,” said stout King Richard, “this is as bold and merry a knave as ever I heard tell of. Marry, I must take this matter in hand and do what thou couldst not do, Sheriff, to wit, clear the forest of him and his band.”
That night the King sat in the place that was set apart for his lodging while in Nottingham Town. With him were young Sir Henry of the Lea and two other knights and three barons of Nottinghamshire; but the King’s mind still dwelled upon Robin Hood. “Now,” quoth he, “I would freely give a hundred pounds to meet this roguish fellow, Robin Hood, and to see somewhat of his doings in Sherwood Forest.”
Then up spake Sir Hubert of gingham, laughing: “If Your Majesty hath such a desire upon you it is not so hard to satisfy. If Your Majesty is willing to lose one hundred pounds, I will engage to cause you not only to meet this fellow, but to feast with him in Sherwood.”
“Marry, Sir Hubert,” quoth the King, “this pleaseth me well. But how wilt thou cause me to meet Robin Hood?”
“Why, thus,” said Sir Hubert, “let Your Majesty and us here present put on the robes of seven of the Order of Black Friars, and let Your Majesty hang a purse of one hundred pounds beneath your gown; then let us undertake to ride from here to Mansfield Town tomorrow, and, without I am much mistaken, we will both meet with Robin Hood and dine with him before the day be passed.”
“I like thy plan, Sir Hubert,” quoth the King merrily, “and tomorrow we will try it and see whether there be virtue in it.”
So it happened that when early the next morning the Sheriff came to where his liege lord was abiding, to pay his duty to him, the King told him what they had talked of the night before, and what merry adventure they were set upon undertaking that morning. But when the Sheriff heard this he smote his forehead with his fist. “Alas!” said he, “what evil counsel is this that hath been given thee! O my gracious lord and King, you know not what you do! This villain that you thus go to seek hath no reverence either for king or king’s laws.”
“But did I not hear aright when I was told that this Robin Hood hath shed no blood since he was outlawed, saving only that of that vile Guy of Gisbourne, for whose death all honest men should thank him?”
“Yea, Your Majesty,” said the Sheriff, “you have heard aright. Nevertheless —”
“Then,” quoth the King, breaking in on the Sheriffs speech, “what have I to fear in meeting him, having done him no harm? Truly, there is no danger in this. But mayhap thou wilt go with us, Sir Sheriff.”
“Nay,” quoth the Sheriff hastily, “Heaven forbid!”
But now seven habits such as Black Friars wear were brought, and the King and those about him having clad themselves therein, and His Majesty having hung a purse with a hundred golden pounds in it beneath his robes, they all went forth and mounted the mules that had been brought to the door for them. Then the King bade the Sheriff be silent as to their doings, and so they set forth upon their way. Onward they traveled, laughing and jesting, until they passed through the open country; between bare harvest fields whence the harvest had been gathered home; through scattered glades that began to thicken as they went farther along, till they came within the heavy shade of the forest itself. They traveled in the forest for several miles without meeting anyone such as they sought, until they had come to that part of the road that lay nearest to Newstead Abbey.
“By the holy Saint Martin,” quoth the King, “I would that I had a better head for remembering things of great need. Here have we come away and brought never so much as a drop of anything to drink with us. Now I would give half a hundred pounds for somewhat to quench my thirst withal.”
No sooner had the King so spoken, than out from the covert at the roadside stepped a tall fellow with yellow beard and hair and a pair of merry blue eyes. “Truly, holy brother,” said he, laying his hand upon the King’s bridle rein, “it were an unchristian thing to not give fitting answer to so fair a bargain. We keep an inn hereabouts, and for fifty pounds we will not only give thee a good draught of wine, but will give thee as noble a feast as ever thou didst tickle thy gullet withal.” So saying, he put his fingers to his lips and blew a shrill whistle. Then straightway the bushes and branches on either side of the road swayed and crackled, and threescore broad-shouldered yeomen in Lincoln green burst out of the covert.
“How now, fellow,” quoth the King, “who art thou, thou naughty rogue? Hast thou no regard for such holy men as we are?”
“Not a whit,” quoth merry Robin Hood, for the fellow was he, “for in sooth all the holiness belonging to rich friars, such as ye are, one could drop into a thimble and the goodwife would never feel it with the tip of her finger. As for my name, it is Robin Hood, and thou mayst have heard it before.”
“Now out upon thee!” quoth King Richard. “Thou art a bold and naughty fellow and a lawless one withal, as I have often heard tell. Now, prythee, let me, and these brethren of mine, travel forward in peace and quietness.”
“It may not be,” said Robin, “for it would look but ill of us to let such holy men travel onward with empty stomachs. But I doubt not that thou hast a fat purse to pay thy score at our inn since thou offerest freely so much for a poor draught of wine. Show me thy purse, reverend brother, or I may perchance have to strip thy robes from thee to search for it myself.”
“Nay, use no force,” said the King sternly. “Here is my purse, but lay not thy lawless hands upon our person.”
“Hut, tut,” quoth merry Robin, “what proud words are these? Art thou the King of England, to talk so to me? Here, Will, take this purse and see what there is within.”
Will Scarlet took the purse and counted out the money. Then Robin bade him keep fifty pounds for themselves, and put fifty back into the purse. This he handed to the King. “Here, brother,” quoth he, “take this half of thy money, and thank Saint Martin, on whom thou didst call before, that thou hast fallen into the hands of such gentle rogues that they will not strip thee bare, as they might do. But wilt thou not put back thy cowl? For I would fain see thy face.”
“Nay,” said the King, drawing back, “I may not put back my cowl, for we seven have vowed that we will not show our faces for four and twenty hours.”
“Then keep them covered in peace,” said Robin, “and far be it from me to make you break your vows.”
So he called seven of his yeomen and bade them each one take a mule by the bridle; then, turning their faces toward the depths of the woodlands, they journeyed onward until they came to the open glade and the greenwood tree.
Little John, with threescore yeomen at his heels, had also gone forth that morning to wait along the roads and bring a rich guest to Sherwood glade, if such might be his luck, for many with fat purses must travel the roads at this time, when such great doings were going on in Nottinghamshire, but though Little John and so many others were gone, Friar Tuck and twoscore or more stout yeomen were seated or lying around beneath the great tree, and when Robin and the others came they leaped to their feet to meet him.
“By my soul,” quoth merry King Richard, when he had gotten down from his mule and stood looking about him, “thou hast in very truth a fine lot of young men about thee, Robin. Methinks King Richard himself would be glad of such a bodyguard.”
“These are not all of my fellows,” said Robin proudly, “for threescore more of them are away on business with my good right-hand man, Little John. But, as for King Richard, I tell thee, brother, there is not a man of us all but would pour out our blood like water for him. Ye churchmen cannot rightly understand our King; but we yeomen love him right loyally for the sake of his brave doings which are so like our own.”
But now Friar Tuck came bustling up. “Gi’ ye good den, brothers,” said he. “I am right glad to welcome some of my cloth in this naughty place. Truly, methinks these rogues of outlaws would stand but an ill chance were it not for the prayers of Holy Tuck, who laboreth so hard for their well-being.” Here he winked one eye slyly and stuck his tongue into his cheek.
“Who art thou, mad priest?” said the King in a serious voice, albeit he smiled beneath his cowl.
At this Friar Tuck looked all around with a slow gaze. “Look you now,” quoth he, “never let me hear you say again that I am no patient man. Here is a knave of a friar calleth me a mad priest, and yet I smite him not. My name is Friar Tuck, fellow — the holy Friar Tuck.”
“There, Tuck,” said Robin, “thou hast said enow. Prythee, cease thy talk and bring some wine. These reverend men are athirst, and sin’ they have paid so richly for their score they must e’en have the best.”
Friar Tuck bridled at being so checked in his speech, nevertheless he went straightway to do Robin’s bidding; so presently a great crock was brought, and wine was poured out for all the guests and for Robin Hood. Then Robin held his cup aloft. “Stay!” cried he. “Tarry in your drinking till I give you a pledge. Here is to good King Richard of great renown, and may all enemies to him be confounded.”
Then all drank the King’s health, even the King himself. “Methinks, good fellow,” said he, “thou hast drunk to thine own confusion.”
“Never a whit,” quoth merry Robin, “for I tell thee that we of Sherwood are more loyal to our lord the King than those of thine order. We would give up our lives for his benefiting, while ye are content to lie snug in your abbeys and priories let reign who will.”
At this the King laughed. Quoth he, “Perhaps King Richard’s welfare is more to me than thou wottest of, fellow. But enough of that matter. We have paid well for our fare, so canst thou not show us some merry entertainment? I have oft heard that ye are wondrous archers; wilt thou not show us somewhat of your skill?”
“With all my heart,” said Robin, “we are always pleased to show our guests all the sport that is to be seen. As Gaffer Swanthold sayeth, ’Tis a hard heart that will not give a caged starling of the best’; and caged starlings ye are with us. Ho, lads! Set up a garland at the end of the glade.”
Then, as the yeomen ran to do their master’s bidding, Tuck turned to one of the mock friars. “Hearest thou our master?” quoth he, with a sly wink. “Whenever he cometh across some poor piece of wit he straightway layeth it on the shoulders of this Gaffer Swanthold — whoever he may be — so that the poor goodman goeth traveling about with all the odds and ends and tags and rags of our master’s brain packed on his back.” Thus spake Friar Tuck, but in a low voice so that Robin could not hear him, for he felt somewhat nettled at Robin’s cutting his talk so short.
In the meantime the mark at which they were to shoot was set up at sixscore paces distance. It was a garland of leaves and flowers two spans in width, which same was hung upon a stake in front of a broad tree trunk. “There,” quoth Robin, “yon is a fair mark, lads. Each of you shoot three arrows thereat; and if any fellow misseth by so much as one arrow, he shall have a buffet of Will Scarlet’s fist.”
“Hearken to him!” quoth Friar Tuck. “Why, master, thou dost bestow buffets from thy strapping nephew as though they were love taps from some bouncing lass. I warrant thou art safe to hit the garland thyself, or thou wouldst not be so free of his cuffing.”
First David of Doncaster shot, and lodged all three of his arrows within the garland. “Well done, David!” cried Robin, “thou hast saved thine ears from a warming this day.” Next Midge, the Miller, shot, and he, also, lodged his arrows in the garland. Then followed Wat, the Tinker, but alas for him! For one of his shafts missed the mark by the breadth of two fingers.
“Come hither, fellow,” said Will Scarlet, in his soft, gentle voice, “I owe thee somewhat that I would pay forthwith.” Then Wat, the Tinker, came forward and stood in front of Will Scarlet, screwing up his face and shutting his eyes tightly, as though he already felt his ears ringing with the buffet. Will Scarlet rolled up his sleeve, and, standing on tiptoe to give the greater swing to his arm, he struck with might and main. “WHOOF!” came his palm against the Tinker’s head, and down went stout Wat to the grass, heels over head, as the wooden image at the fair goes down when the skillful player throws a cudgel at it. Then, as the Tinker sat up upon the grass, rubbing his ear and winking and blinking at the bright stars that danced before his eyes, the yeomen roared with mirth till the forest rang. As for King Richard, he laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. Thus the band shot, each in turn, some getting off scot free, and some winning a buffet that always sent them to the grass. And now, last of all, Robin took his place, and all was hushed as he shot. The first shaft he shot split a piece from the stake on which the garland was hung; the second lodged within an inch of the other. “By my halidom,” said King Richard to himself, “I would give a thousand pounds for this fellow to be one of my guard!” And now, for the third time Robin shot; but, alas for him! The arrow was ill- feathered, and, wavering to one side, it smote an inch outside the garland.
At this a great roar went up, those of the yeomen who sat upon the grass rolling over and over and shouting with laughter, for never before had they seen their master so miss his mark; but Robin flung his bow upon the ground with vexation. “Now, out upon it!” cried he. “That shaft had an ill feather to it, for I felt it as it left my fingers. Give me a clean arrow, and I will engage to split the wand with it.”
At these words the yeomen laughed louder than ever. “Nay, good uncle,” said Will Scarlet in his soft, sweet voice, “thou hast had thy fair chance and hast missed thine aim out and out. I swear the arrow was as good as any that hath been loosed this day. Come hither; I owe thee somewhat, and would fain pay it.”
“Go, good master,” roared Friar Tuck, “and may my blessing go with thee. Thou hast bestowed these love taps of Will Scarlet’s with great freedom. It were pity an thou gottest not thine own share.”
“It may not be,” said merry Robin. “I am king here, and no subject may raise hand against the king. But even our great King Richard may yield to the holy Pope without shame, and even take a tap from him by way of penance; therefore I will yield myself to this holy friar, who seemeth to be one in authority, and will take my punishment from him.” Thus saying, he turned to the King, “I prythee, brother, wilt thou take my punishing into thy holy hands?”
“With all my heart,” quoth merry King Richard, rising from where he was sitting. “I owe thee somewhat for having lifted a heavy weight of fifty pounds from my purse. So make room for him on the green, lads.”
“An thou makest me tumble,” quoth Robin, “I will freely give thee back thy fifty pounds; but I tell thee, brother, if thou makest me not feel grass all along my back, I will take every farthing thou hast for thy boastful speech.”
“So be it,” said the King, “I am willing to venture it.” Thereupon he rolled up his sleeve and showed an arm that made the yeomen stare. But Robin, with his feet wide apart, stood firmly planted, waiting the other, smiling. Then the King swung back his arm, and, balancing himself a moment, he delivered a buffet at Robin that fell like a thunderbolt. Down went Robin headlong upon the grass, for the stroke would have felled a stone wall. Then how the yeomen shouted with laughter till their sides ached, for never had they seen such a buffet given in all their lives. As for Robin, he presently sat up and looked all around him, as though he had dropped from a cloud and had lit in a place he had never seen before. After a while, still gazing about him at his laughing yeomen, he put his fingertips softly to his ear and felt all around it tenderly. “Will Scarlet,” said he, “count this fellow out his fifty pounds; I want nothing more either of his money or of him. A murrain seize him and his buffeting! I would that I had taken my dues from thee, for I verily believe he hath deafened mine ear from ever hearing again.”
Then, while gusts of laughter still broke from the band, Will Scarlet counted out the fifty pounds, and the King dropped it back into his purse again. “I give thee thanks, fellow,” said he, “and if ever thou shouldst wish for another box of the ear to match the one thou hast, come to me and I will fit thee with it for nought.”
So spake the merry King; but, even as he ended, there came suddenly the sound of many voices, and out from the covert burst Little John and threescore men, with Sir Richard of the Lea in the midst. Across the glade they came running, and, as they came, Sir Richard shouted to Robin: “Make haste, dear friend, gather thy band together and come with me! King Richard left Nottingham Town this very morning, and cometh to seek thee in the woodlands. I know not how he cometh, for it was but a rumor of this that reached me; nevertheless, I know that it is the truth. Therefore hasten with all thy men, and come to Castle Lea, for there thou mayst lie hidden till thy present danger passeth. Who are these strangers that thou hast with thee?”
“Why,” quoth merry Robin, rising from the grass, “these are certain gentle guests that came with us from the highroad over by Newstead Abbey. I know not their names, but I have become right well acquaint with this lusty rogue’s palm this morning. Marry, the pleasure of this acquaintance hath dost me a deaf ear and fifty pounds to boot!”
Sir Richard looked keenly at the tall friar, who, drawing himself up to his full height, looked fixedly back at the knight. Then of a sudden Sir Richard’s cheeks grew pale, for he knew who it was that he looked upon. Quickly he leaped from off his horse’s back and flung himself upon his knees before the other. At this, the King, seeing that Sir Richard knew him, threw back his cowl, and all the yeomen saw his face and knew him also, for there was not one of them but had been in the crowd in the good town of Nottingham, and had seen him riding side by side with the Sheriff. Down they fell upon their knees, nor could they say a word. Then the King looked all around right grimly, and, last of all, his glance came back and rested again upon Sir Richard of the Lea.
“How is this, Sir Richard?” said he sternly. “How darest thou step between me and these fellows? And how darest thou offer thy knightly Castle of the Lea for a refuge to them? Wilt thou make it a hiding place for the most renowned outlaws in England?”
Then Sir Richard of the Lea raised his eyes to the King’s face. “Far be it from me,” said he, “to do aught that could bring Your Majesty’s anger upon me. Yet, sooner would I face Your Majesty’s wrath than suffer aught of harm that I could stay to fall upon Robin Hood and his band; for to them I owe life, honor, everything. Should I, then, desert him in his hour of need?”
Ere the knight had done speaking, one of the mock friars that stood near the King came forward and knelt beside Sir Richard, and throwing back his cowl showed the face of young Sir Henry of the Lea. Then Sir Henry grasped his father’s hand and said, “Here kneels one who hath served thee well, King Richard, and, as thou knowest, hath stepped between thee and death in Palestine; yet do I abide by my dear father, and here I say also, that I would freely give shelter to this noble outlaw, Robin Hood, even though it brought thy wrath upon me, for my father’s honor and my father’s welfare are as dear to me as mine own.”
King Richard looked from one to the other of the kneeling knights, and at last the frown faded from his brow and a smile twitched at the corners of his lips. “Marry, Sir Richard,” quoth the King, “thou art a bold-spoken knight, and thy freedom of speech weigheth not heavily against thee with me. This young son of thine taketh after his sire both in boldness of speech and of deed, for, as he sayeth, he stepped one time betwixt me and death; wherefore I would pardon thee for his sake even if thou hadst done more than thou hast. Rise all of you, for ye shall suffer no harm through me this day, for it were pity that a merry time should end in a manner as to mar its joyousness.”
Then all arose and the King beckoned Robin Hood to come to him. “How now,” quoth he, “is thine ear still too deaf to hear me speak?”
“Mine ears would be deafened in death ere they would cease to hear Your Majesty’s voice,” said Robin. “As for the blow that Your Majesty struck me, I would say that though my sins are haply many, methinks they have been paid up in full thereby.”
“Thinkest thou so?” said the King with somewhat of sternness in his voice. “Now I tell thee that but for three things, to wit, my mercifulness, my love for a stout woodsman, and the loyalty thou hast avowed for me, thine ears, mayhap, might have been more tightly closed than ever a buffet from me could have shut them. Talk not lightly of thy sins, good Robin. But come, look up. Thy danger is past, for hereby I give thee and all thy band free pardon. But, in sooth, I cannot let you roam the forest as ye have done in the past; therefore I will take thee at thy word, when thou didst say thou wouldst give thy service to me, and thou shalt go back to London with me. We will take that bold knave Little John also, and likewise thy cousin, Will Scarlet, and thy minstrel, Allan a Dale. As for the rest of thy band, we will take their names and have them duly recorded as royal rangers; for methinks it were wiser to have them changed to law-abiding caretakers of our deer in Sherwood than to leave them to run at large as outlawed slayers thereof. But now get a feast ready; I would see how ye live in the woodlands.”
So Robin bade his men make ready a grand feast. Straightway great fires were kindled and burned brightly, at which savory things roasted sweetly. While this was going forward, the King bade Robin call Allan a Dale, for he would hear him sing. So word was passed for Allan, and presently he came, bringing his harp.
“Marry,” said King Richard, “if thy singing match thy looks it is fair enough. Prythee, strike up a ditty and let us have a taste of thy skill.”
Then Allan touched his harp lightly, and all words were hushed while he sang thus:
“‘Oh, where has thou been, my daughter?
Oh, where hast thou been this day
Daughter, my daughter?’
‘Oh, I have been to the river’s side,
Where the waters lie all gray and wide,
And the gray sky broods o’er the leaden tide,
And the shrill wind sighs a straining.’
“‘What sawest thou there, my daughter?
What sawest thou there this day,
Daughter, my daughter?’
‘Oh, I saw a boat come drifting nigh,
Where the quivering rushes hiss and sigh,
And the water soughs as it gurgles by,
And the shrill wind sighs a straining.’
“‘What sailed in the boat, my daughter?
What sailed in the boat this day,
Daughter, my daughter?’
‘Oh, there was one all clad in white,
And about his face hung a pallid light,
And his eyes gleamed sharp like the stars at night,
And the shrill wind sighed a straining.’
“‘And what said he, my daughter?
What said he to thee this day,
Daughter, my daughter?’
‘Oh, said he nought, but did he this:
Thrice on my lips did he press a kiss,
And my heartstrings shrunk with an awful bliss,
And the shrill wind sighed a straining.’
“‘Why growest thou so cold, my daughter?
Why growest thou so cold and white,
Daughter, my daughter?’
Oh, never a word the daughter said,
But she sat all straight with a drooping head,
For her heart was stilled and her face was dead:
And the shrill wind sighed a straining.”
All listened in silence; and when Allan a Dale had done King Richard heaved a sigh. “By the breath of my body, Allan,” quoth he, “thou hast such a wondrous sweet voice that it strangely moves my heart. But what doleful ditty is this for the lips of a stout yeoman? I would rather hear thee sing a song of love and battle than a sad thing like that. Moreover, I understand it not; what meanest thou by the words?”
“I know not, Your Majesty,” said Allan, shaking his head, “for ofttimes I sing that which I do not clearly understand mine own self.”
“Well, well,” quoth the King, “let it pass; only I tell thee this, Allan, thou shouldst turn thy songs to such matters as I spoke of, to wit, love or war; for in sooth thou hast a sweeter voice than Blondell, and methought he was the best minstrel that ever I heard.”
But now one came forward and said that the feast was ready; so Robin Hood brought King Richard and those with him to where it lay all spread out on fair white linen cloths which lay upon the soft green grass. Then King Richard sat him down and feasted and drank, and when he was done he swore roundly that he had never sat at such a lusty repast in all his life before.
That night he lay in Sherwood Forest upon a bed of sweet green leaves, and early the next morning he set forth from the woodlands for Nottingham Town, Robin Hood and all of his band going with him. You may guess what a stir there was in the good town when all these famous outlaws came marching into the streets. As for the Sheriff, he knew not what to say nor where to look when he saw Robin Hood in such high favor with the King, while all his heart was filled with gall because of the vexation that lay upon him.
The next day the King took leave of Nottingham Town; so Robin Hood and Little John and Will Scarlet and Allan a Dale shook hands with all the rest of the band, kissing the cheeks of each man, and swearing that they would often come to Sherwood and see them. Then each mounted his horse and rode away in the train of the King.
THUS END the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood; for, in spite of his promise, it was many a year ere he saw Sherwood again.
After a year or two at court Little John came back to Nottinghamshire, where he lived in an orderly way, though within sight of Sherwood, and where he achieved great fame as the champion of all England with the quarterstaff. Will Scarlet after a time came back to his own home, whence he had been driven by his unlucky killing of his father’s steward. The rest of the band did their duty as royal rangers right well. But Robin Hood and Allan a Dale did not come again to Sherwood so quickly, for thus it was:
Robin, through his great fame as an archer, became a favorite with the King, so that he speedily rose in rank to be the chief of all the yeomen. At last the King, seeing how faithful and how loyal he was, created him Earl of Huntingdon; so Robin followed the King to the wars, and found his time so full that he had no chance to come back to Sherwood for even so much as a day. As for Allan a Dale and his wife, the fair Ellen, they followed Robin Hood and shared in all his ups and downs of life.
And now, dear friend, you who have journeyed with me in all these merry doings, I will not bid you follow me further, but will drop your hand here with a “good den,” if you wish it; for that which cometh hereafter speaks of the breaking up of things, and shows how joys and pleasures that are dead and gone can never be set upon their feet to walk again. I will not dwell upon the matter overlong, but will tell as speedily as may be of how that stout fellow, Robin Hood, died as he had lived, not at court as Earl of Huntingdon, but with bow in hand, his heart in the greenwood, and he himself a right yeoman.
King Richard died upon the battlefield, in such a way as properly became a lion-hearted king, as you yourself, no doubt, know; so, after a time, the Earl of Huntingdon — or Robin Hood, as we still call him as of old — finding nothing for his doing abroad, came back to merry England again. With him came Allan a Dale and his wife, the fair Ellen, for these two had been chief of Robin’s household ever since he had left Sherwood Forest.
It was in the springtime when they landed once more on the shores of England. The leaves were green and the small birds sang blithely, just as they used to do in fair Sherwood when Robin Hood roamed the woodland shades with a free heart and a light heel. All the sweetness of the time and the joyousness of everything brought back to Robin’s mind his forest life, so that a great longing came upon him to behold the woodlands once more. So he went straightway to King John and besought leave of him to visit Nottingham for a short season. The King gave him leave to come and to go, but bade him not stay longer than three days at Sherwood. So Robin Hood and Allan a Dale set forth without delay to Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest.
The first night they took up their inn at Nottingham Town, yet they did not go to pay their duty to the Sheriff, for his worship bore many a bitter grudge against Robin Hood, which grudges had not been lessened by Robin’s rise in the world. The next day at an early hour they mounted their horses and set forth for the woodlands. As they passed along the road it seemed to Robin that he knew every stick and stone that his eyes looked upon. Yonder was a path that he had ofttimes trod of a mellow evening, with Little John beside him; here was one, now nigh choked with brambles, along which he and a little band had walked when they went forth to seek a certain curtal friar.
Thus they rode slowly onward, talking about these old, familiar things; old and yet new, for they found more in them than they had ever thought of before. Thus at last they came to the open glade, and the broad, wide-spreading greenwood tree which was their home for so many years. Neither of the two spoke when they stood beneath that tree. Robin looked all about him at the well-known things, so like what they used to be and yet so different; for, where once was the bustle of many busy fellows was now the quietness of solitude; and, as he looked, the woodlands, the greensward, and the sky all blurred together in his sight through salt tears, for such a great yearning came upon him as he looked on these things (as well known to him as the fingers of his right hand) that he could not keep back the water from his eyes.
That morning he had slung his good old bugle horn over his shoulder, and now, with the yearning, came a great longing to sound his bugle once more. He raised it to his lips; he blew a blast. “Tirila, lirila,” the sweet, clear notes went winding down the forest paths, coming back again from the more distant bosky shades in faint echoes of sound, “Tirila, lirila, tirila, lirila,” until it faded away and was lost.
Now it chanced that on that very morn Little John was walking through a spur of the forest upon certain matters of business, and as he paced along, sunk in meditation, the faint, clear notes of a distant bugle horn came to his ear. As leaps the stag when it feels the arrow at its heart, so leaped Little John when that distant sound met his ear. All the blood in his body seemed to rush like a flame into his cheeks as he bent his head and listened. Again came the bugle note, thin and clear, and yet again it sounded. Then Little John gave a great, wild cry of yearning, of joy, and yet of grief, and, putting down his head, he dashed into the thicket. Onward he plunged, crackling and rending, as the wild boar rushes through the underbrush. Little recked he of thorns and briers that scratched his flesh and tore his clothing, for all he thought of was to get, by the shortest way, to the greenwood glade whence he knew the sound of the bugle horn came. Out he burst from the covert, at last, a shower of little broken twigs falling about him, and, without pausing a moment, rushed forward and flung himself at Robin’s feet. Then he clasped his arms around the master’s knees, and all his body was shaken with great sobs; neither could Robin nor Allan a Dale speak, but stood looking down at Little John, the tears rolling down their cheeks.
While they thus stood, seven royal rangers rushed into the open glade and raised a great shout of joy at the sight of Robin; and at their head was Will Stutely. Then, after a while, came four more, panting with their running, and two of these four were Will Scathelock and Midge, the Miller; for all of these had heard the sound of Robin Hood’s horn. All these ran to Robin and kissed his hands and his clothing, with great sound of weeping.
After a while Robin looked around him with tear-dimmed eyes and said, in a husky voice, “Now, I swear that never again will I leave these dear woodlands. I have been away from them and from you too long. Now do I lay by the name of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, and take upon me once again that nobler title, Robin Hood, the Yeoman.” At this a great shout went up, and all the yeomen shook one another’s hands for joy.
The news that Robin Hood had come back again to dwell in Sherwood as of old spread like wildfire all over the countryside, so that ere a se’ennight had passed nearly all of his old yeomen had gathered about him again. But when the news of all this reached the ears of King John, he swore both loud and deep, and took a solemn vow that he would not rest until he had Robin Hood in his power, dead or alive. Now there was present at court a certain knight, Sir William Dale, as gallant a soldier as ever donned harness. Sir William Dale was well acquainted with Sherwood Forest, for he was head keeper over that part of it that lay nigh to good Mansfield Town; so to him the King turned, and bade him take an army of men and go straightway to seek Robin Hood. Likewise the King gave Sir William his signet ring to show to the Sheriff, that he might raise all his armed men to aid the others in their chase of Robin. So Sir William and the Sheriff set forth to do the King’s bidding and to search for Robin Hood; and for seven days they hunted up and down, yet found him not.
Now, had Robin Hood been as peaceful as of old, everything might have ended in smoke, as other such ventures had always done before; but he had fought for years under King Richard, and was changed from what he used to be. It galled his pride to thus flee away before those sent against him, as a chased fox flees from the hounds; so thus it came about, at last, that Robin Hood and his yeomen met Sir William and the Sheriff and their men in the forest, and a bloody fight followed. The first man slain in that fight was the Sheriff of Nottingham, for he fell from his horse with an arrow in his brain ere half a score of shafts had been sped. Many a better man than the Sheriff kissed the sod that day, but at last, Sir William Dale being wounded and most of his men slain, he withdrew, beaten, and left the forest. But scores of good fellows were left behind him, stretched out all stiff beneath the sweet green boughs.
But though Robin Hood had beaten off his enemies in fair fight, all this lay heavily upon his mind, so that he brooded over it until a fever seized upon him. For three days it held him, and though he strove to fight it off, he was forced to yield at last. Thus it came that, on the morning of the fourth day, he called Little John to him, and told him that he could not shake the fever from him, and that he would go to his cousin, the prioress of the nunnery near Kirklees, in Yorkshire, who was a skillful leech, and he would have her open a vein in his arm and take a little blood from him, for the bettering of his health. Then he bade Little John make ready to go also, for he might perchance need aid in his journeying. So Little John and he took their leave of the others, and Robin Hood bade Will Stutely be the captain of the band until they should come back. Thus they came by easy stages and slow journeying until they reached the Nunnery of Kirklees.
Now Robin had done much to aid this cousin of his; for it was through King Richard’s love of him that she had been made prioress of the place. But there is nought in the world so easily forgot as gratitude; so, when the Prioress of Kirklees had heard how her cousin, the Earl of Huntingdon, had thrown away his earldom and gone back again to Sherwood, she was vexed to the soul, and feared lest her cousinship with him should bring the King’s wrath upon her also. Thus it happened that when Robin came to her and told her how he wished her services as leech, she began plotting ill against him in her mind, thinking that by doing evil to him she might find favor with his enemies. Nevertheless, she kept this well to herself and received Robin with seeming kindness. She led him up the winding stone stair to a room which was just beneath the eaves of a high, round tower; but she would not let Little John come with him.
So the poor yeoman turned his feet away from the door of the nunnery, and left his master in the hands of the women. But, though he did not come in, neither did he go far away; for he laid him down in a little glade near by, where he could watch the place that Robin abided, like some great, faithful dog turned away from the door where his master has entered.
After the women had gotten Robin Hood to the room beneath the eaves, the Prioress sent all of the others away; then, taking a little cord, she tied it tightly about Robin’s arm, as though she were about to bleed him. And so she did bleed him, but the vein she opened was not one of those that lie close and blue beneath the skin; deeper she cut than that, for she opened one of those veins through which the bright red blood runs leaping from the heart. Of this Robin knew not; for, though he saw the blood flow, it did not come fast enough to make him think that there was anything ill in it.
Having done this vile deed, the Prioress turned and left her cousin, locking the door behind her. All that livelong day the blood ran from Robin Hood’s arm, nor could he check it, though he strove in every way to do so. Again and again he called for help, but no help came, for his cousin had betrayed him, and Little John was too far away to hear his voice. So he bled and bled until he felt his strength slipping away from him. Then he arose, tottering, and bearing himself up by the palms of his hands against the wall, he reached his bugle horn at last. Thrice he sounded it, but weakly and faintly, for his breath was fluttering through sickness and loss of strength; nevertheless, Little John heard it where he lay in the glade, and, with a heart all sick with dread, he came running and leaping toward the nunnery. Loudly he knocked at the door, and in a loud voice shouted for them to let him in, but the door was of massive oak, strongly barred, and studded with spikes, so they felt safe, and bade Little John begone.
Then Little John’s heart was mad with grief and fear for his master’s life. Wildly he looked about him, and his sight fell upon a heavy stone mortar, such as three men could not lift nowadays. Little John took three steps forward, and, bending his back, heaved the stone mortar up from where it stood deeply rooted. Staggering under its weight, he came forward and hurled it crashing against the door. In burst the door, and away fled the frightened nuns, shrieking, at his coming. Then Little John strode in, and never a word said he, but up the winding stone steps he ran till he reached the room wherein his master was. Here he found the door locked also, but, putting his shoulder against it, he burst the locks as though they were made of brittle ice.
There he saw his own dear master leaning against the gray stone wall, his face all white and drawn, and his head swaying to and fro with weakness. Then, with a great, wild cry of love and grief and pity, Little John leaped forward and caught Robin Hood in his arms. Up he lifted him as a mother lifts her child, and carrying him to the bed, laid him tenderly thereon.
And now the Prioress came in hastily, for she was frightened at what she had done, and dreaded the vengeance of Little John and the others of the band; then she stanched the blood by cunning bandages, so that it flowed no more. All the while Little John stood grimly by, and after she had done he sternly bade her to begone, and she obeyed, pale and trembling. Then, after she had departed, Little John spake cheering words, laughing loudly, and saying that all this was a child’s fright, and that no stout yeoman would die at the loss of a few drops of blood. “Why,” quoth he, “give thee a se’ennight and thou wilt be roaming the woodlands as boldly as ever.”
But Robin shook his head and smiled faintly where he lay. “Mine own dear Little John,” whispered he, “Heaven bless thy kind, rough heart. But, dear friend, we will never roam the woodlands together again.”
“Ay, but we will!” quoth Little John loudly. “I say again, ay — out upon it — who dares say that any more harm shall come upon thee? Am I not by? Let me see who dares touch”— Here he stopped of a sudden, for his words choked him. At last he said, in a deep, husky voice, “Now, if aught of harm befalls thee because of this day’s doings, I swear by Saint George that the red cock shall crow over the rooftree of this house, for the hot flames shall lick every crack and cranny thereof. As for these women”— here he ground his teeth —“it will be an ill day for them!”
But Robin Hood took Little John’s rough, brown fist in his white hands, and chid him softly in his low, weak voice, asking him since what time Little John had thought of doing harm to women, even in vengeance. Thus he talked till, at last, the other promised, in a choking voice, that no ill should fall upon the place, no matter what happened. Then a silence fell, and Little John sat with Robin Hood’s hand in his, gazing out of the open window, ever and anon swallowing a great lump that came in his throat. Meantime the sun dropped slowly to the west, till all the sky was ablaze with a red glory. Then Robin Hood, in a weak, faltering voice, bade Little John raise him that he might look out once more upon the woodlands; so the yeoman lifted him in his arms, as he bade, and Robin Hood’s head lay on his friend’s shoulder. Long he gazed, with a wide, lingering look, while the other sat with bowed head, the hot tears rolling one after another from his eyes, and dripping upon his bosom, for he felt that the time of parting was near at hand. Then, presently, Robin Hood bade him string his stout bow for him, and choose a smooth fair arrow from his quiver. This Little John did, though without disturbing his master or rising from where he sat. Robin Hood’s fingers wrapped lovingly around his good bow, and he smiled faintly when he felt it in his grasp, then he nocked the arrow on that part of the string that the tips of his fingers knew so well. “Little John,” said he, “Little John, mine own dear friend, and him I love better than all others in the world, mark, I prythee, where this arrow lodges, and there let my grave be digged. Lay me with my face toward the East, Little John, and see that my resting place be kept green, and that my weary bones be not disturbed.”
As he finished speaking, he raised himself of a sudden and sat upright. His old strength seemed to come back to him, and, drawing the bowstring to his ear, he sped the arrow out of the open casement. As the shaft flew, his hand sank slowly with the bow till it lay across his knees, and his body likewise sank back again into Little John’s loving arms; but something had sped from that body, even as the winged arrow sped from the bow.
For some minutes Little John sat motionless, but presently he laid that which he held gently down, then, folding the hands upon the breast and covering up the face, he turned upon his heel and left the room without a word or a sound.
Upon the steep stairway he met the Prioress and some of the chief among the sisters. To them he spoke in a deep, quivering voice, and said he, “An ye go within a score of feet of yonder room, I will tear down your rookery over your heads so that not one stone shall be left upon another. Bear my words well in mind, for I mean them.” So saying, he turned and left them, and they presently saw him running rapidly across the open, through the falling of the dusk, until he was swallowed up by the forest.
The early gray of the coming morn was just beginning to lighten the black sky toward the eastward when Little John and six more of the band came rapidly across the open toward the nunnery. They saw no one, for the sisters were all hidden away from sight, having been frightened by Little John’s words. Up the stone stair they ran, and a great sound of weeping was presently heard. After a while this ceased, and then came the scuffling and shuffling of men’s feet as they carried a heavy weight down the steep and winding stairs. So they went forth from the nunnery, and, as they passed through the doors thereof, a great, loud sound of wailing arose from the glade that lay all dark in the dawning, as though many men, hidden in the shadows, had lifted up their voices in sorrow.
Thus died Robin Hood, at Kirklees Nunnery, in fair Yorkshire, with mercy in his heart toward those that had been his undoing; for thus he showed mercy for the erring and pity for the weak through all the time of his living.
His yeomen were scattered henceforth, but no great ill befell them thereafter, for a more merciful sheriff and one who knew them not so well succeeding the one that had gone, and they being separated here and there throughout the countryside, they abided in peace and quietness, so that many lived to hand down these tales to their children and their children’s children.
A certain one sayeth that upon a stone at Kirklees is an old inscription. This I give in the ancient English in which it was written, and thus it runs:
HEAR UNDERNEAD DIS LAITL STEAN
LAIS ROBERT EARL OF HUNTINGTUN
NEA ARCIR VER AS HIE SAE GEUD
AN PIPL KAULD IM ROBIN HEUD
SICK UTLAWS AS HI AN IS MEN
VIL ENGLAND NIDIR SI AGEN
OBIIT 24 KAL. DEKEMBRIS 1247.
And now, dear friend, we also must part, for our merry journeyings have ended, and here, at the grave of Robin Hood, we turn, each going his own way.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59