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Chapter XII: How Maid Marian Came Back to Sherwood Forest; Also, How Robin Hood Came Before Queen Eleanor. (Cont'd)
Now the King had gone that day to Finsbury Field, where the tourney was soon to be held, in order to look over the lists and see some of his picked men whom he expected to win against all comers. So much had he boasted of these men, that the Queen had secretly resolved to win a wager of him. She had heard of the fame of Robin Hood and his yeomen, as Marian had said; and Marian on her part had been overjoyed to be able to add a word in their favor and to set out in search of them.
To-day the Queen sat in her private audience-room chatting pleasantly with her ladies, when in came Mistress Marian Fitzwalter attired again as befitted her rank of lady-in-waiting. She courtesied low to the Queen and awaited permission to speak.
"How now!" said the Queen smiling; "is this my lady Marian, or the page, Richard Partington?"
"Both, an it please Your Majesty. Richard found the man you sought, while Marian brought him to you."
"Where is he?" asked Queen Eleanor eagerly.
"Awaiting your audience—he and four of his men, likewise a lady of whose wooing and wedding I can tell you a pretty story at another time."
"Have them admitted."
So Marian gave orders to a herald, and presently Robin Hood and his little party entered the room.
Now the Queen had half-expected the men to be rude and uncouth in appearance, because of their wild life in the forest; but she was delightfully disappointed. Indeed she started back in surprise and almost clapped her hands. For, sooth to say, the yeomen made a brave sight, and in all the court no more gallant men could be found. Marian felt her cheeks glow with pride, at sight of the half-hidden looks of admiration sent forth by the other ladies-in-waiting.
Robin had not forgot the gentle arts taught by his mother, and he wore his fine red velvet tunic and breeches with the grace of a courtier. We have seen, before, what a dandified gentleman Will Scarlet was; and Allan-a-Dale, the minstrel, was scarcely less goodly to look upon. While the giant Little John and broad-shouldered Will Stutely made up in stature what little they lacked in outward polish. Mistress Dale, on her part, looked even more charming, if possible, than on the momentous day when she went to Plympton Church to marry one man and found another.
Thus came the people of the greenwood before Queen Eleanor, in her own private audience room. And Robin advanced and knelt down before her, and said:
"Here I am, Robin Hood—I and my chosen men! At Your Majesty's bidding am I come, bearing the ring of amnesty which I will protect—as I would protect Your Majesty's honor—with my life!"
"Thou art welcome, Lockesley," said the Queen smiling graciously.
"Thou art come in good time, thou and all thy brave yeomanry."
Then Robin presented each of his men in turn, and each fell on his knee and was greeted with most kindly words. And the Queen kissed fair Mistress Dale upon the cheek, and bade her remain in the palace with her ladies while she was in the city. And she made all the party be seated to rest themselves after their long journey. Fine wines were brought, and cake, and rich food, for their refreshment. And as they ate and drank, the Queen told them further of the tourney to be held at Finsbury Field, and of how she desired them to wear her colors and shoot for her. Meantime, she concluded, they were to lie by quietly and be known of no man.
To do all this, Robin and his men pledged themselves full heartily. Then at the Queen's request, they related to her and her ladies some of their merry adventures; whereat the listeners were vastly entertained, and laughed heartily. Then Marian, who had heard of the wedding at Plympton Church, told it so drolly that tears stood in the Queen's eyes from merriment.
"My lord Bishop of Hereford!" she said, "'Twas indeed a comical business for him! I shall keep that to twit his bones, I promise you! So this is our minstrel?" she added presently, turning to Allan-a-Dale. "Methinks I have already heard of him. Will he not harp awhile for us to-day?"
Allan bowed low, and took a harp which was brought to him, and he thrummed the strings and sang full sweetly the border songs of the North Countree. And the Queen and all her ladies listened in rapt silence till all the songs were ended.